Green’s Dictionary of Slang

racket n.1

1. any form of deception, criminal trickery, hoaxing.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 261: racket some particular kinds of fraud and robbery are so termed, when called by their flash titles, and others Rig; as, the Letter-racket, the Order-racket; the Kid-rig; the Cat and Kitten-rig, &c., but all these terms depend upon the fancy of the speaker. In fact, any game may be termed a rig, racket, suit, slum, &c., by prefixing thereto the particular branch of depredation or fraud in question, many examples of which occur in this work.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 224/1: I did wear a shovel hat when the Bishop of London was our racket.
[US]N.Y. Times 18 July 8/1: But house-robbery was’ent their racket, ’cause you see they was pirates.
[UK]J. Keane On Blue Water 222: We need look for no assistance from our own messmates, but would have to battle the racket on our own hooks.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 119: I’d been wondering how it was they came to [...] find out that Jim and I had a share in the Momberah cattle racket.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 133: No tramp, for instance, is so clever at the begging-letter ‘racket’.
[US]C. M’Govern By Bolo and Krag 28: [I was] doing continually the harmless idiot racket to a frazzle.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 13 Mar. 2nd sect. 9/1: They Say [...] That an aristocratically-named bounder attempted to work the press ticket racket last week.
[US]J. Lomax Cowboy Songs 150: Oh, Tom is a big six-footer and thinks he’s mighty fly, / But I can tell you his racket, – he’s a deadbeat on the sly.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Caesar 22: Why don’t you get into the beer racket? That’s safe.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 5: I quit the racket while I had my health and strength.
[UK]J. Maclaren-Ross Of Love And Hunger 35: I was working a racket, see? Secondhand cleaners. Bloody supervisor ratted on me.
[US]P. Highsmith Strangers on a Train (1974) 25: I got a few crack-proof rackets doped out.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 64: Has it ever occurred to you that they might be working a racket.
[UK]A. Burgess Enderby Outside in Complete Enderby (2002) 304: They bring the stuff up with them for this here racketyboo.
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 51: He will probably run a tiny racket himself.
[UK]A-Team Storybook 33: We’re all in the same racket [...] We’re all here to milk the suckers.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 43: He used to run a blackmail racket.
[UK]Guardian G2 21 Feb. 10: He believes many asylum seekers are operating a ‘racket’.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[US]Phila. Eve. Bulletin 5 Oct. 40/4: Here are a few more terms and definitions from the ‘Racket’ vocabulary: [...] ‘Racket,’ [...] a scheme.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 188: racket boy A petty crook. racket moll A woman criminal. racket pusher A gangster leader. racket work A criminal enterprise.
[US]Murtagh & Harris Cast the First Stone 113: Squares couldn’t be expected to understand the motivations of racket broads like her.
[US]L. Block Diet of Treacle (2008) 178: Shank looked for people he knew, racket people, junk people.

3. a theory, an idea.

[US]Bismarck (ND) Trib. 26 Jan. 8/1: The minister preached how vulgar it was to use slang [...] Just the minute I caught on to his racket, it broke me all up.
[Aus]Maitland Mercury (Aus./NSW) 31 Mar. 2: ‘Inform on you? I see.’ ‘Now you’ve got the racket down fine’.
[US]Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA) 10 Mar. 53/3: That’s the racket this time. Guy the whole League crowd, ‘Silk Stockings vs. Laboring Man.’ That’s the idea.

4. a job, an occupation; not necessarily illegal.

[US]Daily Trib. (Bismarck, ND) 5 Sept. 11/5: ‘How have you enjoyed your trip?’ asked the Tribune reporter of the president [...] ‘Way up! Never tackled a racket in my life that seemed to cotton up the square thing so much as this little off-hand jamboree. Oh! she’s been a daisy; I tell you.’.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 2: And now [...] all that racket’s over.
[UK]J. Conrad Lord Jim 119: I had a hard time of it, too, along of that rotten old Patna racket.
[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] He t'inks he'll cop sum uv de long green wid de grub racket—start restrants, are yer on?
[UK]Gem 7 Oct. 8: That’s the racket, sonny.
[NZ]‘Anzac’ On the Anzac Trail 39: Then there was bomb making and throwing. There is a lot of excitement to be got out of that racket.
[UK]J. Buchan Greenmantle (1930) 136: ‘Pretty fit again?’ he asked. ‘Tough as a sjambok. I thrive on the racket.’.
[US]Perrysburg Jrnl (Wood Co., OH) 22 May 2/2: I am just Nuts to tear into the Sweet Home racket with ivy round the door.
[US]Phila. Eve. Bulletin 5 Oct. 40/4: Here are a few more terms and definitions from the ‘Racket’ vocabulary: [...] ‘Racket,’ [...] a profession or business.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 537: ‘Say, Lonigan, what’s your racket?’ [...] ‘Painting with my old man.’.
[US]W. Winchell ‘On Broadway’ 12 Apr. [synd. col.] One of the world’s softest rackets is being an Axis propagandist in Tokyo.
[UK]C. Day Lewis Otterbury Incident 108: Coo, what a racket! he exclaimed [...] You ought to be in Big Business, like me, not this small-time stuff.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 113: He and his proteges were left with practically a clear field in the consultant racket.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 21 July in Proud Highway (1997) 461: This writing is a bad racket to fool around with unless you can’t do anything else.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell Plays Solomon (1976) 25: One of the fringe benefits this racket is supposed to be rich in.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 261: He fantasized a day when he could get out of the referral racket altogether.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 10 July 10: Nick is running a racket treating the mental problems of the rich with press-ups and rowing machines.

5. in combs., with a defining n.

[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 8 Aug. 3/3: Notwithstanding the objections of the Superintendent of Police against the slaughter of vagabond barkers, that the dog racket will be resorted to for replenishing the pockets of the force.
[UK]Marshall Pomes 82: I’m on the polling-racket [F&H].
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 12 July 15/3: A Brisbane capitalist, [...] who had made his money out of hop-beer, and being a believer in Bellamy, intends to put his workers on the profit-sharing racket soon, offers the local Worker free machine-room and power.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 162: No side-doors or speakeasy racket stood for.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 10 Sept. 4/7: Perth’s most witty bung goes the whole hog in compelling thirsty travellers to commit wholesale perjury when he admits them to his pub on the bona-fide racket upon the Sabbath, .
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 17 Apr. 3rd sect. 17/3: In Perth recently Dave went the motor-and-oysters racket hot and strong.
[US]W. Winchell ‘On Broadway’ 11 Mar. [synd. col.] The trouble with our income tax racket is that it will soon be putting taxpayers on relief – instead of taking the unemployed off it.
[US]W.R. Burnett High Sierra in Four Novels (1984) 332: Roy [...] this is the land of milk and honey for the health racket.
[US]J. Fishman Bullets for Two 13: He had ventured from his hideout to engage in the stolen car racket.
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 43: As he had done so often before, he vowed that the bust racket was a mug’s game and he was off it for keeps.
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 75: Dr. Wolfe had been Nurse Dixon’s sidekick in the abortion racket.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 140: She knew the con racket.
[US]C. Goffard Snitch Jacket 17: Wops got the God racket [...] but you stole it from the Heebs.

6. in weak use, any form of activity.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 11 Oct. 6/4: ‘We [...] kept up the racket until my folks found out and threatened to send me to a convent’.
[US]Omaha Dly Bee (NE) 15 June 2/2: I watched this yere racket to-day, but I wasn’t satisfied [...] The parson cut it fat, but the whole thing was tame business.
[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] [He] tips me off dat he wants ter take me an’ me gal up to er swell dump w’ere dere’s er racket.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 167: I’ve got the clothes that’ll fit into a night racket.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 29: I don’t see any kick in this racket [i.e. opium smoking].

7. a story, a ‘line’.

[US] ‘High School Sl.’ in N.Y. Dispatch 31 May 7: I dropped to his racket the first time he pulled his handkerchief on me.
[UK]Sporting Times 1 Mar. 1/2: One of the combatants was one of those canting, religious hypocrites, that go about on the ‘Where are you bound for, sinner?’ racket.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Story of “Gentleman-Once”’ in Roderick (1972) 532: I’ve heard Danny on the Gentleman-Once racket before.
[US]J.D. Salinger Catcher in the Rye (1958) 39: What a racket.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 124: Now that’s your racket every time you come, / you ain’t got nothin’ but you will have some.

8. (US) a plan, a scheme.

[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 21 June 2/4: He’s lately struck a new racket, and I’m blessed if I don’t think he’s a-going off his chump.
[US]‘Old Sleuth’ Dock Rats of N.Y. (2006) 103: Well, I reckon I’ve run this racket pretty well.
[US]J.P. McEvoy Showgirl 88: Then here’s the racket. In the first place, I know where Dixie is.

9. (US) an easy job or situation, esp. a sinecure.

[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 68: Did they slip you the half-a-grand trick? [...] It’s a standard racket. They got eighty-four more if that one don’t click.

10. (US) as the rackets, organized crime.

[US]Phila. Eve. Bulletin 5 Oct. 40/4: Here are a few more terms and definitions from the ‘Racket’ vocabulary: [...] ‘Racket,’ [...] the bootleg industry and all its branches.
C.B. Yorke ‘Snowbound’ in Gangster Stories Oct. n.p.: Queen Sue was the toughest moll that ever pulled a gat this side of Hades — she was in the rackets for what she could get out of ’em.
[US]J. Spenser Limey 37: There’s lots o’ his sort graduate into the rackets.
[US]A. Lomax Mister Jelly Roll (1952) 181: He simply could not compete with these Chicago higher-ups in the rackets.
[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 184: You’re in the rackets, aren’t you?
[US]M. Puzo Godfather 128: He’s a war hero and he’s never been mixed up with the rackets.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 44: Red was a drunken lecher, but he did keep his mouth closed and knew criminals outside the rackets.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 8: The man who ran most of the rackets in the area.
[US]‘Jack Tunney’ Split Decision [ebook] My days of hand shaking with the rackets were over.

11. (US prison) the world of homosexual relationships.

[US]Murtagh & Harris Cast the First Stone 33: She said the racket ruled at [reform] school and everybody was afraid of her and the other pops [i.e. masculine lesbians].
[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 61: Big Sis [...] came on my cot and touched me. She said, ‘You like this, baby? Well, you better like it because it’s a racket and you got to belong or get hurt.’.

12. (US) the racket, prostitution.

[US]L. Hansberry Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window in Three Negro Plays (1969) III i: How many things could a nice normal healthy American girl kick all at one time – the racket and the pills?

In compounds

racket man (n.)

1. a thief.

[UK]H. Mayhew Great World of London 46: ‘Noisy racket men,’ who make off with china or crockery-ware from earthenware shops [...] Lady and gentlemen racket-men, who steal cocks and hens.

2. (US, also racket boy, racket ghee, racket guy) a member of an organized crime syndicate.

[US]‘Boxcar Bertha’ Sister of the Road (1975) 158: He [...] got to hanging round the gamblers and the racket men.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 124: You say the racket squad allows big-time racketmen to live here for a consideration.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 173/2: Racket ghee. Anyone who earns his living by stealing, extortion, running doubtfully legal establishments, or similar means.
[US]W.P. McGivern Big Heat 61: They’d rather think of themselves as racketmen, gangsters, mobsters, but they’re just thieves to me.
[US](con. 1936) H. Robbins A Stone for Danny Fisher 188: Maxie Fields is a racket boy.
[US]R. Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) 270: I tried the racket guys in the neighbourhood.
[US]K. Brasselle Cannibals 55: They make racket guys look like Boy Scouts.
[US]M. Puzo Godfather 188: I couldn’t be a racket guy.
M. Dorman Payoff: The Role of Organized Crime in Amer. Politics 92: I had a connection on the West Coast with a racket guy who secretly owned a piece of one of the movie studios.
F. Dannen Hit Men 36: I thought it was a racket guy trying to shake me down.
B. Gifford Sailor’s Holiday 205: Wanted to [...] impress her, so she’d think I was a real racket boy.
M. Landy Imitations of Life 143: [...] despair is observable in Leo when he moves from a small to a big ‘numbers’ racket man.
J. Kelly Mobtown 234: If Petrone can get it, who’s safe? There’s not a racket guy in this city who isn’t looking over his shoulder.

In phrases

lay one’s racket (v.) (US black)

1. to reveal one’s real agenda, usu. a confidence trick or hoax.

[US]Cab Calloway New Hepsters Dict. in Calloway (1976) 257: lay your racket (v.): to jive, to sell an idea, to promote a proposition.

2. to tease.

[US] in ‘Jiver’s Bible’ in D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive.

3. to show off.

[US]Chicago Defender 12 Oct. 9/5: If ‘Dig that high-jivin’ chick layin’ her racket over at my crib, with those conked rug-cutters’ isn’t Harlemese for ‘Look at that ritzy miss trying to make an impression in my home with those slick-haired ballroom dancers’ then sue the fellow who told me it was.
stand the racket (v.) [stand v.2 (1)]

1. (also stand the nonsense) to pay the bill, to treat one’s companions.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 135: Padding jack and diving Ned [...] Have made me drunk with hot, and stood / The racket for a dram.
[UK]Sporting Mag. 19 199/1: Epsom races for ever! Lose your chinkers; cock a pistol; stand the Bow-street racket.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 31: Stand the racket [...] Stand the nonsense – pay the money, stand treat.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open [as cit. 1835].
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 4 Nov. 2/7: Suppose the bank’ll stand the racket; besides it’ll make the young cove a — sight more careful what he’s doing with other people’s money.
[UK]Marvel 21 Apr. 352: I’ll stand the racket, if yer like to come!
[UK]Wodehouse Love among the Chickens 3: He greeted me with effusive shouts. Wouldn’t hear of my standing the racket. Insisted on being host.
[UK]‘Leslie Charteris’ Enter the Saint 180: She’s robbing people who can afford to stand the racket.

2. to take the blame for the crimes of one’s confederates.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 144: ‘Racket—to stand the’, when one of a set stands forward to bear all the blame.
[Aus][A. Harris] (con. 1820s) Settlers & Convicts 207: D— then on inquiry found the seller was gone out of the country, leaving him to ‘stand the racket’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 11/2: Of course I expected a ‘racketing’ upon meeting them, and was prepared for it; but poor Joe, had to stand the ‘racket’ more than myself, he being blamed for ‘kidding’ me away.
[UK]Daily News 27 Oct. 7/4: I will stand the racket of this. I stole it because I was hard up [F&H].
[UK]A. Conan Doyle His Last Bow in Baring-Gould (1968) II 798: They raided his store last night, and he and his papers are all in Portsmouth jail. You’ll go off and he, poor devil, will have to stand the racket, and lucky if he gets clear with his life.

3. to put up with a situation; to overcome a challenge [SE stand, to suffer].

[US]S. Smith Major Downing (1834) 87: After standing the racket [as] he did last winter, he need never to fear anything.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 12 Apr. 2/7: Brown was accordingly condemned to ‘stand the racket’ of a trial at the next Quarter Sessions.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 11 Oct. 6/3: ‘You had got tired and sick and would not stand the racket any more’.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 393: All you’ve got to do is to just be ca’m and stack it up--they’ll stand the racket.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 159: My friend could not stand this sot of racket any longer.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Mar. 24/2: Finally Jack dropped into his chair limp as a dead snake – barely able to move. Bad condition would stand the racket no longer, and his seconds gave in.
[Can]R. Service ‘Wounded’ in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man 162: I’ve stood the racket, and I’m proud and glad.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 39: She’s got to have something in her old guts too or she won’t be able to stand the rack.
[UK]G. Kersh They Die with Their Boots Clean 85: I would have sworn he couldn’t stand the racket.