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 there were many slang expressions to describe liars and lying.

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


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

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

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

Flam. A flam was a lie. 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 were lying to someone.

Jibber the kibber. This was a particular type of deception. It involved tying a lantern around a horse’s neck who was stationed on a shore. From a distance, the light could look like a ship and draw other ships onto the shore where it could be plundered.

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. A cross cove was a dishonest man.

Round dealing. In contrast a man who was known for round dealing was known for his 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, 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).

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