1. an aristocrat, a sophisticated, stylish, rich person; thus fem. var. swelless.
|‘Dog & Duck Rig’ inI (1975) 81: What a swell by the side of your blowing.|
|‘Flash Lang.’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 18: A gentleman, a swell.|
|Life, Adventures and Opinions II 81: [To] denote a good education, and shew that you have kept good company, be mindfull of the following, which you will apply as the conversation will admit you [...] ‘That’s the barber,’ ‘Go it,’ ‘The tippy and the twaddle,’ ‘What a swell’.|
|Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 273: swell: a gentleman; but any well-dressed person is emphatically termed a swell, or a rank swell. […] Sometimes, in alluding to a particular gentleman, whose name is not requisite, he is styled, the swell, meaning the person who is the object of your discourse, or attention; and whether he is called the swell, the cove, or the gory, is immaterial.|
|‘Sprees of Tom, Jerry and Logick’ in James Catnach (1878) 123: Come all ye swells and sporting blades who love to see good fun.|
|Don Juan canto XI line 133: Poor Tom was once a kiddy upon the town, A thorough varmint, and a real swell, Full flash, all fancy.|
|N.-Y. National Advocate 22 Aug. 2/2: Police. – Three swells were brought up early in the morning charged with wrenching one of the iron railings from the Park.|
|‘Life In London’ in Swell!!! or, Slap-Up Chaunter 11: To be a regular first-rate swell, / A flaming out-and-outer.|
|Sydney Herald 18 June 4/1: Lord how you does bamboozle them ere flats and swells.|
|‘Man About Town’ Nobby Songster 24: Now all you lads who cut a dash, and wish to ape the swell, / Be sure at first you have the cash, then you may do it well.|
|Vulgar Tongue 38: He told me as Bill had flimped a yack and pinched a swell of a fawney. [Ibid.] 45: A decent allowance made to Seedy Swells, Tea Kettle Purgers, Head Robbers, and Flunkeys out of Collar.|
|Quite Alone III 82: She says she was married to a tremendous swell, an Englishman.|
|Empire (Sydney) 27 July 5/5: He told the Sydney swells — Who chaffed him most severe.|
|in Trek in the Transvaal (1878) 156: The Zulus are the ‘big swells’ amongst the Kafirs.|
|London Dly News 11 Jan. 2/1: The genus ‘swell’ is almost absent [...] the crowed appears to be made up of dissipated clerks and young tradesmen.|
|Civil and Military Gazette 7 May in Pinney (1987) n.p.: The official swells at the head of affairs say they are willing to deal promptly and severely with any cases.|
|Robbery Under Arms (1922) 52: ‘I see your argument,’ he said, quiet and reasonable, just as if I had been a swell like himself.|
|Trilby 273: Poor Humpty Dumpty! Such a swell as he once was!|
|[perf. Marie Lloyd] The Barmaid [lyrics] See the swell at half past one / ‘A bittah beah a cuwwant bun’.|
|Truth (Sydney) 5 May 5/6: She never went by the name of Seymour until she [...] did business with the Sydney swells.|
|Chimmie Fadden and Mr Paul 54: Real-ting swells like Miss Fannie takes deir punishment smiling.|
|Strictly Business (1915) 12: A Fifth Avenue society swelless.‘Strictly Business’ in|
|Truth (Perth) 1 Oct. 4/7: You will ‘jerry’ when they tell, / Bishop Wright, / Of some ‘silvertail’ or ‘swell’ / Who got ‘tight,’ .|
|Greenmantle (1930) 181: I judged he was a great swell, for his voice became reverential at the mention of him.|
|Ulysses 713: Let them get a husband first thats fit to be looked at and a daughter like mine or see if they can excite a swell with money that can pick and choose whoever he wants.|
|Little Caesar (1932) 111: Had some pictures of the swells, see, and the dumps where they live.|
|(con. 1910s) Studs Lonigan , 1936 11: Prairie Avenue was a tony street where all the swells lived.Young Lonigan in|
|Shearer’s Colt 8: Dear Boy was so-called because he aped the swell and could worm himself into the good hotels where the rich men were to be found.|
|Public School Slang 16: blood, buck, swell. These three words, all used in standard English of the same type of young man [...] are also synonymous in school slang, where they denote boys who are prominent among their fellows generally through athletic prowess.|
|Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 132: They know all the swells.|
|Jimmy Brockett 36: Her people were swells and I often wondered how she came to hook up with the old man.|
|Lore and Lang. of Schoolchildren (1977) 75: Toff, swell, snob, nob, big-wig.|
|(con. 1920s) Burglar to the Nobility 17: Park Lane [...] they were the houses of swells and millionaires then, not offices.|
|Ringolevio 74: The uniqueness of Kenny’s position as a member of a student body of swells.|
|Judas Tree (1983) 12: Tonight he’d flaunted her before the society swells.|
|Indep. on Sun. Culture 23 Jan. 12: Some inebriated swell.|
2. a good time, a spree.
|Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 1 Feb. 2/3: On Saturday night five Corinthians sallied from the Lafayette Theatre, determined in true ‘Tom and Jerry’ style, to have a ‘swell’.|
3. the outstanding member of any profession or occupation; or fine example of an object.
|Musa Pedestris (1896) 86: Poor Johnny Raw! what madness could impel / So rum a Flat to face so Prime a Swell.‘Milling Match’ in Farmer|
|Swell’s Night Guide 58: I drew a swell of a skin coming down – twenty cooter.|
|Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 19: [of an actor] [T]he stuff the swell posin’ legit lets loose off is a little high fer me.|
|Thirty-Nine Steps (1930) 14: My friend was a great swell, with his nerves pretty bad from overwork, who wanted absolute rest and peace.|
|Mr Standfast (1930) 533: He’s a great swell at writing books, but he’s no earthly use at handling the telegraph.|
4. used ironically as one who unsuccessfully emulates the style and manners of sense 1.
|‘The great black fight at Bosreegaum’ in Oriental Sporting Mag. June 1828 to June 1833 (1873) I 121/1: The Mussaulchee was escorted by the cadgers, costermongers, prime slavey swells, and nothing-to-do lootchas of every sect in Camp.|
|Pendennis I 30: A youth [...] now appeared before Pen in one of those costumes to which the public consent [...] has awarded the title of ‘Swell.’ [...] you would hesitate to say which character in life he most resembled, and whether he was a boxer en goguette, or a coachman in his gala suit.|
|Night Side of London 173: I paid sixpence and went with the operative swells into the gallery.|
|Illus. Times 11 Jan. 12/2: Hair, the sleek, dirty, undertucked crop of the honest rookery ‘swell’.|
|Seven Curses of London 317: Brazen-faced women [...] bestowing their blandishments on ‘spoony’ young swells of the ‘commercial’ and shopman type.|
|Bell’s Life in Sydney 24 Sept. 3/2: After a diligent fumbling of pockets between the two ‘swells,’ a veritable ‘tanner’ was found and the cost of their liquor duly liquidated.|
|(ref. to 1850s) Sun (NY) 25 Oct. 20/1: The ‘Bowery swell’ of those days [i.e. 1850s] wore a ‘black silk hat’ [...] and had a cigar in [...] his mouth [...] He walked with a peculiar swagger and swing, and was never caught napping’.|
|Tales of the Early Days 244: Wot d’yer mean, my fine swell, disturbin’ the gang at this hour?|
|‘Bards Who Lived at Manly’ in Roderick (1967–9 II) 168: And we were glad at Manly, / All unaware of ‘swells’.|
|(con. 1900s) Elmer Gantry 107: Oh, you’re a fine lot of educated swells, but you’ll find out where that rubbish gets you.|
5. (US) arrogance, cockiness.
|Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 25 Sept. 6/4: [headline] too fresh for anything / [...] / Had All the Swell taken Out of Him by a Rude Bar-Tender.|
6. (US) a good-looking young woman.
|Bastard (1963) 70: I could tell you was a swell in the dark.|
1. fashionably dressed; of clothes, fashionable; also as adv., fashionably.
|Tripod 1 Apr. 301: Who of mishap could be afraid, / When clad in such apparel swellish?|
|‘C–--!’ in Bang-Up Songster 12: With swellish togs and blunt to range.|
|‘Ax My Eye’ Dublin Comic Songster 101: I sports a hellish swellish / Coat, vot stands the veather’s rubs.|
|Sussex Advertiser 22 Aug. 4/3: .|
|‘’Andsome Macintosh’ in Laughing Songster 25: The svellish Gent, vith the light drab Macintosh.|
|Signor Lippo 63: The trainer was talking to a few swellish dressed men.|
|DN IV:i 22: swellish. Elegant, stylish, first-rate. [...] ‘They have a swellish auto.’.‘Terms of Approbation And Eulogy’ in|
2. aristocratic, upper-class; characteristic of a gentleman; thus do the swellish, to pose as an aristocrat.
|Morn. Chron. 6 Dec. 3/5: Williams was swellish in the extreme, and he was togged out accordingly [...] white topper on, a prime fancy upper Benjamin, a blue bird’s-eye silk fogle round his squeeze.|
|‘A Chaunt by Slapped-up Kate and Dubber Daff’ in Swell!!! or, Slap-Up Chaunter 47: [He] looks the Corinthian — swellish and prime.|
|‘Four And Ninepenny Hat’ Dublin Comic Songster 102: No matter man or master, / A guinea was the lowest charge / For a swellish-looking castor.|
|Era (London) 4 June 4/1: I was mightily tickled at seeing the ‘touts’ doing the swellish so extensively [...] all arter the same game, twigging the flats.|
|Kendal Mercury 3 Apr. 6/2: Ye knows it isn’t swellish to have von’s tripes blown out like the rum-cull.|
|Sussex Advertiser 22 Aug. 4/3: A young man with a ‘swellish’ make up, styling himself ‘The Earl of Cambridge’ [...] began a career of [...] extensive swindling.|
|Western Times (Devon) 23 May 8/5: The Yeoman Cavalry, or according to the more swellish designation, the North Devon Hussars.|
|Lincoln Co. Leader (NM) 16 June 3/3: Then this bummer still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, / By the quaint and swell gravity of the physiog he wore.|
|Era (London) 5 June 7/2: Augustus [...] is a ‘swellish’ dabbler in art, an extravagant young dog, a man of clubs and cards.|
|Daily Gaz. for Middlesborough 17 June 4/2: He was a swellish looking little man.|
|Eve. Teleg. 19 May 5/5: He had a swellish appearance — frock coat and ‘silk’ hat.|
|Truth (Sydney) 15 Jan. 9/3: Them [i.e. women] what’s a trifle swellish, / Seem to do just as they please.|
|Nottingham Eve. Post 18 Apr. 9/1: [advert] Little drops of Yorkshire relish that’s what makes things taste so swellish.|
|Leeds Times 22 Oct. 6/2: Among the visitors [...] was a swell mobsman ‘swellishly’ dressed —up to the latest fashion.|
|Edinburgh Eve. News 5 Oct. 3/4: The Glasgow police have made an important cpature of five swellishly-dressed men, who alleged to be wanted for a series of thefts.|
an idle young man, pretending to upper-class society.
|Mornings in Bow St. 294: [T]hat description of bipeds commonly called ‘Lobby Loungers,’ or ‘Box-Lobby-loungers,’ or ‘Half-and-half swells;’ that is to say, half sharp and half flat [...] half bully and half boor in plain terms, idle young men.|
|DSUE (1984).Sketches of Aus. Life and Scenery in|
see separate entry.
to spend extravagantly.
|Runyon on Broadway (1954) 118: Many a party who is [...] chucking quite a swell is nothing but the phonus bolonus and does not have any real scratch.‘Snatching of Bookie Bob’ in|
|in Spirit of Public Journals IV 61: To see our young lords and our young gentlemen ‘cutting a swell’, as the fashionable phrase is .|
|Anecdotes of the Turf, the Chase etc. 183: Look about you, and see what a swell you’re cutting before the public, attended to church by two servants in livery.|
|‘For I Will Prig For Ever’ in Flare-Up Songster 19: Again He’ll cut a dash, / At play, or prize ring act the swell.|
|‘Sich a Gitting Up Stairs’ in Coll. American Songs n.p.: To Washington I go, dare I cut a swell.|
|‘The Four and Nine’ in Dublin Comic Songster 127: With an air of self-delight, I placed it on my sconce, / I thought myself all right, I'll cut a swell for once.|
|‘We’re All Cutting’ in Granite Songster 35: Behold him when on horseback how he cuts away with vigor; / And as along he's walking he seems to ask each belle, / O hang it, charming creature, don't you think I cut a swell.|
|‘Doing the Grand’ in Maclagan’s Musical Age Songster 30/2: Yet it was a lovely dickey, oh, hi ho! / ’Twould do as well to cut a swell.|
|Little Jack Sheppard 42: [lyrics] Farewell to the well known Old Bailee / Where I used to cut such a swell.in|
a rich or ostentatious man given to wearing quantities of jewellery.
|Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn).|
|, ,||Sl. Dict.|
to behave or pose as an aristocrat or a rich man.
|‘The Spooney Velveteen’ in Laughing Songster 49: A regular spooney in Glasgow Town, / To get himself into a little renown, / Determined to ‘swell it’ – and soon he was seen / Sporting a frock coat of Velveteen.|
|Robbery Under Arms (1922) 79: Jim and me could see how Starlight had been working the thing to rights while he was swelling it in the town.|
|White Moll 289: There’s no chance of fixing Cloran so’s you can swell it around in the open again.|