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 2021.

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