Crib, crib sheets

Posted by ESC on August 24, 2002

In Reply to: Crib posted by masakim on August 23, 2002

: : : : "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse w h o r e. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." - James D. Nicoll

: : : : It's a great quote, but what precisely is a cribhouse? Crib could refer to a bed, or it could refer to cheating. Does it mean a "ranch" or is this a term from the era of house detectives and illicit "no-tell motels"?

: : : I am away from my library. It seems to me that a "crib" originally was a stall-like facility, located right off the street, used by prostitutes. Maybe in New Orleans? Later "crib" came to mean one's apartment or other living quarters. As the dictionaries say, usually considered vulgar.

: : "In the early part of the 20th century, many visitors came to New Orleans seeking the entertainments of 'jolly good fellows.' According to the euphemisms of the times, such 'fellows' were prostitutes. And passengers arriving at the Basin Street train station couldn't help but fall into their arms...The bordellos of Storyville became great mansions of vice. Many madams became extraordinarily wealthy. As did saloon owners and politicians and policemen who took a large cut in graft...And while many of the bordellos, like Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, were lavish and catered to customers who could meet her prices, there were also hundreds and hundreds of 'crib' girls, who charged much lower rates and worked out of small one and two room cribs, furnished with only a bed and a chair. They might rent a crib for a night for as much as three dollars. Then they might charge men anywhere from ten to fifty cents. Competition tended to keep the prices brutally low in the cribs..."

: crib n. 4 A brothel, esp. a cheap one; specif., a very small room, large enough to contain only a bed, in a brothel. 1950: A. Lomax, _Mr. Jelly Roll_, 21.
: From _Dictionary of American Slang_ by Harold Wentworth & Stuart Berg Flexner.
: ----------
: A large "crib house" containing separate rooms for 300 prostitutes. (Miner, _Slavery_, 1916)
: Then the ocean began to paint herself up like an old crib-house woman getting ready for a hard day at the window. (C.B. Davis _Anointed_, 1937)

CRIB: "Recent slang use of 'crib' for 'apartment' isn't new at all; 'crib' has been used in this sense since the early 19th century and not long after became slang for either a bed or small room in a brothel big enough to contain just a bed. 'Cribbing' from 'crib sheets' (cheat sheets) on an examination, a kind of euphemism among students for cheating, has its origins in the use of 'to crib' for 'to pilfer or take furtively,' common since about 1740. The reasoning behind this last was probably the idea that cribs or wicker baskets were used by thieves to hide stolen articles. It is said that thieves in London carried baskets in which to stash stolen goods because women in the market places carried the same baskets." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

Crib, of course, also means a bed for a baby.

CRIB - Old English. "Crib is a Germanic word, with relatives today in German (krippe) and Dutch (kribbe). In Old English it mean 'manger,' and not until 17th century did it develop its familiar present-day sense 'child's bed.' An intermediate stage, now lost, was 'basket,' which appears to have given rise to its 18th-century use as a thieves' slang term for 'pilfer'; this in turn is probably the source of the modern colloquial sense 'plagiarize'." From "Dictionary of Word Origins: the Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words" by John Ayto (Arcade Publishing, New York, 1990).