Arts and Leisure

Jilts, Flams and Jibber the Kibber – The Art of Lying in Colonial Times

Lying existed in the 1600s, just as it does today. And many slang expressions described liars and lying.

Here, then, are a few of the many ways people spoke about lying in the early days of New England:

lying

Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats) by Valentin de Boulogne (1620, National Gallery of Art)

The Art of Lying

Jilt. A woman who encouraged a man to spend money courting her when she planned to then deceive or abandon him.

Hum or humbug. If someone humbugged you, or hummed you, they lied to you.

Flam. A flam was a lie, and a flim flam was a silly story.

Gulled. If you were gulled, you had been deceived or fooled by a lie. You were gullible.

Gamon. If you gamonned someone you lied to them.

Jibber the kibber. This was a particular type of deception. It involved tying a lantern around a horse’s neck stationed on a shore. From a distance, the light could look like a ship. It could then draw other ships onto the shore where thieves )also known as mooncussers) could plunder it.

Fetch. A fetch was a trick or scheme designed to deceive someone.

Couch. To couch was to lie.

Fob. A fob was a lie designed to distract someone from the truth, as in fobbing off someone’s complaint.

Cross. You might call a dishonest man a cross cove.

Round dealing. In contrast, a man known for round dealing had a reputation for honesty. Likewise a scaly fish was a blunt, but honest, sailor.

Up to their gossip. If you were too smart to be taken in by someone’s lying, you were up to the gossip.

Cully. If you were a cully, however, you were someone who was especially gullible, and an easy mark for a liar.

Bowyers. A bowyer was a liar who told spectacular stories, probably derived from archers who frequently told of their fantastic shots.

Thanks to: Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673). This story was updated in 2022.

To Top

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!