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An episode in the life of Quintin Hogg, pioneering educationalist




London 'back-slang'


In the mid-1860s, Quintin Hogg, shortly after leaving Eton to begin a business career in the City, set out to provide in his spare time a very basic education to the children of the London poor. He later wrote:-

"My first effort was to get a couple of crossing-sweepers whom I picked up near Trafalgar Square, and offered to teach how to read. In those days the Thames Embankment did not exist, and the Adelphi Arches were open both to the tide and the street. With an empty beer bottle for a candlestick and a tallow candle for illumination, two crossing-sweepers as pupils, your humble servant as teacher, and a couple of Bibles as reading books, what grew into the Polytechnic was practically started. We had not been engaged in our reading very long when at the far end of the arch I noticed a twinkling light. "Kool ecilop," shouted one of the boys, at the same moment 'doucing the glim' and bolting with his companion, leaving me in the dark with my upset beer bottle and my douced candle, forming a spectacle which seemed to arouse suspicion on the part of our friend the policeman, whose light it was that had appeared in the distance. However, after scrutinizing me for some time by the light of his bull's-eye he moved on, leaving me in a state of mental perturbation as to what the mystic words I had heard hollered out meant, and to ask myself, what I, who a year before had been at Eton, was doing at that time of night under an Adelphi Arch? Afterwards, when I became proficient in 'back slang' I knew that 'kool ecilop' was 'look (out for the) police' spelled backwards . . . . .  ".



It is doubtful if the indirect communicator in this example could spell the words he used in either direction.  Someone up the line who could spell must have transformed 'look' into 'kool' and 'police' into 'ecilop' so that the sound of the reversed words could be used as a coded warning.  The boy who heard the warning knew exactly what the words meant.

The context of this episode in Quintin Hogg's life can be explored in the Quintin School History in the Regent Street Polytechnic (polyboys) website.



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