Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bummer n.3

[the precursor of bum n.3 (2); note Schele De Vere Americanisms (1872) ‘he is, far more likely, descended from the German Bummler, a man who goes about without aim and purpose, and lives on the fruits of other people’s labor.’]

1. a tramp, a vagrant.

[US]Oregonian 27 Jan. 1/4: Come, clear out, you trunken loafer! Ve don’t vant no bummers here! [DA].
[US]Calif. Police Gazette 27 Mar. 2/4: The number of bummers is rapidly increasing. Some paper [...] talks of a bummer’s rendezvous near the waterworks building.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 61/1: He resolved to act ‘cranky,’ and be put on the back seat among the cripples, idiots and bummers.
[US]J.D. McCabe Secrets of the Great City 100: Many visitors to the city, by yielding to the temptation to drink too much liquor, pay for their folly by an acquaintance with the Bummer’s Cell. They lose their self control in the splendid gin palaces of the city, and when they recover their consciousness find themselves in a hot, close room, filled with the vilest and most depraved wretches.
[US]Galaxy (N.Y.) Mar. 314: In its lowest and most repulsive form our pauperism appears as the station-house ‘bummer.’ A creature more degraded, more utterly worthless in human economy, it is impossible to find anywhere on earth.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 24 Jan. 13/1: Rally up, and let all the rag-tag and bobtail bummers from Struggle Town to Canterbury gird on their whiskey-proof armour.
[UK]M. Roberts Western Avernus (1924) 57: Some of the boys said it was a regular hand-out, and that we looked like a crowd of old bummers.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Two Sundowners’ in Roderick (1972) 97: Swampy was a bummer born — and proud of it.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 31 Aug. 8/3: Talkin’ easy— quiet like — / When he sees a bummer loafing / Round. That ther gave him the spike.
[UK]J. Conrad Typhoon 197: Our late second mate hasn’t been long in finding a friend. A chap looking uncommonly like a bummer.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Oct. 14/4: My ‘Good-day’ was inaudible above the lamentations, and the mother turned on the infant. ‘Shut up,’ she snapped, ‘or I’ll give you to the bummer, and he’ll eat you.’ I could have given her a bit of tinned tongue myself, but I didn’t – I just shook Matilda up, and got.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ From Coast to Coast with Jack London 97: Eastbound train bummers whom we had met en route, had everlastingly precautioned us against an encounter with the relentless persecutor of our clan.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Feb. 26: [pic caption] The Bummer: ‘Ain’t you going to treat me?’ The Brewer’s Traveller: ‘Treat you! Ain’t I treating you? Wid contimpt!’ .
[Aus]Townsville Daily Bulletin 3 Aug. 5/1: ‘Dosser’ Doyle the bummer / Bore blisters on his feet.
[US]N. Algren ‘A Holiday in Texas’ in Texas Stories (1995) 42: The roundhouse in Cheyenne is filled every night / With loafers and bummers of most every plight.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US] ‘The Days of Forty-Nine’ in G. Logsdon Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing (1995) 180: A bummer, too, they call me now, / But what care I for praise? / And as I flit from town to town / They call me the rambling sign / Of the days of old and the days of gold.

2. (orig. US) a looter, hence in weak use, a scrounger.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 16: bummer. A sponger.
[US]N.E. Police Gaz. (Boston, MA) 5 Oct. 6/4: His cargo consisted of [...] one herring, three board bills (unpaid) and a ragged coat. The city is at last freed from one bummer.
[US]Southern Historical Society Papers (1884) xii 428: You have doubtless heard of Sherman’s ‘bummers’. These were pure silver bummers, plated-ware bummers, jewelry bummers, women’s clothing bummers, provision bummers, in fine a bummer or bummers for every kind of stealable thing. No bummer of one specialty interfered with the stealables of another.
[US]G.W. Nichols Story of the Great March 240: If it be asked what a bummer is, the reply is easy. He is a raider on his own account, a man who temporarily deserts his place in the ranks, while the army is on the march, and starts out upon an independent foraging expedition.
[UK]J. Mair Hbk of Phrases 98: Bummer, one who loots.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 23 Oct. 10/3: [headline] How a Bummer was Cured of ‘Bracing’.
[US] D.D. Porter Incidents of the Civil War 184: [I had] the nicest farm in all these parts, afore your bummers came along.
[UK]Music Hall & Theatre Rev. 16 Aug. 9/2: A well-known man called Count Tommy, alias the Barren Bummer.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 31 Jan. 2/2: [He] succeeded in booming the paper for three or four weeks with the assistance of a staff of boosers and bummers.
[UK]Mirror of Life 4 Aug. 3/4: A bummer is not a thing of beauty, yet his breed live for ever.
[US]‘Frederick Benton Williams’ (H.E. Hamblen) On Many Seas 101: The crew, who were all thieves and scalawags, had no clothes of their own and didn't hesitate a moment to help themselves to anything that they could get hold of.[...] Oil-skins and sea-boots were in great demand among these ‘bummers’ .
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Sept. 29/1: When a mug plays up his money; then the bummers make their hay; / They can smell free drinks an’ pickin’s if it’s twenty miles away.
[US]C. McKay ‘Bumming’ Constab Ballads 34: Of all the people I don’t like, / A chief one is de bummer [...] Ef we are smokin’ cigarette, / He wants a part of it too.
[Aus]G.H. Lawson Dict. of Aus. Words And Terms 🌐 BUMMER — A cadger.
[US]R. Crane Wash Tubbs [comic strip] Bummers! Dey vent to zleep mitout paying for der zupper.
[Ire](con. 1920s) P. Crosbie Your Dinner’s Poured Out! 220: bummer a toucher.
[Aus]J. Byrell (con. 1959) Up the Cross 33: [He] had since dveloped into a compulsive bummer of lights.

3. (also bummy) an unpleasant or unpopular person.

[US] in R.G. Carter Four Brothers in Blue (1978) 19 Sept. 119: Yes, you bummers, we do the fighting [...] Go the rear, you ‘wormcrushers!’.
[US]M.M. Pomeroy Nonsense 25: A worse behaved set of bummers we never saw.
[US]Meridional (Abbeveille, LA) 24 Aug. 2/2: The mob of country-savers, shysters, dead-beats, bummers [...] guttersnipes, wardstrikers, shoulder-hitters, gin gugglers and monopolists who congregate [...] to hoodwink and bumfuddle the unwary and bulldoze the upright.
[US]‘Bill Nye’ Bill Nye and Boomerang 15: One day Damon got too much budge and told the [...] royal bummer of Syracuse what he thought of him.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 25 July 4/4: ‘Bummers’ are counted a pernicious and disturbing element in our social life. In international life the uniformed fighters for fun take an exactly analagous position. The military spirit and the larrikin spirit, when used in this spirit, are exact synonyms for the brute spirit.
[Aus] ‘Fanny Flukem’s Ball’ in Bird o’ Freedom (Sydney) in J. Murray Larrikins (1973) 39: Now listen, rorty bummers, / And line up where I stand.
[US]J. Lomax Cowboy Songs 9: ’Tis a bummer, too, they call me now / But what cares I for praise?
[US]G.A. England ‘Rural Locutions of Maine and Northern New Hampshire’ in DN IV:ii 69: bummer, n. A worthless fellow.
[Ire]S. O’Casey Juno and the Paycock Act III: Anyhow, who, in the name o’ God, ud leave anythin’ to that oul’ bummer?
[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 58: Though I was girl-crazy, I could not stand the tough babies. They were unfeminine little bummies, unkempt, hard-spoken and utterly without the shy charm of the flower breaking out of the bud, the rare quality that drew me to the nice girls.
[US]H. Roth Call It Sleep (1977) 411: Sharrop, bummer!
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Color of Murder’ Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective Dec. 🌐 He tries to kill you, and you ask Mike to be careful with him! Better you should let that no-good bummer go back to Diane Ravenne.
[US]B. Appel Tough Guy [ebook] [He] had never gotten used to hearing what he called ‘gangsters and bummers’ joking with his sixteen-year-old daughter.
[UK]N. Cohn Awopbop. (1970) 141: The Beatles promptly found themselves besieged by massed no-talents and maniacs and charlatans, bummers of all descriptions.
[UK]‘John le Carré’ Honourable Schoolboy 83: Still be their case, even if Ricardo was a bummer.
[US](con. 1970) J.M. Del Vecchio 13th Valley (1983) 23: No one spoke to the new supply sergeant. Word passed [...] that the new E-5 lifer in the Oh-deuce was a bummer.
[UK]A. Close Official and Doubtful 55: He was head bummer at the Welfare Rights but they gave him the welly.

4. a commercial traveller.

[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 9 Sept. n.p.: So long as substantial citizens choose to leave politics to shoulder-hitters, rum-sellers, and bummers of every degree, they will be robbed.
[US]N.Y. Mercury 8 Oct. in Ware (1909) 55/2: You are nothing but a third-class society bummer, fit only to associate with your own class of New York scum.