In a comment on my post last week, Marissa mentioned boxing cant, a colorful language that developed out of early nineteenth century pugilism. I wanted to follow up on that as well as my post. But first a little praise is due.
When I was writing my book, The Bluestocking on His Knee, I wanted my hero to box. I did some initial research, but I was drawing a blank, so I appealed to that bastion of all early nineteenth century knowledge, my colleagues in the Beau Monde, the Romance Writers of America Special Interest Chapter for Regency-set romances. A woman named Kate McMurry willingly shared volumes of research with me, and I will be forever grateful. I dedicated the book, and now this post, to her.
So, for a little more on what the boys were doing at Gentleman Jackson’s, here’s a piece, courtesy of Kate, from Vincent Dowling, editor of Bell’s Life (a gentleman’s sporting magazine), talking about boxing at Gentleman Jackson’s:
Here all the elite of the of fashionable world were daily assembled; noblemen and gentlemen of the highest rank did not disdain to take the gloves with the accomplished Jackson. . . In these associations there was none of the finnikin foppery [don’t you love it!] of modern times; there was no apprehensions of the derangement of well-cured locks or pretty faces; men, and noblemen too, met foot to foot and fist to fist, regardless of consequence, dealing such blows at each other’s heads as often deprived them of momentary sensation.
Sounds like a bunch of lads, doesn’t it?
Of course, those lads had a sound all their own. When playing at boxing, they often used boxing cant. The purpose of boxing cant isn’t much different than jargon and acronyms that litter professional disciplines today. Being able to speak in this special language indicated you were in the know, you belonged, you GOT it. And just in case you didn’t, but wanted to pretend that you did, a helpful chap named Pierce Egan starting publishing a series of books called Boxiana in 1812 that explained everything you could want to know about the fine art of boxing.
According to historians, boxing cant was a combination of technical sporting terms, cockney, and slang used by the criminal underworld. Here’s a few of the terms:
- The Fancy—those who took a fancy to a particular sport, from the boxers themselves to the umpires and those who thronged the matches. Today, we might use the word “fan.”
- Out-and-Outer—the perfect example of his kind
- A Cross—a fixed fight
- Chucker Outer—someone who cleared the ring after a prize fight
- Cove—a common gentleman.
You may notice some similarity between boxing cant and thieves cant, which the heroine Kim uses at first in Mairelon the Magician. Marissa and I can hardly wait to talk to you more about it next week. Make sure you’re here on Tuesday, when Marissa calls to order the first meeting of the Young Bluestockings Book Club!