Green’s Dictionary of Slang

floater n.1

1. of inanimate objects.

(a) a suet dumpling.

[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict 135: Floater, a small suet dumpling put into soup.— Whitechapel.
[UK](con. WWI) Fraser & Gibbons Soldier and Sailor Words 96: Floaters: Dumplings in a stew.

(b) the (flaccid) penis.

[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[US]Maledicta IV:2 (Winter) 190: Flap-doodle, doodle-flap, flapper and floater may refer to a young boy or to an old man, the one never having experienced a cock-stand and the other a matter of memory.

(c) (orig. US) a dead body found floating in water.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 8 Oct. 13/4: [headline] Harpooning a Floater.
[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 230: ‘Floaters’ come ashore every now and then with pockets turned inside out.
[Can]R. Service ‘The Ballad of One-Eyed Mike’ in Ballads of a Cheechako 51: And here I swear by this Cross I wear, I heard that ‘floater’ say: [...] ‘In the grit and grime of the river’s slime I am rotting at your feet.’.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl.
[US]R. Chandler Lady in the Lake (1952) 92: They worked the system out back in New York where they’re all the time pulling in floaters.
[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 410: It’s rather smell than sight that affects me personally — the floaters, the smelly ones that have been in premises for a long time.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 24: On the counter was the Herald, open to the page with the story about the dead floater.
[US]C. Hiaasen Strip Tease 86: They knew all about [...] gunshots, accidentals and naturals. And floaters, of course.
[US]Simon & Burns ‘Old Cases’ Wire ser. 1 ep. 4 [TV script] A decomp floater who was John Doe for three weeks.
[US]T. Dorsey Atomic Lobster 226: They watched the body come over the wall [...] ‘A floater. They all bloat like that.’.
[US]K. Tomlinson ‘Thicker Than Water’ in C. Rhatigan and N. Bird (eds) Pulp Ink 2 [ebook] You identfied your floater yet?

(d) (Aus./N.Z., also pie floater) a meat pie floating in pea soup.

[Aus]Pepper Box Dec. 1: Say, matey, give me two pies and a floater [AND].
[Aus]J. Holmes Is It Dinkum? 8: To the pie cart for a ‘floater’ (a plate of peas and pie) [AND].
B. McArdle Aus. Walkabout 244: More Australians nowadays would relish a weiner schnitzel than a floater — a dish consisting of a pie in a plate of pea soup.
R. Whitington Sir Frank 140: A tray-mobile bearing half a dozen bowls of what were called ‘floaters’ — meat pies floating in boiled peas and tomato sauce.
[Aus]R. Beckett Dinkum Aussie Dict. 25: Floater: A meat pie which has been placed in a soup-plate full of mashed, dried, blue boiler peas and then topped with bottled tomato sauce.
Autocar CLXXIV 30: In the early hours of race morning Nigel Roebuck and I sampled and survived a food speciality unique to Adelaide — the ‘Pie Floater’.
[Aus] Advertiser (Adelaide) 5 Sept. n.p.: The news that next week will be National Pie Week in response to a downturn in sales comes as a jolt. Nowhere will that jolt be felt more intensely than in Adelaide, home of that unique gourmet delight, the pie floater, beloved by connoisseurs for its assembly of the pea soup, the inverted pie and the tomato sauce.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.

(e) (Aus./N.Z., also butterfly) in two-up, a coin that fails to spin.

[Aus]E. Locke From Shore to Shore 27: If they leave the ring we bar’em; we bar the floaters, too [AND].
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 231/2: butterfly (floater) – a coin which won’t spin when it’s tossed.
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 299: Slight shock put Gunner off his toss so that the coins drifted up sedately, not turning. ‘Floater,’ several voices shouted. ‘Barred,’ shouted the ringie.
[Aus]Hibberd & Hutchinson Barracker’s Bible 81: In two-up, a coin which doesn’t spin properly is known as a ‘floater’ [AND].
[NZ] McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.

(f) (US Und.) a stolen gun which is used in various crimes by different criminals.

[US]T.R. Houser Central Sl.

(g) a large piece of excrement that cannot be flushed away; also in fig. use.

[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 46/1: floater [...] a turd that will not flush away.
[UK]Roger’s Profanisaurus in Viz 87 Dec. n.p.: floater n. 1. Scotch A turd in the pan which will not flush away.
[UK]M. Manning Get Your Cock Out 37: She grabbed the disintegrating furry-floater from the toilet bowl and started rubbing it in her hair.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].
[UK]Guardian CiF 19 July [Internet] The Tories [...] a dumping ground for the most hated unflushable floaters in the cabinet (Andrea Loathsome and now Gove).

(h) (N.Z.) a fried scone.

[NZ] postcard in DNZE (1998) 275/2: Flour [...] Baking powder [...] salt [...] milk [...] dripping [...] make a scone [...] fry it in dripping [...] Some people call it floaters.
[NZ] McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.

2. in fig. uses, of humans.

(a) (Aus./US) a wanderer; a person of no fixed occupation, living on their wits.

[US]T.S. Woodward Reminiscences 49: He was a floater . . . but he located him a tract in the fork of Coosa and Tallapoosa.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 3 July 4/7: The callow wild-cat floater, creeping unwillingly to the bank for the overdraft he knows he won’t get.
[US]I.L. Nascher Wretches of Povertyville 237: The ‘rounders,’ ‘floaters,’ ‘revolvers,’ as they are called, are not missed, although they may have been patrons at the same bar and in the same lodging house for years.
[US]Kansas City Star 18 Nov. n.p.: But the floater, he of the faltering feet, whatever his occupation is a ‘gandy’ in the North Side vernacular.
[US]T. Wolfe Look Homeward, Angel (1930) 323: ‘Floaters,’ young men and women of precarious means, variable lives, who slid mysteriously from cell to cell, who peopled the night with their flitting stealth.
[US]C.R. Shaw Jack-Roller 137: We took our provisions and, following the directions of a fellow-floater, we entered the ‘jungle’.
[US]J. Evans Halo in Blood (1988) 39: It seemed that about thirty days earlier some floater had been sapped to death in a room at the Laycroft Hotel, a flea-trap on West Madison Street.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 71/2: Floater. 1. A tramp or any petty thief who moves constantly from city to city; a vagabond.
[US]A. James America’s Homosexual Underground 138: They don’t learn their jobs well. So they end up like me — a floater.
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 41: Not that he was a floater, he’d stay at one place leaning on the bar.
[Aus]R. Aven-Bray Ridgey-Didge Oz Jack Lang 10: The knockabout from the West had his curiosity aroused. ‘Yeah, I’m just a floater doing the best I can,’ he said.

(b) (US) a migratory worker.

[US]J.H. Beadle Western Wilds iii 45: A man [...] failed, lost hope, and sank into a ‘floater’.
[US]F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley’s Opinions 171: Down there the floater’ ar-re alll mimbers iv th’ Club.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ Snare of the Road 84: Mr Davis [...] asked that he direct other floaters as he had been directed by Arkansas Jim.
[US]N. Anderson Hobo 143: They [prostitutes] are conveniently located so that even the ‘floater,’ who comes to town with a few months’ savings, has no trouble in finding them.
[US]G. Milburn ‘The Sweet Potato Mountains’ in Hobo’s Hornbook 90: Alton Slim was a floater.
[US]F.H. Hubbard Railroad Avenue 343: Floater – Same as boomer; i.e., Drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time.
[Aus]J. Morrison Black Cargo 35: Plenty of men available this morning. Over fifty gangs in, as well as hundreds of floaters. Floaters are men not attached to gangs.
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 22: A town with six hundred floaters and a normal population of less than fifty.
[US]L. Dills CB Slanguage 40: Floater: truck driver who does not have a steady job.
[Aus] in Lowenstein & Hills Under Hook 107: The wharfies would accept a floater just as the boss would.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 85: The floaters and home guards lived and got by in four Chicago areas they called stems.

(c) (UK prison) an old magazine, book or newspaper that is smuggled irregularly from cell to cell.

[UK]F. Norman Bang To Rights 97: It’s a floater so you can sling it if you think you are going to get a turn over.
[UK](con. 1970s) N. ‘Razor’ Smith A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun 203: There were also some paperbacks that were known as ‘floaters’ [...] You could normally tell a floater by the fact that its front cover would be missing, usually to get rid of a lurid picture.

(d) (gay) a homosexual prostitute who works only in towns where he is unknown and in which he does not live.

[US]G. Legman ‘Lang. of Homosexuality’ Appendix VII in Henry Sex Variants.
[US]Guild Dict. Homosexual Terms 16: floater (n.): A male transient who prostitutes himself to homosexuals, some of whom will seek out only this type of trade so as to minimize the danger to themselves through gossip or exposure.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 83: floater 1. (fr hobo sl = migratory worker) transient hustler [...] 3. male who prostitutes himself as he travels across the country.
[US]Maledicta IX 146: Many of his [i.e. G. Legman’s] other terms (boy or come-on boy, peg house and show house, dick-peddler, floater, handgig, live one, muscle in, trade) prove he used to know the words and music of gay prostitute slang but is now out of date.

(e) a prisoner on a short-term sentence.

[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water 4: It didn’t seem to be the guys with big bits, though, it was the floaters, the guys with thirty and sixty days.