Green’s Dictionary of Slang

yellow n.

1. in pl., constr. with the, a venereal infection, esp. gonorrhoea [the pus-filled discharge].

[UK]Mercurius Democritus 21-28 Sept. 592: He is so farr gone in this Disease [...] that there is no other way to cure him of the yellows.
[UK]Mercurius Fumigosus 6 5 July 45: There is a new-found Well found out in the head of a Holly bush neer Knights-bridge, that by drinking the said Water when the Sun is in his solistice, cures all Diseases incident to the Passions of men or Women; many Ladyes troubled with the Yellows, are removing thither. [Ibid.] 46: Mistris Squirtington, so miserably troubled with the yellows, that she lives in perpetual fear lest her husband should act the Town-Bull of Smithfield, and ride every jade he comes near.
[UK] ‘The Hangman’s Last Will and Testament’ in Rump Poems and Songs (1662) ii 149: Lambert I knew was trouble’d with the yellows.
[UK]J. Phillips Maronides (1678) VI 36: And fearing she should have the yelllows, / (For Godesses and Parsons Wives, / Mind their punctilios more than lives).
[UK]Progress of a Rake 50: She’d have no nasty, pocky Fellows, / Dribbling her Sheets with Greens and Yellows.
[UK]Memoirs of [...] Jane D****s 70: His lordship soon after found himself afflicted with the American p—x, commonly called the y—s.

2. (UK und.) a yellow (silk) handkerchief.

[UK]Sam Cowell [perf.] ‘The Artful Dodger’ 🎵 I nailed this yaller from a bloke / Just down in Drury Lane.

3. cowardice; often as streak of yellow.

[US]Ade Artie 57: This is how I found the streak o’ yellow in him.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 113: Some of ’em sho got a heap ob yalla insed ’em.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 34: Then he stops a cross hook with his jaw and is jarred some. That brings out the yellow.
[US]Jasper News (MO) 24 Dec. 7/2: Spot is a good fellow [...] / He’s no streak of yellow.
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith Journalist (1993) 209: Next round I see Benson has a chunk of yellow, and I gets in with a hay-maker.
[US]H.C. Witwer Classics in Sl. 48: Belleau Woods took all the yellah out of me.
E.C.Segar Popeye the Sailor Man 🎵 in Botkin (1944) 255: I yam Popeye, The Sailor Man. / I yam jus’ a little feller, / But I hasn’t any yeller.
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 284: Jimmy [...] was known to have a streak of yellow as wide as the main road.
[US]F.X. Toole Rope Burns 153: He hit Shawrelle with a left hook yip! to the liver that made him gut-sick and spread yellow all through him.

4. as gold.

(a) a (counterfeit) sovereign, £1 sterling.

[UK]Harlot’s Progress 27: And if the Cull would tip a Yellow, / He was a very pretty Fellow.
[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 11 Mar. 886/2: [He] had long engaged in the uttering of forged 5l. notes, and of counterfeit sovereigns; and he stated that for the former, which were called ‘softs,’ he gave 35s. each; and for the latter, which were called ‘yellows,’ he gave 7s. each.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1360/2: from ca. 1910.

(b) (US tramp) a gold watch.

[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 346: Yellow — A gold watch.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

5. as skin tone.

(a) an Asian.

[US](con. WWII) T. Sanchez Hollywoodland (1981) 152: Japs, Chinks, all those yellows are in this war together.

(b) a light-skinned black person.

[US]E. Walrond Tropic Death (1972) 89: Among the motley blacks, browns and yellows on the Isthmus, there would be talk.
[US]Rev. Charlie Jackson & Ma Rainey ‘Big Feeling Blues’ 🎵 Unlucky with my yellow, unlucky with my brown, / the black bitches keep on throwin’ me down.
[US]Archie Seale Man About Harlem 26 Oct. [synd. col.] [T]he big Yellow ankle over to us to whisper, ‘That so-and-so tried to kill me’.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 114: He’s a good sort of coot for a yeller (he remembered Norman’s presence) — er — halfcaste.
[US]D. Burley N.Y. Amsterdam News 1 Feb. 11: The yellows have constructed a carefully built Negro social empire based on skin color .
[US](con. 1930s) B. Short Black and White Baby 53: I can remember evil, catty comments the high-school girls made about each other. A pale-skinned classmate would be jealously dismissed as ‘wasted yellow,’ a dark-skinned classmate put down as a ‘black ink-spitter’.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 260: yellow/yella See casper.

6. a coward.

[US]A. Feldman ‘The Squeal Widow’ in Gun Molls Oct. 🌐 ‘Shut up, yellow,’ he growled, ‘and drive.’ [Ibid.] ‘Get in, yellow,’ came the harsh command.

7. (US Und.) a telegram, esp. when fake and used in confidence tricks.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 65: ‘The guy wit’ the yeller [will] flash the wise wire on him like he was lettin’ him in wit’ the main secret of his life’.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 311: yellow. A telegram, especially a fake telegram used in the pay-off and the rag.

8. in drug uses.

(a) (drugs, also yellow one) a Nembutal, a depressant [the colour of the pills].

[US] ‘Sl. of Watts’ in Current Sl. III:2.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 127: I put a coupla ‘yellows’ in your bag so you can ‘come down’ and get some ‘doss.’.
[US]Ian Dury ‘Plaistow Patricia’ 🎵 Reds and yellows, purples, blues and greens.
[US](con. 1982–6) T. Williams Cocaine Kids (1990) 133: On the corner of 162nd Street, three boys and two girls shout to me [...] ‘got that coke, got that crack, got red caps, got blues, got yellow ones – you choose. What you want, my friend? What you need?’.
[US]E. Little Another Day in Paradise 225: Got any downs, homes? Reds, rainbows, yellows . . .
[US]ONDCP Street Terms 23: Yellow — LSD; depressants.

(b) (N.Z. prison) a 5mg tablet of Valium.

[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 205/1: yellow n. 1 a 5mg Valium pill a 10mg morphine sulphate tablet.

(c) see mellow yellow n. (2)

9. (Aus./US) a taxi [colour of New York City taxis].

[Aus]Mirror (Perth) 15 Aug. 22/1: We're going to burl past every 'Yellow' we see on the road.
[US]J. Conaway Big Easy 204: He [...] hailed a Yellow from the cabstand.

In phrases

do a yellow (v.)

to run off in a cowardly fashion.

[Aus]G. Barry Bed and Bored 164: ‘Where’s Honest John tonight?’ [...] ‘He done a yellow [...] ’e run off on us.’.