Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A word or two on nonces

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Someobody asked me the other day what I meant by the term nonce, as used in an earlier post.
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For those who don't know, nonce is short for the term 'Non Specified Offender' as used in the Her Majesty's Prison Service.
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The idea being that child molesters are frequently murdered in jail so, to save their grubby little lives, all their paperwork included the term 'Non Specified Offender', rather than 'Kiddie Fiddler' or whatever.
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As far as I can tell, this practice has now been abandoned as the term 'Non Specified Offender' was only ever applied to sex criminals so they got cut up anyway ...
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NB As well as being used in it's strict, literal sense, nonce was also occasionally used to describe homosexuals. Unlike the contemporary, one size fits all, use of the word gay to describe all homosexuals, Londoners of Old applied a gradated scale of terminology that reflected their respective level of approval or disapproval of the homosexual in question:

10. Nonce / F***ing queer
9. Shirtlifter / Brown Hatter
8. Poove
7. Homo / Bent (as a nine bob note)
6. Gayboy / Poof
5. Ginger (Beer)
4. Duke of Kent
3. Camp (as a row of tents)
2. Seems like a nice boy
1. A bit artistic

Anything larger than 5. and you were in the Red Zone. So, if you were in an East End pub and someone referred to you as being Duke of Kent you were probably on safe ground and could finish your spritzer in relative safety. However, if words like poove, nonce, homo or gayboy were being bandied around it really would have been advisable to sup up your beer and collect your fags and scarper sharpish.
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Naturally, I really do not condone the prejudices of the past. Everyone now realises that most London queer bashers were really repressed homosexuals anyway. Life is a whole lot better now that they can work out their urges with like-minded, leather-clad individuals in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, rather than wandering around hitting people they feel attracted to.
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NB2 The terms poof / poove should not be confused with the endearingly child-like expression 'puff', which was East End speak for blOw, Mary Jane, reefer. Hence, your new cell mate saying 'I got banged up for blowing a little puff' would be no real cause for concern, or delight. Sorry.
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NB3 Some plastic Cockneys our there maintain that the expression 'scarper' is derived from rhyming slang, Scapa Flow = Go. This is incorrect. Scarper is actually Polari and derived from the the Italian verb scappare = to escape.
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Right, that's more than enough London etymology for one day
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5 comments:

Ian said...

I like the way someone has tried to cross out the message on the wall of the photo with a single, thin white line. That would have stopped anything happening wouldn't it. Would have made me think twice certainly.

On the subject of Polari, I almost bought a Julian and Sandy CD lunchtime for a fiver, but eventually went with my second Derek and Clive purchase of the month instead, also for a fiver, which I will now listen to at work this afternoon.

Stef said...

I'll have a copy of both please ...

Stef said...

Made you think twice?

Sorry Ian, this may come as bad news, but you look older than twelve

Kate said...

So where does 'poove' come from? Is it related to 'poof'?

I've always used the word 'nonce' (although probably only in the comfort of my own head) to mean effeminate men who aren't gay (and hence really have no excuse for such behaviour).

Stef said...

Sadly, I must confess that I don't know the derivation of the word poof/ poove. I could spend an hour googling then pretend I knew but that would be cheating and I'd probably only end up perpetuating a lie.

No, you're right. Nonce can also mean to flounce around.

Nonce passed its peak sometime in the 1960s and now possesses a mere shadow of its former potency. I also believe it got confused with nonse, as in nonsense, which has also confused its original meaning.

As always, context is oh-so important. So, in an earlier post when I described myself as noncing down Kennington Park Road with my girlfriend's handbag, your definition is the appropriate one. On the other hand, Ronnie Kray was a nonce in the truest sense of the word (I can say that now he's dead).

In that respect my post was incomplete, so thanks for that.