I came across a word origin yesterday during the course of some serious academic research, which I would like to share with my readers for their delectation. Actually, I saw it on the telly, but it’s still a valuable lexigraphical contribution. Okay?
Most people are aware of Cockney rhyming slang, but there is or was another form of disguising what was being said called ‘Back Slang’. All it involved was reversing words, eg ‘Madam’ would become…well, maybe that wasn’t such a good example. But if you ask your grocer for two pounds of potatoes and he tells his assistant to give you ‘eno’ pound, be on your guard is all I can say.
This is because back slang was used by market traders so that they could discuss things in front of customers without giving the game away. For example making fun of irritating peoples, or conning them in some way.
I have to confess here that I’ve always thought the whole ‘slang as a means of disguise’ thing to be entertaining but pretty pointless, since I’m sure that the the public, police etc soon cottoned on to what rhyming slang terms meant, and back slang is an even cruder and easier ‘code’ to break. If you did overhear you grocer speaking gobbledegook, you would soon start to get suspicious. Anyway, here is today’s word origin.
And it is a very simple one. It’s now used (at least in the UK) to refer to an uncouth or unpleasant young man, but originally it was merely the back slang word for a boy: Yob.