WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Mort

That moment when the French and Latin word for death becomes Thieves’ Cant slang for woman.

Yikes.

Mort

Woman or wench; also a yeoman’s daughter; when used by itself, denotes a girl or woman of loose morals; canting jargon of unknown origin from at least 1560s.

Maybe the connection to the word for death has something to do with the morality, or lack thereof, associated with this slang. Loose morals usually meant a worker in the sex trade, which usually meant an unfortunate association with mortality – early death. No matter the derivation, it’s not a flattering term in the least.

Well, just as we discovered with cove for gentlemen, when you add the right adjective, the character of women called mort becomes more apparent:

autem mort ~ a married woman; also a female beggar who hired or borrowed children for larger gain

Jane Gibbs – Mrs Gibbs the Notorious Street Walker and Extorter by James Gillray, 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

bingo mort ~ a female dram drinker; one who spirituous liquors in small amounts

bleached mort ~ a fair complexioned wench

dimber mort ~ a pretty wench

The Graces in High Wind – a Scene taken from Nature in Kensington Gardens by James Gillray, 1810, British Museum.

filching mort ~ a woman thief

gentry mort ~ a gentlewoman

Following the Fashion – St James’s giving the TON a Soul without a Body – Cheapside aping the MODE, a Body without a Soul by James Gillray, 1794, British Museum.

kinchin mort ~ a young girl, usually an orphan, trained as a thief

nazy mort ~ a drunken woman

DIDO, in Despair! by James Gillray, 1801, British Museum.

queer mort ~ a diseased strumpet; also queere mort

rome or rum mort ~ a queen or great lady

Launching a Frigate by James Gillray, 1790s, Public Domain.

strolling mort ~ beggar or peddler pretending to be a widow

mort wap-apace ~ a woman of experience, or very expert at the sport of copulation

Female Curiosity by James Gillray, 1778, National Portrait Gallery.

 

Words and definitions taken from the Online Etymological DictionaryCant: A Gentleman’s Guide, and the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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