In modern crime slang, a hooker is “a prostitute.” But in Shakespeare’s day, according to Bill Bryson in “Shakespeare: The World as Stage,” a hooker was one who snatched desirables through open windows with hooks.

Some other members of the Shakespearean underworld were “coney catchers, or swindlers (a coney was a rabbit reared for the table and thus unsuspectingly tame),” foists (pickpockets), and abtams (“who feigned lunacy to provide a distraction”).

The sports page informs us that “His name was tossed out early last year as a possible candidate at Arkansas, but that dried up faster than an Arizona campfire.”

A reader says, “I didn’t know campfires dried up. I thought they burned out.” She suggests the sports department may hold the key to fighting those awful wildfires out west.


“A shell-shocked black family stands in the aftermath of the Great 1937 Flood in Joseph Vorst’s After the Flood.”

Michael Klossner writes: “I don’t like the use of ‘shell-shocked’ for ‘shocked’ or ‘stunned’ when no shells are involved. It’s inaccurate. Why use it.”


Why, indeed. Incidentally, I didn’t see the original copy here, but I suspect that that family was shocked by the Great Flood of 1927, not ’37. The ’27 flood was the one that devastated the states on the Mississippi River, including Arkansas.

Shell shock was World War I slang for “battle fatigue.” Paul Dickson’s “War Slang” notes that “When famed British war poet Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967 at age eighty-one, obituaries noted that he had been honored for his bravery in combat but — after throwing his Military Cross into a river — had been sent to a sanatorium for victims of shell shock.”

Big Bertha could cause shell shock. Big Bertha was First War slang for a siege gun used by the German army to shell Paris. Quoting Dickson again:

“It was a mammoth rifle-cannon with which the Germans shelled the city from a distance of up to nine miles. … The name alludes to Bertha Antoinette Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, at whose factory the gun was manufactured. She was the sole heir to the Krupp armaments empire.”