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The American Malefactor’s Dictionary: blackleg

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Sunday Cockfighting New Orleans - 1871


– 1. a gambler; 2. someone who bets without intending to pay his losses; 3. a swindler, a criminal.

The term derives from criminals and swindlers who had black bruises on their legs from sitting in the stocks or from wearing fetters. Another possible origin comes from the black color on the legs of gamecocks, since gamblers and swindlers frequently attended cockfights.


  • Barrère, Albert and Charles G. Leland. A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant. [London]: The Ballantyne Press, 1889.
  • London Antiquary, A [Hotten, John Camden]. A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words. 2nd ed. London: John Camden Hotten, 1860.
  • Matsell, George W. Vocabulum: Or, the Rogue’s Lexicon.. New York: George W. Matsell, 1859.

Note: See “Cant: The Language of the Underworld” to learn more about the background of the American Malefactor’s Dictionary.

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