Peter? a safe? in the Sweeney

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R1Geezer | 17:47 Wed 29th Oct 2008 | Phrases & Sayings
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Now I'm usually on the ball with Rhymming slang but I cannot see how "peter" is the word for a safe, anyone explain? thanks


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doesn't make much sense to me........
Ummmm what does that mean????? soz! :)
I thought that 'peter' came from saltpetre (potassium nitrate) which is an explosive . Safe-blowers used saltpetre to blow safes, hence petermen or petremen =safeblowers and , presumably then peter/petre=safe.
Cockney rhyming slang usually involves pairs of words.
with only the first word being used
EG. A friend was refered to as " My china ", the second word being " Plate ".
Thus " China Plate = Mate "
A suit of clothes was refered to as a " Whistle ".
" Whistle and Flute = Suit ".
The head or the Hair was " The Barnet "
" Barnett Fair " = Hair
The term " Peter " was coupled with " Pan ".
Thus " Peter Pan "= Can, or safe.
As long ago as the1600s, among thieves, peter meant a trunk or even any sort of parcel . By the mid-19th century, that had extended to take in the meaning of cash-box. Thereafter, it was easy enough, by the start of the 20th century, for it to be applied to a safe.
It appears to have nothing to do with rhyming slang.
BF last night confirmed peter pan = can (he's a cockney)
He may well be a Cockney, Mcc, but is he an an expert in the history of words? I'm a Scotsman, but I haven't the faintest idea how to play the bagpipes!

Under china, The Oxford English Dictionary - the etymology 'bible' - lists: "short for china plate, rhyming slang for mate". Similarly, under apples, it reads: "rhyming slang for stairs". The point is that the OED does not fight shy of explaining word-meanings by reference to Cockney slang where it applies.

Under peter, for safe, no such rhyming connection is mentioned. If the scholars at the OED have failed to come up with any such link, I'd say it's probable that there isn't one!

Re the fact that peter has meant trunk in any case, as I said earlier, for almost half a millennium...long before rhyming slang appeared...I'd suggest that you think of a trunk standing on its end with the lid open. I'm sure you'll agree that it looks just open safe!

I still believe that peter has nothing to do with rhyming slang.
"Trunk in any case"...I like it!
i'm quite sure he isn't but according to him everyone he knows (mainly a criminal element) uses peter as in peter pan meaning can or safe, maybe is not 'true' cockney rhyming but that's their meaning for it.
I'm not picking on you, Mcc...please don't imagine that...but the earliest written and recorded use of peter to mean safe was in 1859. Peter-screwing - breaking safes open - first appeared about a decade later. However, J M Barrie's play, Peter Pan was not published until 1904, nearly half a century later!
Accordingly, I simply cannot see how there can possibly be such a connection as you, your boyfriend and Chadad suppose.
In addition, no dictionary that I have access to - quite a few - lists can as meaning safe, so even the rhyme-word may not make sense. Do you have any evidence to support the belief that such a meaning does/did exist...particularly evidence that dates back to the mid-19th century?
Cheers, ma'am.
I was always of the opinion that this was a biblical reference.

Jesus changed the name of Simon (which meant sand I believe) to Peter (which meant Rock). i.e. from unstable to stable - or safe.

Well, if we're off into Silly-Land, Simon is Hebrew and probably meant Listener, whilst Peter is from Greek, meaning that bit's right. Sadly, therefore, the unstable to stable sequence doesn't hold up. Shame, really, 'cos that would have been real historical evidence!
not saying that at all, all i am saying is that he grew up with peter pan = can = safe, where it came from originally why who what i have no idea, but it does exist in that form. i'm sure you are totally correct in what you are saying and the online reference i found (see first answer) all say the same as you, but the 'evidence' i have is the usage of the saying albeit anecdotal

blimey wish i'd never ventured in here
I was basing it on my (rather unreliable) memories of childhood bible reading. However, I'm sure that the story mentioned something to do with building. i.e. that Simon (sand) was a poor foundation for a building whereas Peter (rock) was. So, although "building" was probably in itself a metaphor for the new church, Peter would mean a safe place (to build) and later could have come to mean ANY safe place (in the way that these things do).

However, I have no evidence for any of this and I'm certainly willing to be corrected if someone can come up with a better provenance.

Anyone know where in the NT this particular story is told?

I also have a vague recollection that "The Peter" was a brand name for a type of safe but can't remember where I read it.


I've found the passage in Matthew and it seems QM is right - at least about Simon. It doesn't give any mention of the definition of Simon.

However, Peter is described as "the rock on which I will build my church" and so still means a strong foundation (or safe place [to build]).


Duncan, I don't think anyone would quibble about the meaning of the parable of the house built on sand as opposed to the one built on rock...instability as opposed to stability.
However, the point is that there is apparently no evidence that - despite being safe - rock-built houses are connected in any way with the safes that people put valuables in!
Quizmonster proposes that the term " Peter Pan " could not possibly apply in reference to a safe as the term " Peter screwing " predates it by forty five years.
The term " Richard " for " Richard the third " employs the name of a person who predates that by Centuries.
The point I am making is, the terminology used in rhyming slang is constantly changing.
For instance, A " Ruby ", ( Ruby Murray ) to indicate a curry refers to a somewhat recent addition.
The origins of " Peterman ", meaning a safe cracker may be lost in the mists of time.
But " Peter Pan ", meaning a safe has been adopted, shanghied or just plain swiped for use in the present day.
Also, the original question was "How is Peter the word for safe "?
Not " Why was Peter the word for safe "?
I wonder whether R1G - the questioner - was making quite the same linguistic quibble as you are now employing, Chadad!
The fact remains that peter as slang for safe long predated the boy who wouldn't grow up. Accordingly, if Cockneys later called safes cans - and, not being a Cockney, I have still seen no evidence in support of that - and then used Peter Pan to rhyme with it, what we have is rhyming slang in reverse...perhaps we should call it slanging rhyme!

But what the hey! I'll just leave it there in the hope that R1G is happy one way or the other. Cheers
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Thanks all, very informative!

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