Thieves' Cant by Shaun Hately

The Lexicon of Thieves Cant

(1st Edition)

Compiled by Shaun Hately

This dictionary is based on the “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence.” Printed for C. Chappel of Pall-Mall, London in 1811, and based on the dictionary compiled by Captain Grose in 1785. Despite its date of publication, it can be used in FRP campaigns by those who desire a detailed use of thieves cant. A reproduction of this dictionary was published in 1981 by Papermac, a division of MacMillan Publishers Limited, London and Basingstoke and is (C) 1971 Digest Books Inc. Illinois. “The Lexicon of Thieves Cant (1st Edition): Compiled by Shaun Hately.” is (C) 1996 Shaun Hately, except where copyright is owned by other people. No challenge is made by Shaun Hately to any copyright status held by other people. Permission to copy this dictionary in unedited form including this section is granted by Shaun Hately, provided no profit is made.


Buy it on DriveThru! :slight_smile:


This is proper ava riya or cant, infinitely superior to some goo-goo ga-ga gibberish Hasbro is slopping out. Plus it is redolent with rhyming slang, polare, shelta, tinker and other lost folk languages of Europe.

It isn’t true to say it’s died out either; but it has changed beyond recognition in many cases. As any living language does!

This is a very interesting article. Sadly the form isn’t that usable and the license doesn’t allow for a better typesetting. Do you know if it exists in any other form which might be more usable at the game table?

Although ever since first publication it has had to stay in the same form, every single entry is public domain. So although this arrangement is unusable directly, all the terms words and phrases in it are up for grabs, and so is rewriting it or using bits and pieces out of it. There was a netbook that took all of this, added still more, added some iffy elven and orcish stuff and released it all for free in 1998, so it has gone through the wash cycle several times already :slight_smile:

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I’ve also found this PDF, which uses different base sources, on the same theme:


Excellent! I always prefer to use historical bases rather than goo-goo ga-ga stuff especially when one compares the depth of real Cant to the rubbish from hasbro.


I wrote this thing a long time ago,

I have put a version of it on DTRPG but I only did that because other people were taking it and making money off it.

I did update it with some new sources when I put it on DTRPG.

The Flash Lingo one that somebody else has shared is at least as good, and unlike some of the others, the people who put that one together clearly did their own original research rather than just copy my work (which, to be fair, I largely copied from an old dictionary).


May I ask where did you start with your research? I’m thinking it would be nice to have something like this also for other languages (I’m Italian) but I have exactly zero clue about how to make something like this happen.

I’m not an expert in Thieves’ Cant - well, not much of one, I did learn a bit doing this guide. I got into it by accident - I found a 1970s reprint of a dictionary of English slang from the 18th century in a second hand bookshop and flipping through it, saw some words marked as ‘Cant’ and being a D&D player knew what that was - and I used that to do the first version of the guide (the one shared at the start of this thread). When I revised it a few years ago to put it on DriveThru, I went to Project Gutenberg and did a search for old dictionaries of slang and found a few more that had relevant material.

But from what I do know, from the research I did then - there was a type of Italian cant called Spassell - it wasn’t exactly a Thieves Cant as I understand it but looking for information around that might give you a starting point.


Luckily for me, Spassell is from my area, so I should have at least some chances of finding my way on it. Thank you!

Sorry for posting this, had no idea you were on DriveThruRPG!

Honestly, no problem. The free version was released by me to the web and if it’s still circulating that’s fine. It only annoys me when people take it and make money off it which has happened. Some people have, in the past, literally just copied it and sold it. Others have used it as a base and added to it - which I think is absolutely fine. And some have done their own research from scratch, which is also, of course, fine.