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Black market/Spivs

Posted by Lewis on June 19, 2003

In Reply to: Black market posted by James Briggs on June 17, 2003

: : : Do you know the origins of the term black market?

: : BLACK MARKET ? ?as originally used during World War II meant the market in buying and selling stolen military supplies, such as clothing, blankets, food, and truck tires?The term had also seen some use in World War I, when it entered English as a translation of the German ?Schwarzmarkt.?? From ?I Hear America Talking? by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976). Another source says the phrase got its start in 1931 and meant ?unauthorized dealing in commodities that are rationed or of which the supply is otherwise restricted. After a slow start in the 1930s, mainly in the area of currency dealing, the term really took off in the disrupted economic circumstances of World War II?? From ?20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years? by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).

: The term was well recognised at the start of WW2 and was familiar to the public - at least in the East End of London. Only very rarely did it involved military items, mainly consumer goods that were very hard to find, and often stolen.
: Two related terms spring to mind;
: 1.'Under the counter' where goods in short supply were kept away from display and only made available to special/regular customers.
: 2. 'Spiv' - said to be a reversal of 'Vips' - persons who touted suspect goods, often in street makets. Became common just after WW2.

My grandmother (b.1892) spoke of spivs as being wartime hustlers - not after the war. A spiv could have been back-slang as it was called for VIPs, but that doesn't quite work. I know that "yob" for unruly "boy" is back-slang and I wondered about 'slag' for 'gal' although it is literally the rubbish created in mining coal.

The "Black economy" is also related to all this - "black" in this sense meaning undocumented/undeclared/unofficial. I have some vague memory that "black" market might have had started with "fire damaged" goods - or rather goods that were supposed to have been lost in a fire, but were really sold through unconventional outlets.