Green’s Dictionary of Slang

fan v.1

[SE fan, to wave a fan]

1. (US 20C+) to beat; also in fig. use, as in excl. fan my jawbone! [underpinned by SE fan, to winnow or thresh corn].

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]W.T. Moncrieff All at Coventry I ii: Should certainly have made play to fan Sam; only recollected he had fanned the Chicken.
[UK]Vidocq Memoirs (trans. W. McGinn) III 111: If any accident should happen to him, he would fan me well.
[US]Boston Blade 10 June n.p.: Ned Grey can fan any other barer in [...] the shaving and hair-dressing line.
‘Some Road Slang Terms’ in Malet Annals of the Road 389: 1. Of Horses Fanning...Whipping.
[US]G.W. Peck Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa (1887) 48: Pa fanned the dust out of my pants.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 7 Dec. 7/2: ‘I got her down and fanned her ear with a dumb bell till she conceded everything’.
[UK]Daily Tel. 2 Feb. in Ware (1909) 127/1: Miss Lulu Valli made a hit at once as the demon child, Birdikins, who is is threatened to be ‘fanned with the sIipper’ of her devoted but erratic mother.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ John Henry 75: He’s out to bet [...] that he has Herbert Kelcey fanned to a finish.
[US]F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley Says 48: How will y’r honour have [...] breakfast in th’ mornin’ when I’m through fannin’ ye?
[US]H.C. Witwer Smile A Minute 178: It looks like we got the game all sewed up in a bag, but keep your seat, Joe, they’s a few more guys gotta be fanned yet.
[US](con. 1914–18) L. Nason Three Lights from a Match 176: ‘Go fan yourself with an alley-lily,’ said Rouge calmly.
[UK](con. 1918) J. Hanley German Prisoner 20: ‘We fairly fanned his backside’.
[US]N. Algren ‘A Place to Lie Down’ in Texas Stories (1995) 59: White folks’ park, migger. Git a-goin’ ’for ah fan yore fanny.
[US]I. Shulman Amboy Dukes 76: Bill’ll really fan me if I get him into trouble.
[US](con. 1950) E. Frankel Band of Brothers 30: Ought to fan your seat for you. Sneaking off from your mother.
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 135: I’d have done a little fanning [...] On the seat of her pants, that is.
[US]W. Wharton Midnight Clear 31: What’s this? Father Mundy bucking for Section Eight? Well, fan my jawbone.
[US]Ebonics Primer at 🌐 fan someone’s ass out Definition: to cause physical harm to another Example: That nigga keeps talkin shit, I’mma fan his ass out!

2. to run one’s hands over a potential victim’s clothes to see if they have anything in their pockets that can be stolen; thus fan out of v., to steal while ‘fanning’ [poss. link to fam v.].

[US] in Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 16 Jan. 149: They’ll have you fanned out of your dimmy and your thimble.
[UK]H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor IV 319/1: Joe ‘fanned’ the gentleman’s pocket., i.e., had felt the pocket and knew there was a handkerchief.
[US]A. Pinkerton Thirty Years a Detective 44: The thief lightly runs his hand across the front of both pockets of the ‘mark’ – and this operation of feeling for a pocket-book is called ‘fanning’.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.].
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 1 Mar. 4/8: ’Op inter the Guvvinor Broome ter spar a shicker. W’en I fans meself I’ve only got a ha’penny, two ’airpins [...] an’ a couple er gelerteen lozengers.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 8 Mar. 4/7: Don’t rob that man. I do all the ‘fanning’ here.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 32: fan [...] In pickpocket parlance. To surreptitiously feel a victim’s’ pockets, or inadvertently brush the person for the purpose of locating an object sought, as pocketbook, watch or, weapon. Example: ‘Fan the pratt for a poke.’.
[US]St Louis Post-Despatch 16 Jan. 25/2: You’re slopping up too much scat (whiskey). [...] You couldn’t fan (search) the Statue of Liberty without waking her up.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 11 Aug. 15/4: Robbo grabs one dook and Darkle the other, while Adelaide fanned him.
[US]B. Cormack Racket Act II: Did you fan him?
[US](con. 1910s) D. Mackenzie Hell’s Kitchen 42: One of the pickpockets will then ‘fan’ the intended victim. ‘Fanning’ means running the hands over the person.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 71: Fanning a Sucker.–Searching a victim’s clothes for loot which he has not disgorged on command.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 151: One of the others fan me to see if I have any funds or valuables.
[Aus]S.J. Baker in Sun. Herald (Sydney) 8 June 9/5: Other English incorporations [in Australian slang] include: [...] ‘fan,’ to search.
[US]D. Dressler Parole Chief 245: You’ve got to fan him. You feel around very easy, until you locate the poke.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 798: fanning a sucker – Searching a victim’s clothing for loot.
[UK]J. Colebrook Cross of Lassitude 101: The termites of the life [...] who ‘prat’ and ‘fan’ and ‘shade the stick’ in crowds.
[Aus]J. Alard He who Shoots Last 83: The Wrecker and Ruffy hurriedly hit their pockets, searching frantically for money. [...] Ragged remarked: ‘The way you’re fanning yourselves, you both look as though you’ve been in the company of Father Wiz.’.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 76: Raise your arms as high as your shoulders [...] and hold them there until my mate’s finished fanning you to see if anyone’s packing a heater.

3. in fig. use, to ‘beat’, to confuse.

[US]Boston Blade 10 June n.p.: That word ‘norx’ [...] fanned the crowd. Ike, even, was non-plussed and acknowledged the beans.

4. (orig. US) to conduct a search of a suspect’s clothes, possessions or premises [poss. link to fam v.].

[US]J. McCree ‘Types’ Variety Stage Eng. Plays 🌐 I have frisked him for his rod and gat and fanned him for his chiv.
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 27 Feb. 3/1: We know what we are talking about, and want Hegan and Co. to ‘fan’ some of the jockeys without being requested to do so .
[US]J. Fishman Crucibles of Crime 128: Frequent ‘fanning’ or ‘frisking’ [...] of the trusties themselves is necessary.
[UK]N. Marsh Death in Ecstasy 81: They don’t fan a man neater than that in the States.
C. Brackett & B. Wilder Ball of Fire [film script] They’ll fan every hotel in town.
[US]J. Hoyt Cummings Fatal Pay-off 53: We fanned him for a gun and found two books of policy slips in his pocket.
[US]R. Prather Scrambled Yeggs 124: [He] fanned me expertly with his left hand. He said surprised, ‘He’s clean. Imagine that. Pretty boy’s clean.’.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 798: fan – To search, especially a person or his clothes.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 183: Fan To feel clothes for valuables, to pass one’s hands quickly over such clothing and, by extension, any quick body search.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 79: You fan the magazines before you burned them?
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 50: Other terms that remained fairly firmly in the little lingo of the crims included [...] fan, to search, stir for gaol and copper’s nark, meaning a police informer.

5. (also give the fan) to pick pockets [poss. link to fam v.].

[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 53: I was watching you give ‘the stranger’ the ‘fan’.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 183: Fanning Stealing as a pickpocket.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.

6. to shoot.

[US]G. North ‘Gun Guile’ in Greater Gangster Stories Feb. 🌐 Plugged him when he didn’t have a chance to fan you back.

In phrases

cross-fanner (n.)

a variety of pickpocket who works by running their hands over the victim’s clothing.

[UK]Star (Guernsey) 23 Feb. 4/2: The cross-fanner is a variety of the frisker, and the most skilful.

SE in slang uses

In phrases

fan the hammer (v.) [the action of fanning the hammer of a pistol or revolver in order to fire more speedily]

(US) to act in a brilliant but unscrupulous manner.

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 127/1: Fanning the hammer (W. Amer., 1886). Brilliantly unscrupulous. Instantaneously active, equal to energetic in the highest.