The dialect, thought to originate from medieval gipsies, was used by all manner of villains in Shakespeare’s England, becoming known as thieves’ cant or rogues’ cant.
But it was thought to have become obsolete until its unexpected revival, believed to have been led by criminal members of the travelling community.
The Ministry of Justice is so worried about the use of the code that it has issued a security alert to governors at jails in England and Wales.
Examples of the new thieves’ cant include ‘chat’ or ‘onick’ meaning heroin; ‘cawbe’, meaning crack cocaine; and ‘inick’, for phone or mobile phone SIM card.
Inmates also use normal English in code – ‘Bring the children’ means to bring drugs, while the phrase ‘Lots of hair on the children’ means ‘bring lots of drugs’.
An insider at the 381-prisoner, category C establishment revealed: ‘This is the most ingenious use of a secret code we have ever come across.
‘Elizabethan cant was only used by a tiny number of people and it is quite amazing that is has been resurrected in order to buy drugs. Some inmates will try anything to get contraband into jail.’
Wow. What can I say? Either there are a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players being convicted these days or a lot of linguistic scholars.
I like the fact that the inmates are at least delving into history to adapt their language. “Warbs” and “keenya” sound somehow better to me than “po-po” or “hizzy”. I wonder what the Elizabethan slang equivalent for “bling” was…