Cant Terms – Henry Flipper

As a narrative of this description is very apt to be dry and uninteresting, I have thought it possible to remove in a measure this objection by using as often as convenient the cant lingo of the corps. A vocabulary which shall contain it all, or nearly all, becomes necessary. I have taken great care to make it as full as possible, and at the same time as intelligible as possible.

There are a few cant words and expressions which are directly personal, and in many cases self explanatory. They are for such reasons omitted.

“Animal,” “animile,” “beast,” “reptile.” Synonymous terms applied to candidates for admission into the Academy.

“Plebe.” A candidate after admission, a new cadet. After the candidates are examined and the proficient ones admitted, these latter are known officially as “new cadets,” but in the cant vernacular of the corps they are dubbed “plebes,” and they retain this designation till the candidates of the next year report. They are then called “yearlings,” a title applied usually to them in camp only. After the encampment they become “furloughmen” until they return from furlough in August of the following year. They then are “second classmen,” and are so officially and à la cadet throughout the year. From this time till they graduate they are known as the “graduating class,” so that, except the second class, each class has its own peculiar cant designation.

Candidates generally report in May about the 20th and during July and August are in camp. This is their “plebe camp.” The next is their, “yearling camp.” During the next, they are en congé, and the next and last is their “first class camp.” Of “plebe camp,” “yearling camp,” and “first class camp,” more anon.

“Rapid.” A “plebe” is said to be “rapid” when he shows a disposition to resist hazing, or to “bone familiarity” with older cadets i.e., upper classmen.

“Sep.” A cadet who reported for admission in September.

“Fins.” A term applied to the hands generally, of course to the hands of “plebes.”

“Prelim.” A preliminary examination.

“Pred.” A predecessor.

“Pony.” A key, a corrigé.

“To bone.” To study, to endeavor to do well in any particular; for instance, to “bone demerits” is to strive to get as few as possible.

“To bone popularity.” This alludes to a habit practiced, especially by, “yearlings” while in camp, and is equivalent to our every day expression in civil life, viz., “to get in with.”

“To bugle it.” To avoid a recitation. To avoid a recitation is an act seldom done by any cadet. It is in fact standing at the board during the whole time of recitation without turning around, and thus making known a readiness to recite. At the Academy a bugle takes the place of the bell in civil schools. When the bugle is blown those sections at recitation are dismissed, and others come in. Now, if one faces the board till the bugle blows, there is not then enough time for him to recite, and he is said to have “bugled it.” Some instructors will call on any one who shows a disposition to do so, and will require him to tell what he knows about his subject.

“Busted,” “broken.” These words apply only to cadet officers who are reduced to ranks.

“A cold case.” A sure thing, a foregone conclusion.

To “get chevrons.” To receive an appointment in the battalion organization. Each year, on the day the graduates receive their diplomas, and just after possibly just before they are relieved from further duty at the Academy, the order fixing the appointments for the next year is read, and those of the year previous revoked. It has been customary to appoint the officers, captains, and lieutenants from the first class, the sergeants from the second, and the corporals from the third. This custom has at times, and for reasons, been departed from, and the officers chosen as seemed best.

For any offence of a grave nature, any one who has chevrons is liable to lose them, or, in other words, to be reduced to ranks.

“A cit.” Any citizen.

“To crawl over.” To haze, generally in the severest manner possible.

“A chapel.” An attendance at church.

“To curse out.” To reprimand, to reprove, and also simply to interview. This expression does not by any means imply the use of oaths.

“To cut,” “To cut cold.” To avoid, to ostracize.

“Debauch.” Any ceremony or any thing unusual. It may be a pleasant chat, a drill, or any thing that is out of the usual routine.

“To drive a squad.” To march it.

“Dropped.” Not promoted.

“To eat up.” See “To crawl over.”

“Exaggerations.” It is a habit of the cadets to exaggerate on certain occasions, and especially when policing. “A log of wood,” “a saw mill,” “a forest,” and kindred expressions, are applied to any fragment of wood of any description that may be lying about. A feather is “a pillow;” a straw, “a broom factory;” a pin, an “iron foundry;” a cotton string, “a cotton factory;” and I have known a “plebe” to be told to “get up that sugar refinery,” which “refinery” was a cube of sugar crushed by some one treading upon it.

Any thing whatever it may be which must be policed, is usually known by some word or term suggested by its use or the method or the place of its manufacture.

“To find.” To declare deficient in studies or discipline.

An “extra” is an extra tour of guard duty given as punishment. Cadets on “extra” are equipped as for parade, and walk in the area of Cadet Barracks from two o clock until retreat, or from two to five hours, on Saturday or other days of the week. An “extra” is sometimes called a “Saturday Punishment.”

“A fem,” “femme.” Any female person.

“A file.” Any male person.

“Fessed,” “fessed cold,” “fessed frigid,” “fessed out,” and “fessed through.” Made a bad recitation, failed.

“To get off.” To perpetrate.

“A gag,” “Grin,” “Grind.” Something witty, a repartee.

“To hive.” To detect, used in a good and bad sense. Also to take, to steal.

“To hoop up.” To hasten, to hurry.

“H. M. P.” Hop manager s privileges.

“A keen.” See “Gag,” etc.

“To leap on.” See “To crawl over.”

“Made.” Given an appointment, given chevrons as an officer in the battalion organization.

“A make.” Such an appointment.

“Maxed.” Made a thorough recitation.

“Ath.” The last one.

“To pile in.” To retire.

“To pink.” To report for any offence.

“To plant.” To bury with military honors.

“To police one s self.” To bathe.

“To pot.” “To pink,” which see.

“Prof.” Professor.

“To put in.” To submit in writing.

“To put into the battalion.” To assign to a company, as in case of new cadets.

“Ragged,” “ragged out.” Made a good recitation.

“Reveilles.” Old shoes, easy and comfortable, worn to reveille roll call.

“Reekless, ricochet.” Careless, indifferent.

“To run it.” To do any thing forbidden. To risk.

“To run it on.” To impose upon.

“Shout.” Excellent, i.e., will create much comment and praise.

“Sketch house.” The Drawing Academy.

“To skin.” See “To pink” (most common).

“To be spooney.” To be gallant.

“To spoon.” To be attentive to ladies.

“A spoon.” A sweetheart.

“Shungudgeon.” A stew.

“Supe.” Superintendent.

“To step out.” See “To hoop up.”

“Topog.” A topographical drawing.

“To turn in.” To repair to one s quarters.

“To be sent in.” To order any thing sent in.

“To turn out.” To come out, or send out.

“To be white,” “To treat white.” To be polite, courteous, and gentlemanly.

“To wheaten.” To be excused by surgeon.

“To yank.” To seize upon violently.

“O. G. P.” Old guard privileges.

“Chem.” Chemistry.

“Math.” Mathematics.

“Phil.” Philosophy.

“Rocks.” Mineralogy.

“Wigwag.” Signalling.

“To get out of.” To shun, to shirk.

“Thing.” A “plebe.”

“To extinguish.” To distinguish.

“To go for.” To haze.

“House.” Room, quarters.

“To freeze to.” To hold firmly.

“To wipe out.” To destroy.

“Limbo.” Confinement.

“Solemncholy.” Sad, dejected.

“Plebeskin.” A rubber overcoat issued to new cadets.

“Turnbacks.” Cadets turned back to a lower class.

“Div,” “subdiv.” Division, subdivision.

“Devils.” Fellows familiarly.

“Tab.” Tabular system of French.

“To celebrate.” To do.

“A stayback.” A graduate detained at graduation to instruct the new cadets.*

*When the cadets are in barracks, the officer of the guard on Sundays either has or assumes authority to detain from church, for any emergency that might arise, one or two or more members of his guard, in addition to those on post on duty. Cadets so detained are called “staybacks.

“Scratch day.” A day when lessons are hard or numerous.

“Gum game.” A joke.

“To fudge.” To copy.

Benny Havens O.

A number of cadets sitting or lounging about the room. One at table pouring out the drinks. As soon as he is done he takes up his own glass, and says to the others, “Come, fellows,” and then all together standing:

Stand up in a row,
For sentimental drinking we re going for to go;
In the army there s sobriety, promotion s very slow,
So we’ll cheer our hearts with choruses of Benny Havens O.
Of Benny Havens O, of Benny Havens O,
We’ll cheer our hearts with choruses of Benny Havens O.

When you and I and Benny, and General Jackson too,
Are brought before the final Board our course of lifes review,
May we never “fess” on any point, but then be told to go
To join the army of the blest at Benny Havens O.
At Benny Havens O, at Benny Havens O,
To join the army of the blest at Benny Havens O.

To the ladies of the army let our bumpers ever flow,
Companions of our exile, our shield gainst every woe,
May they see their husbands generals with double pay to show,
And indulge in reminiscences of Benny Havens O.
Of Benny Havens O, of Benny Havens O,
And indulge in reminiscences of Benny Havens O.

Tis said by commentators, in the land where we must go
We follow the same handicraft we followed here below;
If this be true philosophy (the sexton, he says no),
What days of dance and song we’ll have at Benny Havens O.
At Benny Havens O, at Benny Havens O,
What days of dance and song we’ll have at Benny Havens O!

To the ladies of the Empire State, whose hearts and albums too
Bear sad remembrance of the wrongs we stripling soldiers do,
We bid you all a kind farewell, the best recompense we know
Our loves and rhymings had their source at Benny Havens O.
At Benny Havens O, at Benny Havens O,
Our loves and rhymings had their source at Benny Havens O.

[Then, with due solemnity, every head uncovered and bowed low, they sing:]

There comes a voice from Florida, from Tampa’s lonely shore;
It is the wail of gallant men, O Brien is no more;
In the land of sun and flowers his head lies pillowed low,
No more to sing petite coquille at Benny Havens O.
At Benny Havens O, at Benny Havens O,
No more to sing petite coquille at Benny Havens O,

Henry Ossian Flipper, The Colored Cadet at West Point, 1878

Henry O. Flipper



Flipper, Henry Ossian. The Colored Cadet at West Point: Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, first graduate of color from the U. S. Military Academy.

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