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George Matsell

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Vocabulum: Or, The Rogue's Lexicon
George W. Matsell  More Info

From the History of the New York City Police Department 

An act regulating the fees of the several Officers and Ministers of Justice within this State, passed April 8, 1801, regulated Constables' fees as follows: For serving a warrant nineteen cents; serving a summons, twelve and a half cents; mileage, for every mile going only, sic cents; levying a fine, or penalty to the amount of two dollars and fifty cents or under, twelve and a half cents; and all sums above two dollars and fifty cents at the rate of twelve and a half cents on every two dollars and fifty cents. Taking a defendant in custody or a mittimus, twelve and a half cents; conveying a person to goal, twelve and a half cents, if within one mile; and for every mole more going only, six cents.


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 In 1845 George Matsell was appointed first Chief of the police department. Later the highest ranking uniformed member of the Police Department was the Superintendent. In 1859, or thereabouts, he published The Secret Language of Crim: Vocabulum or The Rouge’s Lexicon.  His dictionary of street slang from the mid-19th Century has interesting terms from the era, as well as some insights to our ‘street language’ today.  As an example, Matsell is likely printed the first reference to “Dukes” has meaning hands, as in “Put up your Dukes.”  Or, he records that before the Civil War the word “crib” meant someone’s residence, as it does today.

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