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31 Old Timey Slang Terms for "Informant"

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We’ve used the term “rat” to refer to an informer since approximately 1910. But Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of the Underworld, published first in 1949 with a second edition in 1961, shows that in the Cant language of the underworld—which first appeared in Britain in the 16th century and the United States in the 18th—criminals have many more names for snitches. Here are some of them. 

1. Abaddon: This term dates to circa 1810-80 and means "a thief who informs on his fellow rogues." It comes from the Hebrew abaddon, a destroyer.

2. Bark: Similar to "to squeak" and "to squeal," bark, as defined by the 1889 glossary Police!meant "to inform (to the police)." It was obsolete by 1930.

3. Beefer: In the 1899 glossary Tramping with Tramps, Josiah Flynt writes that a beefer is "One who squeals on, or gives away, a tramp or criminal." By the 1930s, the word—American in origin—had moved from tramps to become slang for police and journalists, according to Partridge.

4. Bleat: Lambs aren't the only ones who do this. When informants bleat, they give information to the police. Partridge cites November 8, 1836's The Individual: "Ven I'm corned, I can gammon a gentry cove, Come the fawney-rig, the figging-lay, and never vish to bleat." The term was obsolete in Britain by 1890, but as of 1920 was a current slang term in the U.S.

5. Blobber: According to Henry Leverage's "Dictionary of the Underworld" from Flynn's magazine, this is an American term for an informer from early 1925.

6. Blue: A verb meaning "to blew it; to inform (to the police)," according to the H. Brandon's 1839 book Poverty, Mendicity and Crime, and J.C. Hotten's The Slang Dictionary from 1859. It was common slang by 1890, as noted in Farmer & Henley's Slang and its Analogues.

7. Cabbage Hat: A mostly Pacific Coast term for an informer, circa 1910; a rhyming on rat, according to D.W. Mauer and Sidney J. Baker's "'Australian' Rhyming Argot in the American Underworld," which appeared in American Speech in October 1944.

8. Crysler: A punny reference (of American origin) to Chrysler cars meaning "a squealer; a traitor; a coward," according to Leverage's "Dictionary of the Underworld."

9. Cocked Hat: Another Pacific Coast rhyme on rat, circa 1910, that means "informer to the police."

10. Come Copper: A 1905 term for someone who gave information to the police.

11. Come it / Come it as strong as a horse: Come it (or, verbally, coming it) dates back to 1812, and means to be an informer. "Come it strong" meant to do a thing vigorously, and according to Egan's Grouse in 1823, "They say of a thief, who has turned evidence against his accomplices, that he is coming all he knows, or that he comes it as strong as a horse."

12. Conk: As a noun, conk dates back to the early 1800s and means "a thief who impeaches his accomplices; a spy; informer, or tell tale." As a verb, it means to inform to the police, and was often verbally called "conking it." Conk was obsolete by 1900.

13. Dropper Man: An Australian term, circa 1910, for a habitual informer to the police. "A man that drops information; also, he causes men to 'drop' or 'fall' (be arrested)," notes Sidney J. Baker in 1945's The Australian Language.

14. Finger Louse: This American term, dating back to the 1930s, is an elaboration of finger, meaning to take the fingerprints of a person.

15. Fizgig / Fizzgig: This slang term for an informer, circa 1910, may have derived from fizgig, Australian for "fishing spear." "Often shorted to fiz(z)," Partridge writes. "By contemptuous euphemism; not unrelated to thingamyjig."

16. Grass: This word—short for grasshopper (circa 1920), rhyming on copper—dates back to the 1930s. "Come grass" is also used to describe someone who informs to the police.

17. Knock-Down: Giving information to police, circa 1910.

18. Lemon: A 1934 American term meaning "one who turns State's evidence" because he has "turn[ed] sour on his confederates."

19. Narking Dues: Partridge says this British phrase is "used when someone has been, or is, laying information with the police." It appeared in 1896's A Child of the Jago: 

Presently, he said: "I bin put away this time . . ." — "Wot?" answered Bill, "narkin' dues is it?" — Josh nodded. — "'Oo done it then? 'Oo narked?"

The term was obsolete by 1940, but the word "nark" lives on.

20. Nose / To Nose / Turn Nose:  Nose is a 1789 word for a snitch; to nose or turn nose, both circa 1809, meant to give evidence or inform.

21. On the Erie: A 1933 term, American in origin, for someone who makes a living by informing to the police, i.e., "That mug has always been on the Erie." (This term can also mean "shut up! Someone is listening.")

22. Pigeon: An American verb, dating back to 1859, meaning to inform to the police.

23. Puff: A British term for a King's informer, dating back to 1735; obsolete by 1890.

24. Quatch: An American term, circa 1925, meaning "to betray secrets." Similar to quack, a verb meaning "to inform to the police," and quag, "unsafe, not reliable; not to be trusted."

25. Scream: A noun, circa 1915, for "the giving of information to police, especially by one criminal against another." Partridge notes that by 1920, it began to mean the same as to squeal. From 1915's The Melody of Death:

"I don't want to hear any more about your conscience," said the [police] officer wearily. "Do you scream or don't you?"

By 1925, the term had hopped across the pond from England to the United States.

26. Snake in the Grass: An American term for an informer who conceals his informing, circa 1925.

27. Snickle: A confusion of snitch and snilch, this American term meaning "to inform to the police" dates back to 1859; it was obsolete by 1920.

28. Telegram: Australian term, circa 1899, for a spy or informer.

29. Turn Chirp: A British term from 1846 for turning the King's evidence. Comes from G.W.M. Reynolds' "The Thieves' Alphabet," in The Mysteries of London: "N was for a Nose that turned chirp on his pal." Partridge wonders, "Does it exist elsewhere?"

30. Viper: An American term, circa 1925. "Contemptuous," Partridge notes, "'a snake in the grass.'"

31. Weak Sister: This term dates back to 1924, and doesn't just mean an informer, but "an untrusted person, or a weakling, in a gang."

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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