Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cheap adj.

1. out of sorts, feeling ill; usu. in phr. feel cheap.

[US]J.R. Lowell Biglow Papers (1880) 88: I don’t see, nuther, / Wy one [i.e. leg] should take to feelin’ cheap a minnit sooner ’n t’other.
[US](con. c.1840) ‘Mark Twain’ Huckleberry Finn 191: Buck Harkness he heeled it after them, looking tolerable cheap.
[UK]Sporting Times 6 Feb. 1/5: It was the Shifter, returning home at 7.15 a.m. [...] and he looked ill, and was looking cheap.
[UK]Daily Tel. 21 Jan. in Ware (1909) 128/2: Does some brother officer adjacent ‘feel very cheap’ after some midnight revelry; or how comes it that my host is not in the way?
[UK]A. Binstead More Gal’s Gossip 81: Any suffering sister, who feels so consciously cheap in the morning that fourpence-three-farthings a gross would [...] be a somewhat excessive price to pay for herself.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
Wodehouse Intrusion of Jimmy (2007) 69: We stayed up playing billiards [...] till five this morning. I feel fearfully cheap.
[UK]Yorks. Eve. Post 2 Dec. 5/1: [advert] It [i..e. a cold] leaves you feeling cheap - it’s bound to. From the very commencement take ‘Quinphos’.
[UK]‘William Juniper’ True Drunkard’s Delight.
[UK]Yorks. Eve. Post 28 May 3/2: [advert] When you eat ‘natch meals’ [...] is there any wonder you make matters worse by waking up feeling cheap as a German farthing? Snap out of it NOW!
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 99: I felt [...] Shabby, cheap, crummy — all those things.

2. (US black) dishonest.

[US]J. London ‘Frisco Kid’s Story’ in High School Aegis X (15 Feb.) 2–3: Don’t squeeze me arm like dat [...] wot der yer tink I am? A cheap guy?

3. (also cheap-ass) mean, miserly, grasping.

[US]Ade Artie (1963) 29: Who does I meet comin’ out o’ the house but a cheap gazabo.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 1 Oct. 14/3: ‘Where’s the cheap chirper?’ ’e asked. ‘I’m goin’ t’ paste ’im round th’ paddock.’.
[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 172: I ain’t de kind what goes aroun’ makin’ cheap touches offa penny-swipers like you. But I tell you I gotta have a twenny.
[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 64: They’re trying to shake that cheap stiff. Playin’ the chill for him, eh?
[US]G. Milburn ‘Hobo’s Last Lament’ in Hobo’s Hornbook 74: Where St. Peter runs the flop-house / And angels walk the drag, / And no cheap dick can shake you down / And take away your swag.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Nostalgia’ in Short Stories (1937) 235: He’s so cheap he squeaks.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 253: You damned cheap Yankees.
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 42: Everybody calls you cheap if you don’t give credit.
[US]H. Selby Jr Last Exit to Brooklyn 16: Ya cheap motherfucka!
[US]C. Loken Come Monday Morning 48: Cheap bastard – never did order the drink.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 48: Doctors are the cheapest human beings alive.
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 136: Bought the Coke over the bar, never wanted to look cheap.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 90: We ain’t got no rings because this cheap, flabby motherfucker says he don’t believe in wedding rings.
T. Pluck ‘Hula Hula Boys’ in What Pluckery Is This? (28 Jan 2024) 🌐 He waved a ten dollar bill. Cheap-ass.

4. (also cheapshit) unpleasant, cruel.

[UK]Sporting Times 1 Mar. 1/3: Full of the Virtues of Cheap Talk, the Bull made a few More or Less Appropriate Remarks upon the Brevity of Life, drawing Unkind Comparisons between Himself, in all his Youth and Lustiness, and the Venerable Charger in his Sere and Chrome.
[US]Laurents & Sondheim West Side Story I i: You cheap beast!
[US]E. Shrake Strange Peaches 248: ‘That was a lot of cheap-shit stuff,’ I said, smiling back. ‘Be charming, Tex,’ he muttered.
[US]S. King Stand (1990) 111: You cheap prick.
[US]S. King It (1987) 677: My DOG wasn’t a nigger, you cheapshit bastard.

5. (US campus) embarrassed.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Nov. 2: cheap – embarrassed, ashamed, shy: I was too cheap to ask my boyfriend for help with my homework.

In phrases

play cheap (v.)

(US black) to not take seriously; often as don’t play someone cheap, make sure someone is not underrated.

R. Wright Native Son 132: ‘You can’t play me cheap.’ ‘Take it easy. I know what I’m doing’.
[US]M.H. Boulware Jive and Sl. n.p.: Don’t play me cheap ... Don’t think I’m dumb.
[US](con. early 1930s) C. McKay Harlem Glory (1990) 41: Don’t hand us that stuff, for we ain’t taking [...] Don’t play us cheap.
[US](con. 1930s) R. Wright Lawd Today 15: Woman, don’t you try to play me cheap.
[US]D. Evans Sugar Mouth Sam in Black World Apr. 68: verda: [...] An’ man, I ain’t lettin’ none o’ you play me cheap no more.
V.W. Wesley When Death Comes Stealing 209: ‘Don't play me cheap, Tamara,’ July said. ‘Please don't play me cheap.’ Her eyes were telling me that she was not a fool.
[UK]C. Wolfe Playground 170: Because I may be an old ass man and a wino, but I’ll still kick you little motherfuckers asses, so don’t play me cheap nigga because I used to be a Gangster back in the day.
M. Rice Seeds Of A New Breed 292: Maurice, it really hurts when you play me cheap.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

cheap-ass (adj.) (also cheap-arse) [-ass sfx]

(US) cheap, inferior, second-rate.

M. Kennedy Pecking Order 126: He jes natchully aint no good! nothin but a cheap-ass hustler!
[US]H.S. Thompson Hell’s Angels (1967) 133: I’d like to get my hands on that cheap-ass punk.
[US]C. Bukowski Erections, Ejaculations etc. 30: You drink that cheapass wine.
[US](con. 1968) W.E. Merritt Where the Rivers Ran Backward 20: Blowed him off a balcony in a cheap-ass hotel in Memphis.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 196: One of those cheapass little cigars with white plastic mouthpieces.
[Aus]T. Winton Turning (2005) 155: By her bed she kept the little cheap-arse snowdome of Jesus walking on the water.
[US]W. Ellis Crooked Little Vein 3: Cheering on the police for getting those cheapass squatter motherfuckers off their block.
[US]E. Beetner ‘Zed’s Dead, Baby’ in Pulp Ink [ebook] he was cut from the same cloth as the others. The same cheap-ass, shit-stained moldy rag.
cheap charlie (n.) [charlie n.2 (1)]

1. (US) a candy store.

(con. 1900s) B. Smith Tree Grows in Brooklyn n.p.: Cheap Charlie’s was the penny candy store next to Carney’s which catered to the junk trade.
(con. c.1900) S. Chotzinoff Lost Paradise 75: I preferred ‘broken cake’ to candy at ‘Cheap Charlie’s,’ where one could buy ten chocolate- coated walnuts for a penny.
(con. c.1900) S. Kroll Sweet America 16: He took Tonio to a ‘Cheap Charlie.’ It was a candy store on the corner called the Napoli.

2. one who accepts the second-rate, either through poverty or lack of taste.

[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 175: He’d never worn anything but cheap Charlie’s shoes before, but now he started wearing custom-made.

3. a mean person.

[US]Army Times ‘Army Talk in Vietnam’ 10 Apr. n.p.: cheap charlie: anyone, especially a U.S. serviceman, who does not waste his money.
[US]Army Reporter Feb. in Maledicta VI:1+2 251: I know you numbah fuckin’ ten cheap charlie, so di-fucking-mau, slopehead, and never come this way again.
[US]N. Proffitt Gardens of Stone (1985) 200: Hey, Joe. You cheap charlie.
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 26/2: cheap charlie tightwad; army slang borrowed from Saigon bar girls. Also US.
[US](con. c.1970) G. Hasford Phantom Blooper 147: One of the Seabees says, ‘Hey, baby-san, you souvenir me one boom-boom?’ Baby-san giggles. ‘You cheap Charlie.’.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 331: Fuck you. You cheap Charlie. American Punk No. 10.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].
cheap john

see separate entries.

cheapshit (adj.)

(US) low-quality, contemptible.

J. Elllroy Brown’s Requiem 139: ‘I sold a full coverage policy [...] damage, vandalism, fire, theft, comprehensive—strange for a cheapshit little bar like that’.
cheap shot/shotter

see separate entries.


see separate entries.

cheapwad (n.) [-wad sfx]

(US) a mean, ungenerous person; also attrib.

[US] in DARE.
Dallas Observer 28 Aug. 🌐 Those cheapwad pinheads who are collectively responsible for a new state law [...] that has upset people who are actually disabled.
[US]Shepherd Express (Milwaukee) 23 Mar. 🌐 So, you feel like voting for the knobwad, the cheapwad or your patron in the White House whose only mission in life is to fulfill each and every one of your dreams?
D. Gleeman Nightcrawlers Ch. 4: Rick waved him off with a smile. He never realized Lou was such a cheapwad.

In phrases

cheap as dirt (adj.) (also dirt-cheap)

extremely cheap.

[Universal History VIII 437: If he could but reign ten years, he would make gold cheap as dirt].
Divine Poems of Rees Prichard 184: His sire’s inheritance, the swinish sot / Sells, even all he has, as cheap as dirt.
C. Este Journey in Year 1793 181: Such are the materials, cheap as dirt all over the world, by which they metamorphose and manufacture them into the hired heroes at Cologne.
[UK]J. Poole Hamlet Travestie II i: We know very well that advice cheap as dirt is.
[UK]G. Smeeton Doings in London 274: ‘Twenty pounds,’ replied the jockey. ‘As cheap as dirt,’ continued the coachman.
[UK] ‘The Little Bit of Tape’ in Bentley’s Misc. Mar. 316: A hat which Isaacs swore was only made the week before, and ‘cheap ash dirt’.
[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (1982) I 94: He’s cheap as dirt, sir, at four-ten!
[UK]Derby Day 95: This one I’m selling [...] cheap as dirt.
[US]Jackson Dly Standard (OH) 16 Sept. 4/1: [advert] We have [...] the latest styles and best material, cheap as dirt.
[UK]Western Times 5 July 5/4: Queensland. A correspondent [...] tells as that cattle are as cheap as dirt.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 364: We can sell it so dirt-cheap that the whole country has got to take it.
[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 116: Will he give eighty cents? Sixty? Fifty? So help him, they are dirt cheap at that.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 10 Mar. 13/2: It goes without saying that he will not accept a knighthood. That title is now as cheap as dirt – well, as C.M.G.-ships were formerly.
[UK]Lancs. Eve. Post 25 Apr. 3/6: You want a bicylcle [...] They’re cheap now, dirt cheap at £10.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 14 Nov. 21/2: That’s cheap, dirt cheap.
[US]S.H. Adams Success 241: ‘Cheap as dirt,’ said the enthusiastic Cressey.
[UK]J. Rhys Good Morning Midnight (1969) 154: Dirt cheap at the price, especially with the exchange the way it is.
[UK]Hull Dly Mail 24 May 5/7: Once ‘Cheap as Dirt’. Now Dirt as Dear as Coal.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Cop This Lot 75: Never seen so much grog an’ tucker in me life. Cheap as dirt too.
[Aus]P. Temple Bad Debts (2012) [ebook] You can’t live at home and eat MacDonald’s for what I can do it. Dirt, Jack, dirt.
cheap as ticks (adj.)

(US black) very cheap.

[US]R.M. Brown Southern Discomfort (1983) 180: That’s for cherrywood and birch [...] Pine’s cheap as ticks.