Green’s Dictionary of Slang

wheeze n.

[orig. theatre use, a joke or comic gag introduced into the performance by a clown or comedian, esp. a constantly repeated catchphrase]

1. (orig. theatre) a joke, a catch-phrase.

[UK]Sl. Dict. 338: Wheeze a joke, an anecdote, or dialogue, not strictly connected with a piece that is being played, but introduced by an actor, sometimes with the assistance and for the benefit of others. The dialogues which take place between the songs at nigger entertainments are also known as wheezes.
[UK] ‘’Arry on His Critics’ in Punch 17 Dec. 280/1: The mugs and the jugs never joke, / Never gag, never work in a wheeze.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 11: Wheeze - A joke, an anecdote, or dialogue introduced into a performance, as by a circus clown.
[UK]Music Hall & Theatre Rev. 15 Nov. 12/1: As dancers they excel, but their ‘wheezes’ are unfortunately ‘a bit off’.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 94: Wheeze, a sort of anecdote introduccd by actors for the benefit of others.
[US]Ade ‘The Fable of the Poor Woman’ in True Bills 7: Whenever he told a ripe old Scandinavian Wheeze or an Irish Bull she would let out a Whoop.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 10 Sept. [synd. col.] He pulled a wheze about Yonkers [...] that is till revived by the vaudeville actors.
[US](con. WW1) E.C. Parsons Great Adventure 138: [T]o paraphrase an old wheeze, our life in the air was likely to be a short but not particularly merry one .

2. a piece of special information, a ‘tip’.

[UK]Bird o’ Freedom 22 Jan. 1: More than ever — dare we hint — is the good old wheeze applicable — ‘If you want to know the time, ask a p’leeceman.’.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘The Babel Stakes’ Sporting Times 26 May 1/4: The wheeze on which I depended was not on the speed to be shown.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘Comedians All’ Sporting Times 17 Apr. 1/2: Didn’t Shakespeare himself say the world is a stage? / Well, it shows you how old is the wheeze.
[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 4: Some wise-cracking commentator once released a wheeze to the effect that he didn’t care much who wrote a nation’s laws if he could write the nation’s songs.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 15 Mar. [synd. col.] Some wheezes were uttered in a tongue not savvied west of Newark, N.J.

3. a trick or dodge frequently used.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Feb. 7/4: And we remember on one occasion, when some miscreant cracked this sorry wheeze, a gentleman, whom Melancholy had Marked for Her Own, said it was ‘almost good enough for Punch.’.
[UK]Sporting Times 1 Feb. 1/3: [He] retired to the Woods, to see if the Forty Bank Notes were Still Between the Leaves, and Cogitate upon the Success with which his B.C. 55 Wheeze had Worked.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 13 Mar. 11/3: A schemester who works every wheeze.
[UK]A.N. Lyons Arthur’s 22: That ’ere was a champion wheeze while it lasted.
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 22 Jan. 5/6: Mick K, that wheeze didn't work with you in Sport last week. We know who you are, old boy.
[US]Firefly 9 Dec. 1: Now you begin to see the cunning wheeze, don’t you, my friends?
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 73: Didn’t catch me napping that wheeze.
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 70: You wouldn’t have thought of a wheeze like that in a million years.
[UK]Whizzbang Comics 16: Wilf, I’ve got a wheeze!
[UK]Willans & Searle Complete Molesworth (1985) 14: It is not such a wizard wheeze after all.
[UK]A. Buckeridge Trust Jennings (1989) 131: We could try out our famous wheeze now.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 148: So I think, well, bit ovva wheeze, innit? Who’s to know?
[UK]M. Read Scouting for Boys in Best Radio Plays (1984) 157: I say, here’s a wheeze! How would it be if we came to visit you tomorrow?
[Aus]Benjamin & Pearl Limericks Down Under 74: His favourite wheeze / Was to nibble his cheese.
[UK]Beano Comic Library No. 190 59: What a wheeze, eh?
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 155: It was nothing more than a clever-silly wheeze.
[UK]Guardian G2 18 Jan. 14: It is a good wheeze.

4. a simpleton.

[US]‘Commander’ Clear the Decks! 174: He didn’t, you poor wheeze.

5. a theory, a concept.

[US]A. James America’s Homosexual Underground 118: Negroes are popular and well liked. They don’t have to stay in their places. That’s an old wheeze.