Sunday, February 22, 2015


Penny asked if the word cant is just another word for slang. That’s one of the meanings of the word—a provincial dialect so peculiar that it constitutes vulgar slang—but it’s not the exclusive meaning. In fact, cant is most often described as jargon—specialized words used in a certain profession (legal jargon) or by a definable group. Jargon is deliberate and is designed as a type of shorthand for others in the same industry.

Cant (from the Latin cantus, chant), started out meaning a lilting musical sound. Then it shifted to any accent or intonation. At one point, it meant the whining of a beggar. Then it came to mean the secret language used in the underworld. It became respectable once again when it was used to mean the arcane terms used in a legitimate profession, though often such wording is viewed with contempt by outsiders.

A totally different cant, meaning an edge or corner, came from the Greek κανθός (kanthos), the corner of the eye. It meant a niche, an edge, a corner, and an inclined or slanting facet (as on a crystal).

The word cant also showed up as a term in forestry, where it meant a portion, a share, a parcel, or a division.

A fourth cant, of Irish derivation, means a disposal of property by public competition to the highest bidder; in other words, an auction.

Finally, an obsolete form of cant meant a trick or illusion.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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