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Harboiled Glossary

Compiled by John Knoerle

The argot of the underworld has a poetry all its own. Consider the following.

“The buttons don’t like it when a slewfoot gets topped. Especially with his own gat by a gowed-up twist in a rib joint.”

To translate, see below:

ankle – walk, leave the scene

arm-breaker – hired muscle

bangtail – racehorse, also a prostitute

basted, boiled, oiled, out on the roof, roofed, tanked – drunk

beezer – nose

belly gun – short-barreled pistol

berries, cabbage, plasters, snaps – cash money, dollar bill

bindlestiff – hobo, migrant worker

bitch kitty – an obnoxious woman or girl

blower – telephone

boiler – car

bollixed – fouled up

bones – dice

box job – safe cracking

bughouse – insane asylum

bull bitch – a masculine woman

bulls – railroad police, prison guards

burleycue – burlesque show

busted flush – a bad deal, a failure

butter and egg man – the man with the money

buttons, elbows, goms, Johns, muzzlers – cops

buzzer, potsy, tin – a policeman’s badge

C, C-note – hundred dollar bill

caboose, icehouse, jug, sneezer – jail

cackle-broad – a society woman

cake eater – a dandy, a ladies’ man

California bible, California prayer book – deck of playing cards

to can – incarcerate

Chicago overcoat – a casket

Chicago typewriter – a machine gun

to chill, clip, grease, ice, push, spot, top, top off  – kill

Chinese angle – unusual twist

to chump –  fool, put one over on

to clank – panic

clean sneak – a successful getaway

coffin nail, gasper, pill – cigarette

coffin varnish, panther piss, phlegm cutter, tarantula soup – cheap liquor

corn, cush, geetus, jack – money

creep joint – a gambling parlor that migrates to avoid detection

croaker – doctor

the crop – all of it

dangle, drift, dust, dust out – go, leave

darb – a beautiful woman, anything of high quality

deek – detective

dib – share of the loot

dinch – cigarette butt

ding donger – aggressive person

dinge joint, shinebox – a black only bar or club

dipsy doodle – chicanery

dog wagon – cheap restaurant

eel juice – liquor

eightball – a loser

have your elbows checked – get arrested

fin – five dollar bill

that’s flat – that’s for certain

frail, jane,  twist, wren – a woman or girl

frogskin – dollar bill

to gaff – shortchange

gams, pins, stems – a woman’s legs

gat, heater, iron, piece, rod, roscoe, tickler – a handgun

get a can on, tie a bag on – get drunk

gink – a stupid man

to glim, to hinge – see, take a look

to glom – seize, steal

goozle – throat

gow, hop – heroin, any narcotic

gunsel – an armed criminal, also a young homosexual

Harlem sunset – a fatality with a knife

head full of  bees – crazy or confused

heaters, peepers – eyes

heeled – carrying a gun

highbinder – a corrupt politician

high pillow – the boss

hotcha – desirable, especially a woman

hype – a junkie

ing bing – a fit, an outburst

in jigtime – quickly

jingle brained – addled

to jug – to incarcerate

juice dealer – a loan shark

kelly, lid, skimmer – a man’s hat

kick – complaint

the lay – the setup, the arrangement

to lay paper – to pass counterfeit cash or bad checks

left handed – dubious, unlucky

loogan –  a hoodlum, especially Irish

lox jockey – a Jew

lunch hooks – hands

map – face

meat wagon – ambulance

Mexican breakfast – a glass of water and a cigarette

the mop – the final word, the summation of events

mush, yap – mouth

nance – an effeminate man

to nick – take money from

nippers – handcuffs

on the nut, on my uppers – broke

on the pad – on the take

orphan paper – a bad check

oyster fruit – pearls

palm oil, salve – a bribe

to peach, to squeal, to turn up – inform

pissing on ice – living well

plaster – a tail, also a banknote

poke – wallet, bankroll

pro skirt – a prostitute

rats and mice – dice, craps

rib joint – a brothel

rub joint – a hall with taxi dancers

rug joint – a fancy nightclub

What’s the rumble?- what’s going on?

sawbuck – ten dollars

scatter – a room or hideout, also a speakeasy or club

second-story man -a burglar

to send over – betray

to shag – tail, chase

on the shake, to shake – blackmail, extortion

shamus – private eye, also a police informer

sheever – a traitor, police informer

slapman – an undercover cop

slewfoot – a cop

smoke – a black person, also to kill with a gun

table grade – said of an attractive woman

tag – an arrest warrant

taped – under control, cinched

throw a bop into – have sex with

tip your mitt – show your cards

torpedo – an armed thug, a hit man

under glass – in jail

woo bait – an attractive female

wrong gee, wrong number – an untrustworthy person

in a yank – in a rush

yard –  $100, sometimes $1000

yegg – thief, safe cracker

zazoo – a man, a sharp dresser


all aces, all silk so far – everything’s good

all wool and a yard wide – first rate

beat down to the ankles – worn out

cut me a huzz – tell me what’s happening

dogshit and razorblades –  junk, worthless information

from hell to breakfast – thoroughly, all the way

grab a cloud – raise your hands

like shit through a tin horn – quickly

the squeeze ain’t worth the juice – not worth the effort

What’s the wire on this guy? – What’s the background, the story?

World War II Slang

appleknocker – a hick

Admiral of the Swiss Navy – a self-important person

armored cow – canned milk

beached – broke

bimbo dust – face powder

a dirty blim – a nasty look

blivit – anything superfluous or annoying

boodle bag – a kit or Haversack

brass pounder, dit da artist – a radiotelegraph operator

bunk lizard, sack rat – a lazy soldier

buzzard – a member of the Army Air Corps

cloud wagon – an airplane

condition black – most severe of color-coded danger warnings

dead battery – a pessimist

feather merchants – snide term for civilians

fuselage – a woman’s body

gas house – a saloon

gazoonie – an ignoramus

gig, to gig – a demerit, to cite for a rule violation

grass cutter – a fragmentation bomb

gun bunnies, muzzle monkeys – artillery gunners

hash burner – a cook

Heinie – a German

hit the silk – to parachute

in everyone’s mess and nobody’s watch – said of a freeloader

Jerry – a German soldier

latrine lawyer – an argumentative soldier, a complainer

moo oil – lies, exaggeration

pie tickets, rubber flag, tent stretcher – imaginary items used to test a recruit’s gullibility

pogled – dazed, confused

prang – to bomb heavily

ruptured duck – the Screaming Eagle button given to all WWII vets

scrag – a cigarette

section eight – a crazy person

the snake’s whiskers – the very best

tarfu – ‘things are really fucked up’

Uncle Sugar – the U.S. government

wing heavy – drunk

zero-zero –  point blank range, also visibility zero, ceiling zero

© Copyright John Knoerle 2022