- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) the one member of a group of friends who never has money with them [17thC slang]
You might have spotted the word lanspresado over on the HH Instagram feed earlier this week, defined as “that member of a group of friends who never seems to have enough money with them”.
As we pointed out at the time, that word (if not that definition) comes from a 1698 dictionary of slang and cant; the original definition was “he that comes into company with but two-pence in his pocket”. Hey, January is a long month.
Although that definition dates from the late seventeenth century, the word lanspresado has been with us considerably longer than that: its earliest record in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1579, when it was originally used as the name of a low-ranking military rank equivalent to lance-corporal. “Lancepezzades,” according to one definition from the time, “are brave and proved soldiers interteyned [entertained] above the ordinary companies”.
They might be “brave and proved”, but these original lanspresados were the lowest-ranking non-commissioned officers—and that’s a connotation that’s difficult to shift.
Ultimately, and probably via military slang, the term came to be attached to any kinds of lowly and low-ranking characters in the seventeenth century, before the definition we posted this week emerged in the late 1690s.