Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/853

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THE LANGUAGE OF CRIME.

individuals, evolution tends to establish among "beings primarily rivals — a modus vivendi which insures the free expansion of their species — an expansion progressive, but which will eventually find its limits in the new struggle which species, triumphant through their union, will have to sustain against adjacent species.

What horizons does the study of ants open to the mind of the naturalist! The scrutiny of their relations with plants is sufficient to procure for the investigators who devote their efforts to it the most lively enjoyment which the naturalist's mind can ask for. Those who have succeeded in raising this little corner of the veil of Nature should be ever grateful to the ants for it. — Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue Scientifique.

 
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THE LANGUAGE OF CRIME.
By A. F. B. CROFTON.

THE language of criminals — the argot of Paris, the "patter" of London — has been carefully investigated by numerous writers, with very variant results.

Its origin is difficult to explain. Criminals, say many authors, have found it necessary to adopt a technical language for their own protection, that they may be able to converse in public without being understood. "They have been forced to do this, and have made a language as sinister and as vile as themselves." This theory can not be admitted. Certainly the argot is sinister and vile and thoroughly representative of the class that uses it, but further than this we can not go.

The theory that the use of this dialect is of any assistance to the criminal is inadmissible. Most policemen and all prison officers know this slang, sometimes better than the thieves. To speak it in the hearing of a detective is to invite arrest; to speak it in the presence of the general public would arouse suspicion and attract attention — two things which are especially to be avoided. Why, then, does it exist? Dr. Laurent, of the Santé prison in Paris, has given an explanation which has at least nothing to contradict it: The persons engaged in every trade form a species of dialect or technical phraseology which is spoken and understood only by themselves. Criminals, who practice a trade as old as any, have gradually acquired a language more adapted to their wants, more in keeping with their ideas and thoughts. Miserable, heartless, engaged in a perpetual struggle against morality, law, and decency, they have acquired a language of debased words and cynical metaphors, a language of abbreviated expressions and obscene synonyms.