Hardcastle's language

Hardcastle is a detective from a bygone era when the language was slightly different.  As a guide for readers a glossary of words and phrases is given on this page.

‘A’ FROM A BULL’S FOOT, to know: to know nothing.

ACK EMMA: signallers’ code for a.m.  (cf PIP EMMA.)  

ACT UP: temporarily to assume the role of a higher rank while the substantive holder is on leave or sick.

ALBERT: a watch chain of the type worn by Albert, Prince Consort (1819-61).


ANDREW, The: seamen’s slang for the Royal Navy.

ANTECEDENTS or ANTECEDENT HISTORY: police slang for details of an accused person’s general background, address, education & previous employment, etc.

APM: assistant provost marshal (a lieutenant colonel of the military police).


BAG CARRIER: an officer, usually a sergeant, deputed to assist the senior investigating officer in a murder or other serious enquiry.

BAILEY, the: Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London.

BAILIWICK: area of responsibility.

BARNEY: an argument.

BEAK: a magistrate.

BEETON, Mrs: famous writer of a widely read cookery book.

BEF: British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders.

BENT: crooked or stolen.

BIRD LIME: time (rhyming slang).

BIRD, to give the: to dismiss.

BLACK ANNIE or BLACK MARIA: a police or prison van.

BLADE: a dashing young man.

BLIGHTY ONE: a wound suffered in battle that necessitated repatriation to the United Kingdom.

BLIGHTY: the United Kingdom.

BLIMP: an airship.

BLOW THE GAFF, To: to reveal a secret.

BLOW, a: police slang for a relief.

BLUEJACKET: a rating in the Royal Navy.

BLUES, The: alternative name for the Royal Horse Guards.

BOB: a shilling (now 5p).

BOCHE: derogatory term for Germans, particularly soldiers.

BOOTNECK: a member of the Royal Marines.

BOOZER: a public house.

BRADBURY: a pound note.  From Sir John Bradbury, Secretary to the Treasury, who introduced pound notes in 1914 to replace gold sovereigns.

BRADSHAW: a timetable giving routes and times of British railway services.       

BREWSTER SESSIONS: magistrates’ sessions for the issue of licences to permit trade in alcoholic liquors.

BRIEF, a: a warrant or a police warrant card or a lawyer or a barrister’s case papers.

BROLLY: an umbrella.

BUCK HOUSE: Buckingham Palace.

BULL AND COW: a row (rhyming slang). 

BUN IN THE OVEN, TO HAVE A: to be pregnant.

BUNK, to do a: to run away.

BUSY, a: a detective.


CARNEY: cunning, sly.

CARPET: three months’ imprisonment.  (The length of time it took to weave a carpet in prison workshops.)

CATS AND DOGS, to come down: raining heavily.

CB: Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

CHESTNUTS OUT OF THE FIRE, to pull your: to solve your problem.

CHINWAG: a talk.

CHOKEY: a prison (ex Hindi).

CID: Criminal Investigation Department.

CIGS: Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

C-in-C: Commander-in-Chief

CIVVIES: civilians (i.e. not members of the armed forces) or plain clothes worn by members of the armed forces.

CLINK: prison.  Clink Street, London, was the site of an     old prison.

CLOBBER: clothing.

CLYDE (as in D’YOU THINK I CAME UP THE CLYDE ON A BICYCLE?): to suggest that the speaker thinks one is a fool. 

COCK-AND-BULL STORY: an idle, silly or incredible story.

COFFIN NAILS: cigarettes.

COLDSTREAMER: a soldier of the Coldstream Guards.

COLLAR, to: to arrest.

COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE: official title of New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.

CONK OUT, to: to suffer engine failure.

COPPER: a policeman.

COPPER-KNOBS: people with auburn hair.

CO-RESPONDENT SHOES: brown & white shoes, reputed to be worn by philanderers.

COSTERMONGER: a fruit-seller.

COUGH, to: to confess.

COVE: a man.

CRACKLING, a piece of: an attractive woman.

CRACKSMAN: a safebreaker or housebreaker.

CRIB: in the criminal context a house.

CRIMED: military slang for receiving punishment.

CROWN-AND-ANCHOR: a game played with dice marked with crowns and anchors.

CULLY: alternative to calling a man ‘mate’.

CUTPURSE: a thief or street robber.  Originally one who, literally, cut a purse to steal the money therein.


D: a detective.

DABS: fingerprints.

DAPM: deputy assistant provost marshal.

DARBIES: handcuffs.

DARTMOOR: a remote prison on Dartmoor in Devon.

DDI: Divisional Detective Inspector.

DEKKO: a look (ex Hindi).

DERBY ACT or DERBY LAW: Military Service Act 1916, formulated by Lord Derby, that introduced conscription.

DICKEY BIRD: a word (rhyming slang).  

DIGS or DIGGINGS: rented lodgings, usually short term.

DILLY, the: short for Piccadilly and its environs; a haunt of prostitutes.

DIP: a pickpocket or to steal from the pocket.

DOG’S DINNER, a: a mess.

DOGBERRY: a watchman (ex Shakespeare).

DOLLAR: five shillings (25p).

DOOLALLY-TAP: of unsound mind (ex Hindi).

DOXY: a woman of loose character.

DPP: Director of Public Prosecutions.

DRUM: a dwelling house, or room therein.  Any place of abode.

DSC: Distinguished Service Cross.

DSO: Distinguished Service Order.

DUFF, to put up the: to make pregnant.

DUMMY, to throw or sell a: to set a false trail.

DUMMY: a wallet.

DUSTY ANSWER: an uncooperative reply.

DUTCH UNCLE, to talk to like a: to talk to in a kindly fashion.


EARWIGGING: listening.

EIGHT O’CLOCK WALK, to take the: to be hanged.

EWBANK: proprietary name of an early type of non-electric carpet sweeper.

EYEWASH: nonsense.


FARTHING: one quarter of an old penny.

FEEL THE COLLAR, to: to make an arrest.

FENCE, to: to dispose of stolen property.

FENCE: a receiver of stolen property.

FIDDLE-FADDLE: trifling talk or behaviour.

FIND THE LADY: a three-card trick, the ‘lady’ being a solitary queen alongside two nondescript cards, placed face down.  Bets are placed on which one is the queen.

FIVE-AND-NINE ON THE BRIGHTON LINE: the fare from London to Brighton was five shillings and ninepence; ‘Brighton Line’ was, therefore, a popular call for the number 59 among troops playing housey-housey (qv) or tombola.

FIVER: £5 sterling.

FIVE-STRETCH: five year’s imprisonment.

FLASH IN THE PAN: an abortive effort.

FLEET STREET: former centre of the newspaper industry, and still used as a generic term for the Press.

FLIM or FLIMSY: a five-pound note.  From the thin paper on which it was originally printed.

FLIM-FLAM: a piece of nonsense.

FLOG, to: to sell.

FLOOZY: a young woman of dubious sexual morals.

FLORIN: two shillings (10p).

FLOUNDER: a cab (rhyming slang: flounder and dab).

FLUFF, a bit of: a girl; an attractive young woman.

FORM: previous convictions.

FOURPENNY CANNON, a: a steak and kidney pie.

FRONT, The: theatre of WW1 operations in France and Flanders.


GAMAGES: a London department store.

GAMP: an umbrella (from Sarah Gamp in Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit).

GANDER, to cop a: to take a look.

GEEZER: a man, usually derogatory.

GILD THE LILY, to: to exaggerate.

GLIM: a look (a foreshortening of ‘glimpse’).

GLOSTERS: alternative spelling for the Gloucestershire Regiment.

GOC: General officer commanding.

GODS, The: the gallery of a theatre.

GPO: General Post Office.

GRASS: an informer.

GREAT SCOTLAND YARD: location of an army recruiting office and a military police detachment.  Not to be confused with New Scotland Yard, half a mile away in Whitehall.

GROWLER: a taxi.

GUNNERS, The: a generic term to encompass the Royal Horse Artillery, the Royal Garrison Artillery and the Royal Field Artillery.  In the singular, a member of one of those regiments.

GUV or GUV’NOR: informal alternative to ‘sir’.


HA’PENNY: a half penny.

HACK: the driver of a Hackney carriage or a taxi or the vehicle itself or a newspaper reporter.

HALF A CROWN or HALF A DOLLAR: two shillings and         sixpence (12½p).

HALF-COLONEL: a lieutenant colonel.

HAND AMBULANCE: a two-wheeled barrow used for conveying drunkards to the police station, and occasionally for removing dead bodies.

HANDFUL: five years’ imprisonment.

HANDLE TO ONE’S NAME: having a title (e.g. Lord or Sir).

HAP’ORTH: half a penny’s-worth; taken to mean worthless.

HAVE IT UP, to: to engage in sexual intercourse.

HAVILDAR: a native sergeant in the Indian Army.

HAWKING THE MUTTON: leading a life of prostitution.

HOBSON’S CHOICE: no choice at all.  From the 1916 book of the same name by Harold Brighouse.

HOLLOWAY: women’s prison in North London.

HORSE’S NECK: brandy and ginger ale; reputed to be a favourite drink among officers of the Royal Navy.

HOSPITAL BLUES: A blue uniform, with white shirt and red tie, issued to wounded soldiers who were convalescing.

HOUSEY-HOUSEY: army term for lotto, bingo or tombola.

IRON: a firearm, especially a handgun.

IRONCLAD: a battleship.


JIG-A-JIG: sexual intercourse.

JILDI: quickly (ex Hindi).

JOANNA: a piano (rhyming slang).

JUDY: a girl.

JUG-AND-BOTTLE: the bar of a public house where one could obtain beer in either a bottle or in one’s own jug to be consumed off the premises.


KATE CARNEY: army (rhyming slang: from Kate Carney, a music hall comedienne of the late 19th early 20th century).

KATE short for KATE CARNEY: see above.

KC: King’s Counsel: a senior barrister.

KETTLE: a pocket watch.

KIP, to have a: to sleep.

KNOCK OFF to: to arrest.

KNOCKED OFF: arrested.

KNOCKING SHOP: a brothel.


LAY-DOWN, a: a remand in custody.

LINEN DRAPERS: newspapers (rhyming slang).

LONG BOW, to draw the: to exaggerate or to tell unbelievable stories.


MADAM: a brothel keeper.

MAGSMAN: a common thief.

MANOR: a police area.

MARLBOROUGH: a famous public school in Wiltshire.

MATELOT: a sailor, usually of the Royal Navy.

MBE: Member of the Order of the British Empire.

MC: Military Cross.

MI5: counter-espionage service of the United Kingdom.

MILLING: fighting.

MINCES: eyes (rhyming slang: mince pies).

MOCKERS, to put on the: to frustrate one’s plans.

MONIKER: a name or nickname.

MONS, to make a: to make a mess of things, as in the disastrous Battle of Mons in 1914.

MUFTI: army officers’ term for plain clothes (ex Arabic).


NAPOO: no good; finished.  Bastardisation of the             French: il n’y en a plus (there is none left), usually in answer to a soldier’s request for more beer.

NCO: non-commissioned officer.

NICK: a police station or prison or to arrest or to steal.

NICKED: arrested or stolen

NINETEEN TO THE DOZEN, to talk: to talk very fast.

NOOKIE: sexual intercourse.

NOSE, a: an informant.

NOT PYGMALION LIKELY: a euphemism for ‘not bloody likely’ from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.


OBE: Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

OCCURRENCE BOOK: handwritten record of every incident occurring on a police sub-division.

OFF ONE’S NUT: to be crazy.

OICK: a cad.

OLD BAILEY: Central Criminal Court, in Old Bailey, London.

OLD CONTEMPTIBLES: name assumed by survivors of the Battle of Mons in response to the Kaiser’s condemnation of the British Army as ‘a contemptible little army’.

ON THE GAME: leading a life of prostitution.

ON THE SLATE: to be given credit.

ON THE SQUARE: a freemason.

OWT: anything (dialect).

OX AND BUCKS: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.


PAPER THE HOUSE, TO: to give away free tickets for a theatre show.

PEACH, to: to inform to the police.

PEPPER-AND-SALT TROUSERS: black trousers flecked with grey.

PETER JONES: a London department store in Sloane Square, Chelsea.


PIMP: a prostitute’s ‘minder’.

PIP EMMA: signallers’ code for p.m.  (cf ACK EMMA.)  

PIP, SQUEAK & WILFRED: WW1 medals, namely the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-18 and the Victory Medal 1914-19, so named after newspaper cartoon characters of the period.


PLANTING, A: a burial.

PLATES: feet (rhyming slang: plates of meat).

PLONK, the: the mud of no-man’s-land.

POLICE GAZETTE: official nation-wide publication                     listing wanted persons, etc.

POMPEY: Portsmouth.

PONY, a: £25 sterling.

POT AND PAN, OLD: father (rhyming slang: old man).

POTMAN: a man who serves beer in a public house, or collects pots (tankards) from the tables.

PREVIOUS: prior convictions for crime.

PROSS: a prostitute.

PROVOST, the: military police.

PURLER: a headlong fall.

PUSSER’S RUM: Royal Navy issue rum, stronger than that normally available to the public.  ‘Pusser’ being a contraction of ‘Purser’. 


QUEER IN THE ATTIC: of unsound mind.

QUEER STREET, in: in serious difficulty or short of money.

QUID: £1 sterling.


RAGTIME GIRL: a sweetheart; a girl with whom one has a joyous time; a harlot.

RAINING CATS AND DOGS: raining heavily.

RECEIVER, The: the senior Scotland Yard official responsible for the finances of the Metropolitan Police.

RECORD: record of previous convictions.

REDCAPS: The Corps of Military Police.

ROSIE: tea (rhyming slang: Rosie Lee)

ROYAL A: informal name for the A or Whitehall Division of the Metropolitan Police.

ROYAL VICTORIAN ORDER: an order of chivalry in the personal gift of the Sovereign.

ROZZER: a policeman.

RP: regimental police, not to be confused with the Corps of Military Police.

RSM: regimental sergeant major (a senior army warrant officer).


SAA: small arms ammunition.

SALLY ANNE: the Salvation Army.

SAM BROWNE: a military officer’s belt with shoulder strap.

SANDRINGHAM: a royal residence in Norfolk.

SAPPERS: the Corps of Royal Engineers (in the singular a member of that corps).

SAUSAGE AND MASH: cash (rhyming slang). 

SCREW: a prison warder.

SCREWING: engaging in sexual intercourse or committing burglary.

SCRIMSHANKER: one who evades duty or work.

SDI: sub-divisional inspector.

SECTION 66: that section of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 that gave police the power to stop, search, and detain suspected persons.

SELFRIDGES: a London department store.

SELL THE PUP, to: to attempt to deceive.

SEXTON BLAKE: a fictional detective hero of boys’ stories.

SHIFT, to do a: to run away, or escape.

SHILLING: now 5p.

SILK, a: a King’s Counsel (a senior barrister) from the silk gowns they wear.

SINE DIE: (Latin) at a day to be decided; adjourned indefinitely.

SITTER, a: an arrest handed to another officer thereby affording him the credit.

SIXPENCE: equivalent of 2½ p.

SKIN-AND-BLISTER: sister (rhyming slang).

SKINT: broke.

SKIP or SKIPPER: an informal police alternative to station-sergeant, clerk-sergeant and sergeant.

SLÀINTE: (slän’cha) Gaelic salutation for ‘Good health’.

SLING ONE’S HOOK, to: to run away, hastily or secretly.

SMACKER, a: a pound sterling or a kiss.

SMOKE, The: London.

SNOUT: a police informant.

SOMERSET HOUSE: formerly the records office of births, deaths and marriages for England & Wales.

SOV or SOVEREIGN: one pound sterling.

SPALPEEN: a rascal; a worthless fellow.

SPIN A TWIST, TO: to tell an unbelievable tale.   

SPIT AND A DRAW, to have a: to smoke a cigarette.


SPROG: a child.

STAGE-DOOR JOHNNY: young man frequenting theatres in an attempt to make the acquaintance of actresses.

STIPE: a stipendiary magistrate (a qualified barrister presiding alone in a petty sessional court).               

STIR: prison.

STONEY: broke.

STRETCH, a: one year’s imprisonment.

STRIPE, to: to maliciously wound, usually with a razor.

STUFF GOWN: a barrister who has not been elevated to King’s Counsel status. 

SUB: police shorthand for sub-divisional inspector, the officer in charge of a sub-division.

SWADDY: a soldier. (ex Hindi.)

SWEET FANNY ADAMS, to know: to know nothing.


TANNER: sixpence (2½p).

TAPE(S): the chevron(s) indicating a non-commissioned officer’s rank.

TATLER, The: a society magazine.

TEA-LEAF: a thief (rhyming slang).  (Plural: TEALEAVES.)


TICKETY-BOO: all right, perfect.

TIP THE WINK TO: to advise or inform.

TITFER: a hat (rhyming slang: tit for tat). 

TOBY: a police area. 

TOD (SLOAN), on one’s: on one’s own (rhyming slang).

TOE-RAG: a contemptuous person.

TOM: a prostitute or jewellery (see TOMFOOLERY).

TOMFOOLERY: jewellery (rhyming slang).

TOMMING: pursuing a life of prostitution.

TOMMY or TOMMY ATKINS: a British soldier.  The name ‘Tommy Atkins’ was used as an example on early army forms.

TON: one hundred pounds.

TONGUE PADDING to give a: to scold.

TOOLEY STREET TAILOR: a conceitedly bumptious fellow.

TOPPED: murdered or hanged.

TOPPING: a murder or hanging.

TOUCH OF THE VAPOURS, a: to be overcome with faintness.

TRICK, a: a prostitute’s client.

TROUBLE-AND-STRIFE: wife (rhyming slang).

TUBE: the London Underground railway system.

TUMBLE, a: sexual intercourse.

TUPPENNY-HA’PENNY: a contraction of twopence-halfpenny, indicating something or someone of little worth.

TURN UP ONE’S TOES, to: to die or be killed.

TURNIP WATCH: an old-fashioned, thick, silver pocket watch.

TURPS: short for turpentine, a cleaning spirit.

TWO-AND-EIGHT, in a: in a state (rhyming slang). 



UNDERGROUND, The: the London Underground railway system.

UP THE DUFF: pregnant.

UP THE SPOUT: pregnant.

VAD: Voluntary Aid Detachment: wartime nursing auxiliaries.


WALLAH: someone employed in a specific office (Ex Hindi).

WAR HOUSE: army officers’ slang for the War Office.

WAR OFFICE: Department of State overseeing the army.              (Now a part of the Ministry of Defence.)

WATCH COMMITTEE: a provincial police authority.

WET ONE’S WHISKERS: to take a drink.

WHISTLE: a suit (rhyming slang: whistle and flute).

WHITE-FEATHER JOHNNY: man avoiding military service.

WIPERS: Army slang for Ypres in Belgium, scene of several fierce Great War battles.


YOUNG SHAVER: a youth or young man.

© Graham Ison 2017