Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Greek n.

[the ‘foreignness’ of Greek whether as a language or person]

1. a cunning, sly individual, esp. a gambler or swindler [20C+ use is derog.].

[UK]Roy & Barlow Rede me and be nott wrothe (1895) 117: In carde playinge he is a goode greke And can skyll of post and glyeke Also a payre of dyce to trolle.
J. Cranstoun ‘Rhime in defence of Queen of Scots’ Satirical Poems of the Reformation I (1891) IX line 217: A cowle, cowle for such a Greek were fitter for to wear, Than this Apostle deacon shoud Such princely rule to bear!
[UK]Florio Worlde of Wordes n.p.: Grecheggiare, [...] Also to play the greeke.
[UK]Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida V vi: Come, both you cogging Greeks; have at you both!
[UK]Middleton Mad World (1640) I ii: Let me not be purloind, purloind indeed; the merry Greekes conceive me.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘A Cast over the Water’ in Works (1869) II 163: Because you are a merry Greeke, / I’ll send thee bread and pottage thrice a weeke.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Jan. I 243/1: The high-bred French Greek, Count de T–– [...] eased a young Englishman of a cool Fifteen Hundred.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress xxviii: Most of the cant phrases in Head’s English Rogue would be intelligible to a Greek of the present day.
[UK]Times 27 Nov. 2/4: He talks with the air of a ‘Greek’ of rouge et noir.
[UK]J. Grant Sketches in London 355: There are men of very high rank [...] who are retained for such purposes by one or two of the largest gaming establishments in the metropolis. They are called Greeks.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 121/1: Greeks, gamblers, blacklegs.
[UK]Thackeray Newcomes I 361: He was an adventurer, a pauper, a blackleg, a regular Greek.
[UK]G.A. Sala Twice Round the Clock 154: [They] made their miserable livings as runners and decoy-ducks, and bravos to these abominable nests [i.e. ‘gambling houses’]. They were called ‘Greeks.’.
[UK]Once a Week 25 May 97: As the Greek places the packet [of cards] on the top of the other, he allows it to project the least bit in the world [F&H].
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]A. Griffiths Fast and Loose (1900) II 301: ‘You cheated me on the train! You thought I was a greenhorn!’ ‘And we find you a Greek — a regular leg.’.
[UK](con. 1840s) G.A. Sala Things I Have Seen II 90: The professional frequenters of which [i.e. ‘gambling-houses’] were known, in the slang of the time, as ‘Greeks’.
(ref. to 1795) Lone Hand (Sydney) Nov. 56/1: In 1795 the chief English racecourses [...] were infested with ‘Greeks’ (sharpers).
[UK]J. Masefield Everlasting Mercy 22: One of those assembled Greeks / Had corked black crosses on his cheeks.
[US]H. Asbury Sucker’s Progress 16: In earlier times sharpers were also known as Greeks.
[US]N. Algren Never Come Morning (1988) 93: The ref, that dirty Greek, what did he say?
[US]Maledicta III:2 160: Greek n [...] 2: A swindler, cardsharper.

2. unintelligible language, esp. cant or sl.; esp. in phr. it’s all Greek to me, suggesting that something is incomprehensible; occas. of actions or ideas.

Shakespeare Julius Caesar I ii: Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads — but for my own part, it was all Greek to me.
[UK]Middleton Blurt, Master Constable E3: Nay, tis Greeke to mee.
[UK]Dekker Honest Whore Pt 1 I iii: 1 ser.: Ile speake Greeke, my Lord, ere I speake that deadly word. 2 ser.: And Ile speak Welch, which is harder than Greek.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘World runnes on Wheeles’ in Works (1869) II 237: Then Saddlers were a good Trade, and the name of a Coach was Heathen Greek.
[UK]T. Killigrew Parson’s Wedding (1664) III v: Your Worship is merry; but I’le fetch you that, sir, shall speak Greek, and make your Worship prophecy.
[UK]‘Du Parc’ (trans.) Comical Hist. of Francion Bk iv 22: To speak in that manner to those ignorants was to speak Greek unto them.
[UK]Motteux (trans.) Gargantua and Pantagruel (1927) II Bk V 611: For my part, it was all Hebrew-Greek to me, the devil a word I could pick out of it.
[UK]N. Ward Wooden World 48: His Language is all Heathen Greek to a Cobler.
J.D. Breval Art of Dress in Atkins Sex in Lit. (1982) 155: Beauties that shifted hardly once a Week, / For Cleanliness, alas; to them was Greek!
[UK]Smollett Roderick Random (1979) 175: He repeated some gibberish, which by the sound seemed to be Irish, and made it pass for Greek with the captain.
[Aus]P. de Marivaux Agreeable Surprise (translation) I i: Ay, all my Latin’s Greek to these people.
[UK]‘Thomas Brown’ Fudge Family in Paris Letter X 121: Both his French and his English are Greek, Doll, to me.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 91: ‘It’s all greek to me,’ says one who cannot comprehend what is said.
[US]N. Ames ‘Old Cuff’ An Old Sailor’s Yarns 66: ‘You have lost one of your number already by your sleeping.’ All this was ‘Hebrew Greek’ to us.
[UK]R. Barham ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Ingoldsby Legends (1842) 60: Pitch Greek to Old Harry, and stick to Conundrums!
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 50: Terms that would have been as Greek to more favoured children were naturally comprehensible to them.
[UK]R. Whiteing Mr Sprouts, His Opinions 29: Every blessed word o’ this was Greek to me.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 40: I don’t understand what you mean, Jack; it’s all Greek to me.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Mar. 10/1: Now on the uncombed ’tis no good / To waste each classic gem; / For French, or Russ., or Latin would / Be always Greek to them.
[UK]A. Morrison Child of the Jago (1982) 72: But clicks and sneaks — them’s Greek to me, an’ I don’t want to learn ’em.
[US]H.E. Hamblen Yarns of Bucko Mate 33: I raced about the decks, pulling and hauling, roaring out, ‘Ay, ay, sir,’ every time I heard an order given, though it was pure Greek to me.
[UK]Lustful Memoirs of a Young and Passionated Girl 10: I wondered what it could be that was in nicely and what it was in. But it was all greek to me then.
[NZ]‘Anzac’ On the Anzac Trail 5: [A] bovine-looking breed, whose mouths seemed intended for beer-drinking but not talking [...] when they did make a remark it was all Greek to us.
[US]‘Digit’ Confessions of a Twentieth Century Hobo 18: ‘Fire three and rake one’ was all Greek to me, but I did the same as the man on the next two fires.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Final Count 769: At the time, of course, it was Greek to me.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 572: The whole business is all Greek to me.
[US]W.P. McGivern Big Heat 179: This will be Greek to you, but one of our city’s finest left a note and then blew a hole through his head.
[US](con. 1958) R. Farina Been Down So Long (1972) 179: Fitzgore shook his head: ‘It’s all Greek to me.’.
[US]L. Rosten Dear ‘Herm’ 94: Just act like Slats, Toots or Chico are Greek to you.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 180: Greek. (1) Incomprehensible talk, gibberish.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 137: The names and faces were Greek to her and her whores.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 15 Feb. 11: It’s all Greek to me, m’lud.
[US]C. Stella Eddie’s World 175: What am I speaking fuckin’ Greek?

3. a genteel beggar.

[UK] ‘A Satyre’ Rump Poems and Songs (1662) I 171: But as some London Beggers use to stand / In Grecian Coats with Papers in their hand, / Who are (as them indifferent Parts we meet) / English at Home, but solemn Greeks ith’ street.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Jan. XI 217/1: It is the policy of the ‘Greeks,’ and particularly of the Irish ones to saddle themselves upon some Man of Family and Fortune.

4. a derog. term for an Irish immigrant to the US or UK; cite 1880 is not derog.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 91: Greek — Irishmen call themselves Greeks.
[UK]Quizzical Gaz. 24 Sept. 1/2: I’ll bury you dacent, and will have a big wake, / And invite lots of Greeks to be there.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 316/2: Greek, an Irishman.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 47: GREEKS, the low Irish.
[US]Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) 31 Mar. 1/2: While ‘loafing’ in a recruiting-office the other evening a ‘Greek’ entered and asked if he could ‘lisht.’.
[UK]Standard 3 Sept. n.p.: Greek, as some of your readers are aware, is colonial slang for ‘Irish’ [F&H].
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 24 Apr. 4/4: O for O’Connor, that good-natured Greek.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 16 Nov. 6/4: In one of the furniture vans [...] sat the big Greek, who we’ll call Patsy O’Hooligan.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[US]Maledicta III:2 160: Greek n [...] 3: [DAS ca 1850] Irishman; underworld use.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘Watching the Girls go by’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] I bought it off Paddy the Greek!

5. a newcomer.

[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 90: Here’s a fresh ’un! here’s a Greek!

6. (US campus, also Greek freak) a member of a college fraternity or sorority; thus as adj. [the use of Greek letters as the names of such societies].

[US]Weseen Dict. Amer. Sl. 184: [College] Greek – A member of a fraternity.
[US]Time 21 Mar. 47/2: Non-fraternity men, who outnumber the Greeks two to one, held a mass meeting [DA].
[US]Baker et al. CUSS 129: Greek A socially adept person.
[US]Current Sl. IV:2 6: Greek freaks, n. Fraternities and fraternity members.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 4: greek – fraternity or sorority member.
[US] P. Munro Sl. U.
[US]E. White My Lives 266: Kids who were neither Beat [...] nor Greek (frat boys or sorority girls).

7. a person who engages in anal intercourse, not necessarily but usu. a homosexual [the stereotyped identification of Greeks with homosexuality].

[US] ‘Adventures of a Fuller Brush Man: “The Amorous Mrs. Twirp”’ [comic strip] in B. Adelman Tijuana Bibles (1997) 47: ‘Up the Dirt Route’ Very popular with wolves, Greeks and other perverts.
[US]G. Legman ‘Lang. of Homosexuality’ Appendix VII in Henry Sex Variants.
[US]D.W. Cory Homosexual in America 105: A homosexual is sometimes called a Greek, or more often a Greek lover.
[US]Guild Dict. Homosexual Terms 19: greek (n.): A pedicator; taken from the ancient label on the Greek male.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 18: the man who fucks in anal intercourse, as opposed to the one who is fucked [...] Greek.

8. (also G) anal intercourse; often used on a prostitute’s ‘bill of sale’.

[US]Maledicta III:2 218: Others call anal intercourse Greek, though Professor Knox authoritatively informs us ancient Greeks sanctioned only intracrural activities (friction between the legs of a boy).
[US]personal ad, adult bookstore Murray & Murrell Lang. Sadomasochism (1989) 74: If you’re into alphabet soup as much as I am — F,G, R etc — we’ve got to get together.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 180: Greek. (1) Incomprehensible talk, gibberish; (2) anal intercourse.
[US]C. Fletcher Pure Cop 90: They’ll ask you what you do. ‘Straight?’ ‘Oral?’ ‘Greek?’.
[US]J. Stahl Perv (2001) 83: Some slicked-up slacks-and-ascot type [...] Wants to feed you chocolates, teach you Greek.
[Aus]L. Redhead Rubdown [ebook] ‘Greek’s fifty. It’s up to you if you do Greek.’ ‘And Greek is?’ ‘Anal’.
[US]J. Stahl Pain Killers 137: But they would do[...] Greek, Russian, bareback oral or facials.

In phrases

excuse my Greek [var. on excuse my French under French n.]

a phr. meaning ‘forgive my coarse language’.

A.W. Pinero Big Drum 55: So the blessed shanty was run up in a devil of a hurry — excuse my Greek.
J. Evans London Tales 160: It bloody well does, if you’ll excuse my Greek.
[UK]S. Grafton O is for Outlaw (2000) 373: That’s what we’re in business to do, get this cocksucker nailed, if you’ll excuse my Greek.
M. Burns Gemini 45: They got tumors, Bob, malignant tumors, which is what you’re going to get if you keep on with your fucking temple, excuse my Greek.
go Greek (v.)

(US campus) to join a college fraternity or sorority.

Cornell (University) Daily Sun 18 July [Internet] ‘Going Greek? Rush allows students to visit houses’ [headline].