Sunday, February 28, 2010

Theives Can... or Cant

Thieves' Cant. It was one of two secret languages mentioned in the 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook. Dragon Magazine, somewhere in the late issue 60's or early 70's even published a dictionary of the Thieves Cant suitable for removing from your Dragon Mag, folding along the lines, and having a pocket reference of sorts. But really, what is Thieves Cant? Another language? A dialect of Common? Choice coded words? Probably more of the later then anything else.

I came across A Hairbag's Guide to Cop Speak for the NYPD today, and it is pretty much Thieves Cant for cops, localized. That is the way I expect Thieves Cant would work in game... a local coded speak for the Thieves Guild.

Below is the Hairbag's Guide to Cop Speak for the NYPD, added to and edited by me to add omissions as I recall them (it is the lingo of my job). It is extremely regional... Police Departments neighborng NYC may use some of the same terms and may use different terms... as I said, it is extremely localized:

Adult Beverages: Alcohol

Back in the bag: An officer who is demoted from a plainclothes to uniform detail

Bag OF Shit: A miserable, no-chance-of-being-solved case

Boss: General term for any police supervisor

Bus: Ambulance

Bracelets: Handcuffs

Choir practice: A drinking party

Cocktails: Manhattan detectives are fond of this term for getting drinks

Dee Wee: Driving While Intoxicated

DOA: dead person (literally, dead on arrival)

EDP: crazy person (literally, emotionally disturbed person)

The Farm: Rehab

Flopped: Bounced out of a detail

Fly: to move from one command or detail to another

Gentleman: What cops call a stand-up boss. Top commanders, however,
sometimes think this means the boss is a pushover who doles out too much OT

Hairbag: An old-timer who thinks he knows everything

Highway Therapy: Transfer against will to a command furthest from one's residence. An “Unofficial Punishement”
The House: Stationhouse

Housemouse: A cop who is afraid to leave the station house and go on patrol; a sissy

It is what it is: A euphemism for a screw-up with political overtones

In the wind: At large, said of a suspect

The Job: Working at the NYPD

Job: A radio run or assignment

Loo: Friendly term for a lieutenant

Mope: Criminal

One Way / One Way Street: Cop out only for themselves

Perp: Perpetrator of a crime

On a Personal: Bathroom Break

Puzzle Palace: A derogatory term for NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan

Rat Squad: Internal Affairs Bureau

RMP: A squad car (literally, radio motor patrol)

Rumproaster: Vice squad term for a perv who rubs up against an unsuspecting person

Sarge: Sergeant

Skel: Criminal

Snitch: Informant

The Squad: Beat cop’s term for a precinct detective squad

The job is on the level: Sarcastic phrase meaning the job is unfair

Tool: Asshole

Tune Up: To beat someone up

Wood shampoo / Bronx Party Hat: To beat an unruly suspect about the head with a baton

Think how this would work in a D&D Campaign:

"Man the Loo is a tool. He's all bent that I gave a skel a wood shampoo. What did he expect, the guy was an EDP. He's even sicked the Rat Squad on me!"

You don't need a lot of words or phrases to make your own Cant... a dozen or so choice ones will keep your players on their toes and you can add more as you find the need.


  1. I remember those little dictionaries from Dragon mag. Good stuff!

  2. "Wood Shampoo"! That is great.


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