Green’s Dictionary of Slang

river n.

see river ooze n.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

river rat (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

down the river

1. serving time in prison [var. on up the river ; see also go down the river ] .

[UK]Times 31 Jan. 4/5: He had overheard Miss Jones threatening Mr Dee ‘to send him down the river for life.’ .

2. (also down the Swanny) finished, over and done, used up [a boat that has gone down the river has vanished from sight].

[US]Sun (Baltimore) 31 Jan. 1/5: True enough, I used to hustle a little beer in the old days but that’s all down the river [OED].
[US]H. Ellson ‘Pistol’ in Best of Manhunt (2019) [ebook] ‘You been smoking too much marijuana and playing around. That’s how your pistol went down the river’.
[Scot]I. Rankin Strip Jack 166: Not that I’ll be making many of those from now on. Whichever way you look at it, my career’s down the Swanny. 🌐 We can let all our work go down the swanny or get help.
posting at 🌐 It’s [i.e. Wolverhampton] just a dump. The nightlife has gone down the swanny, 5 years ago.
[Scot]I. Welsh Dead Man’s Trousers [15]: [Y]our family, your job, your reputation, are all down the fucking swanny!

3. in debt.

[UK]J.B. Priestley Good Companions 252: You were asking something about the show, what we’re down the river for, what it would take to run it. Am I right?
go across the river (v.) (also go over the river, go over the Styx, ride old Charon’s Ferry-Boat) [the mythological River Styx across which dead Greeks were supposedly ferried by Charon on their way to Hades]

to die; thus gone across, dead.

[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 23: They are likely to stop there, till they appear before their twelve God-fathers, and are from thence remov’d to the three legged Mare, on which they must all ride to old Charon’s Ferry-Boat].
[US]Kalida Venture (OH) 4 Aug. 1/2: If the Emperor does not speedily abdicate, he may unexpectedly find himself in Charon’s ferry-boat [...] in company with the devil.
Star of the North (Bloomsburg, PA) 3 June 2/1: Seward and his party [...] shall go over the Styx in the same boat.
[US]Dly Sentinel (Indianapolis, IN) 22 Mar. 2/3: They died in the camp [...] Charon’s ferry-boat is doing a heavy freighting business over the gloomy waters.
[US]True Northerner (Paw Paw, MI) 31 Mar. 1/5: Bale away, lads! One more such wave as that and we shall be drinking grog in Charon’s ferry boat.
[US]Wkly Caucasian (Lexington, MO) 5 Oct. 2/5: It would be a relief to us if this hero would bid us an affectionate farewell and go hence over the Styx.
Westrn Liberal (Lordsburg, NM) 30 Oct. 4/1: He, pale and emaciated, one of those men who carry a ticket for Charon’s ferry boat.
[UK]Sporting Times (London) 25 Nov. 1/1: Flat racing for this year has gone over the Styx.
Bolton Eve. News 4 Dec. 3/2: ‘When you receive this [letter] Old Charon will have carried me over the Styx’.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘Longevity Jujubes’ Sporting Times 23 July 1/3: You might go o’er the Styx through a motor car’s tricks.
[US]A.C. Huber Diary of a Doughboy 25 Sept. 🌐 He told me he was ‘going over the river’ early in the morning. I would not believe him but we found him in a shell hole [...] with a machine gun bullet hole squarely between the eyes.
[Aus]Kia Ora Coo-ee 15 June 19/2: Some of the boys who had started from El Arish the previous evening had since crossed ‘the river,’ and the mound over their grave was still fresh as we turned our backs on their last resting place.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
go down the river (v.) [the practice of selling an errant slave to a Mississippi sugar-cane plantation. The journey to the plantation, where work was especially hard, meant a trip ‘down the river’]

(US, Southern) to go to the state prison in Mississippi.

[‘Mark Twain’ in Century mag. (N.Y.) Dec. 238/1: Percy Driscoll slept well the night he saved his house-minions from going down the river].
go up the river (v.) [the Hudson River, which leads to Sing-Sing, New York State’s main prison]

to go to prison; to get oneself into trouble.

[US]Morning Herald (N.Y.) 15 Aug. 2/4: [Capt. Henry Monroe, a balloonist, was arrested for fraud.] Bowyer, who is a bit of a wag, says the captain will now really make an ascent, go up — the river to Sing Sing.
[[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 3 Nov. 6/2: In another moment I was whirling along the Hudson river road to Sing Sing].
[US]H.F. Wood ‘Justice in a Quandary’ in Good Humor 179: ‘Yes, go up the river.’ ‘I see, I see. Go to Sing Sing’.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 288: Now you’ll pay for it; you’ll all go up the river and break stones and pick oakum for your ‘poor old Trompey’.
[US]C.S. Montanye ‘White as Snow’ Detective Story 18 Feb. 🌐 He knows he’ll take a nice little ride up the river for a stretch at making shoes if he starts anything like that.
[US] ‘Toledo Slim’ in Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 230: They sent me ‘up the river’ to do my little ‘V’.
[US]J. Dixon Free To Love 260: We’re willing to call quits so long as he goes for a ride up the river.
[US]B. Schulberg What Makes Sammy Run? (1992) 225: Why the hell take a chance goin’ up the river when there’s plenny better ways.
[Aus]I.L. Idriess One Wet Season 10: He’d put up in his last Wet up river at the Crossing and they’d ‘yarded’ him there all right—on the end of a chain padlocked to a log.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 78: The kids go up the river and come back on parole.
[US]J. Blake letter 2 March in Joint (1972) 224: Kaplan departed up the river to Ossining February 10 on a 2½ to 5 ride.
N. De Mille Word of Honor 265: Tyson cleared his throat. ‘Have you considered what you will do if I go up the river for a few years?’.
over the river

(US Und.) at Blackwell’s Island prison, New York.

[US]Wash. Post 26 Nov. 2/2: ‘Over the River’ is a slang designation in New York for the prison at Blackwell’s Island.
[US]St Louis Post-Despatch 16 Jan. 25/2: If I catching you stowing any more soup (nitro-glycerin) [...] it’ll be over the river for yours.
up the river (also up the big stream) [orig. the penitentiary at Ossining (‘Sing-Sing’), which is sited up the river from New York City]

(orig. US) in prison; sometimes ext. as sanitarium/summer hotel up the river.

[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 278: ‘What do you mean by over on the island or up the river?’ ‘Why, I can have them sent to the penitentiary or Sing Sing.’.
[US] ‘Lady Kate, the Dashing Female Detective’ in Roberts et al. Old Sleuth’s Freaky Female Detectives (1990) 14/2: He had only been down from ‘up river’ for a few weeks.
[US]‘Frederick Benton Williams’ (H.E. Hamblen) On Many Seas 401: They all have scars on their persons which, if displayed and properly worked up before a jury, would, I have no doubt, send you up the river for a term of years.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 93: I think we’d better make it up-the-river—better railroad the duffer.
[US]F. Packard Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1918) II x: Husbands and fathers unfortunate enough in their clashes with the law to be doing ‘spaces’ up the river.
[US]Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, OH) 29 Aug. 13/7: If you don’t watch your step you’re going to have a nice long stay in that sanitarium up the river.
[US]Dos Passos Manhattan Transfer 150: Kid if you keep on bein a softie about women you’re goin to find yourself in dat lil summer hotel up de river.
[US]J. Dixon Free To Love 254: Thought you could play Joe Neilson’s son for a sucker! Got a trip up the river all framed for Joe Neilson, eh?
[US]‘Maxwell Grant’ ‘Murder Marsh’ in Shadow Oct. 🌐 Different from six years ago, when I took my trip up the river.
[US]A. Wallace ‘Body Ransom’ in Spicy Detective Stories Nov. 🌐 Sure, you thought I’d be spendin’ the rest of my life up the river. [...] Well, I’m out, see?
[US]J.F. Bardin Deadly Pecheron in Bardin Omnibus (1976) 160: We got his record – and he’s been up the river twice.
[US](con. 1920s) ‘Harry Grey’ Hoods (1953) 95: He’s been up the river so many times, we call him showboat.
[UK]G.W. Target Teachers (1962) 107: He’s up the river for three years.
[US]T.I. Rubin In the Life 23: Timmy must still be up the big stream. Up the river, Doc. Sing Sing.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 120: Now after you’re up the river for a couple of months or more, / you receive a twelve-page letter from this no-good whore.
[US]‘Hy Lit’ Hy Lit’s Unbelievable Dict. of Hip Words 52: up the river – In prison.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. 🌐 Up the river. In gaol.
[US]I.L. Allen City in Sl. (1995) 40: The New York state prison was built in 1828 near the town of Sing Sing, north of New York City and up the Hudson River. The prison, informally called Sing Sing, soon became known in the City for its harsh discipline and up the river was a dreaded destination for criminals.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skinny Dip 120: It was the best part of my job, sending shitheads up the river.