Green’s Dictionary of Slang

light adj.

[fig. uses of SE light, as in ‘light upon her heels’, ‘light in the head’, ‘light in the pocket’]

1. of women, promiscuous.

[UK] ‘Trial of Joseph and Mary’ Coventry Mysteries (1841) 134: Suche a yonge damesel of bewte bryght, And of schap so comely also, Of hire tayle oftetyme be lyght.
[UK]C. Bansley Pryde and Abuse of Women line 33: For a stewde strumpet can not so soone Gette up a lyght lewde fashyon, But everye wanton Jelot wyll lyke it well.
[UK]R. Edwards Damon and Pithias (1571) Diii: Beleue her not she is a light Goddesse, she can laugh and lowre.
[UK]Greene Disputation Betweene a Hee and a Shee Conny-Catcher (1923) 71: I had not liued long with him, ere he seeing my light behauiour, left mee to the world, and the shift for my selfe.
[UK]R. Barnfield [title] Hellen’s Rape or A light Lanthorne for light Ladies.
[UK]Marston Dutch Curtezan II i: Thou delightest onely in light Company.
[UK]Davies of Hereford Scourge of Folly 163: Light Women, some, do loue by night.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘Sculler’ in Works (1869) III 30: Compact, compose, compare light things together, / And nothing’s lighter than a wanton she, / Yet heere’s the Riddle, (past my wits to scan) / Her lightnesse weighs downe many a heauy man.
[UK]J. Taylor Stripping, whipping, and pumping 15: Such a kind of Cacadudgeon Coxcombe, doth justly deserve to have beene match’d to a wench whose heeles had been lighter than his head.
[UK] ‘Will’s Error’ in Wardroper (1969) 201: Will says his wife’s so fat, she scarce can go, / But she as nimbly answers, ‘Faith, sir no.’ / Alas, good Will, thou art mistaken quite, / For all men know that she is wondrous light.
[UK]Mennis & Smith ‘On Tom Holland and Nell Cotton’ Wit Restor’d (1817) 239: A Light young man lay with a lighter woman [...] And gave her (when her good will he had gotten), A yard of Holland for an ell of Cotton .
[UK]Mercurius Democritus 20-27 July 78: A strange accident happened in Smock-alley near Hip-street on Friday last, a light Gentle-woman [...] hang’d herself.
[UK] ‘News from the Coffee-House’ in Ebsworth Roxburghe Ballads (1885) V:1 178: They’l tell ye there what Lady-ware of late is grown too light.
[UK]T. Betterton Match in Newgate IV iv: Maids in your Night-rails, / Look to your light Tails, / Keep close your Locks, / And down your Smocks; / Keep a broad Eye, / And a close Thigh.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 10 Oct. n.p.: Although she had been a light person, yet no one could say she ever pickt a Pocket.
[UK]J. Crowne Married Beau I i: Here’s my Wife! See! She is no light Piece. She makes the Garden bend, all the Fops bow to her: Would she admit Inhabitants, my Bed Might be a populous Place.
[UK]N. Ward The Rambling Rakes 7: Among the Dancing-Crew was several whose Tails were far lighter than their Heels.
[UK]N. Ward Hudibras Redivivus I:7 24: Twas now about the Hour of Night, / When strolling Hussies, much too light / Those Paramours of Pimps and Bayli’s, / Creep out.
[UK]Swift Polite Conversation 27: miss: Let me go: an’t you sorry for my Heaviness? nev.: No, Miss; you are very light; but I don’t say, You are a light Hussy.
[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) II 105: I had taken it for granted that all women of light character carried the mark of the beast upon their foreheads.
R. Wilmot Ardent 87: All hail to the knight of the petticoat light, / The reformer of Cyprian dames.
[UK]Sam Sly 26 May 3/1: Sam wishes to know why Capt. F—k P——n struts about so much with that woman of light character.
[US](con. late 19C) O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 21 Apr. [synd. col.] Ladies who lived lightly were supposed to go there [i.e. ‘Suicide Hall’ on the Bowery] nightly.
[US]R. Todasco Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Dirty Words.

2. (US) intoxicated, esp. by drugs.

[US]B. Franklin ‘Drinkers Dict.’ in Pennsylvania Gazette 6 Jan. in AS XII:2 91: They come to be well understood to signify plainly that A MAN IS DRUNK. [...] Light.
[US]J. Spenser Limey 35: Get him ‘light’ with a ‘shot’ of morphine and he became a smooth and deadly ruffian.
[US]J. Sayles Union Dues (1978) 208: Hobie felt pretty wrecked himself. He couldn’t remember when he’d felt lighter.

3. (orig. US black, also light of, light on) short of money.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 91: ‘The Wise Cracker looks him over, but he was very light. Just about enough to purchase a few rounds o’ the brew’.
[US]P.G. Cressey Taxi-Dance Hall 140: By Monday he’s spent most of his week’s pay and has to ‘go light’ until the next Saturday.
[Aus]L. Glassop We Were the Rats 122: ‘You’re a bit light on too, aren’t you?’ ‘Purely a temporary state of poverty.’.
[Aus]A. Marshall ‘You’re a Character’ in Tell Us About the Turkey, Jo 65: I don’t like putting you girls back a bob, but I’m that much light.
[US]N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 80: I’m a quarter light of.
[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 684: Light – 1. in an insufficient amount.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 76: Baby Sis, the scratch is light . . . you feeling all right?
Miami Vice [TV]: ‘How much are you light?’ ‘Six grand.’.
[US]C. Stella Rough Riders 64: ‘Let me ask you how come your count was light?’ ‘Expenses’.

4. (US black) stupid.

[US]A. Baraka Tales (1969) 13: I told you not to take Organic . . . as light as you are.
[US]D. Jenkins Semi-Tough 75: Emily Kirkland is lighter than popcorn.

5. weak.

[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 684: Light – 2. Weak. ‘The P.C. is light.’.

6. (US) unable to consume large quantities of drink and/or drugs.

[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 157: I keep telling you, man, you’re a light nigga’. You can’t be sniffing so much dope all at once.

In derivatives

lightness (n.)

of a woman, wantonness, promiscuity.

Shakespeare Henry VI I ii: He hath the horn of abundance, and the lightness of his wife shines through it.
[UK]J. Cook Greenes Tu Quoque Scene xiv: Kindnesse is tearmed Lightnesse in our sex.

In compounds

light head (n.)

1. (US drugs) one who restricts their drug intake to ‘light’ drugs, e.g. cannabis.

[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 45: There was pod for the light heads, boy and girl for the mainliners.

2. see separate entry.

light heels (n.)

see separate entry.

light housewife (n.)

a promiscuous (married) woman; prostitute.

[UK]T. Elyot Dict. cited in Halliwell Dict. Archaic and Provincial Words II 519/2: An harlot, a brothel, an hoore, a strompet, a light housewyfe .
Greene Philomela in Brydges Archaica 15: Her that many hath worn, and more than thyself may vanquish: a light housewife and a lewd minion.
[UK]R. Barnfield Hellen’s Rape 3: Helen, a light Huswife, now a light some starre in Olympus.
[UK]R. Burton Anatomy of Melancholy (1893) I 479: I write not this to patronize any wanton, idle flirt, lascivious or light housewives, which are too forward many times.
[UK]W. Davenant Man’s the Master IV i: You must follow me apace then; for I’m a very light hus-wife.
[UK]C. Cotton Scoffer Scoff’d (1765) 213: His Visage thou do’st gaze and look on / (Which none but your light Huswives do).
[UK]Fifteen Real Comforts of Matrimony 27: In pops the light Housewife in the dark out of her close Sedan, and goes for the wife of a bad husband gone beyond the Sea.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Light Woman, or Light Huswife Lewd, Whorish.
[UK]N. Ward Hudibras Redivivus I:5 15: Others, like Flags of Truce, wore white, / Houss’ives that seem’d a Grain too light.
Bailey New Universal Eng. Dict. (5 edn expanded) n.p.: gill flurt, a proud Minks; also a Slut or light Housewife.
[UK]Ray Proverbs (5 edn) 266: A light housewife, who, under the pretence of modesty, sought to cover her shame, and the fruits of her wantonness.
[UK]Halliwell Dict. Archaic and Provincial Words II 519/2: A light-housewife, a married woman of bad character.
light skirt(s) (n.)

see separate entry.

light stuff (n.)

1. (drugs) any non-addictive drugs, e.g. cannabis.

[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 223: I started to hustle pot — light stuff, here and there a few bucks. But no mo’ junk.
[US]R.R. Lingeman Drugs from A to Z (1970) 142: light stuff marijuana or other non-opiate drugs, as opposed to heavy stuff.
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972).
[US]ONDCP Street Terms 14: Light stuff — Marijuana.

2. an unimportant person.

[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 164: The judge [...] had to know I was light stuff compared to them thugs.
lightweight

see separate entries.

lightwit (n.)

(US) a fool.

[Defoe Shrewish Wife in Lee Life II (1869) 237: If this Mr. Lovewit, or more properly Mr. Lightwit, had as much Reason to complain, or expatiate on his misfortunes, as I have, surely he would publish Volumes].
N.Y. Observer 87543/2: ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,’ remarked Lightwit, meeting Sharp at a reception the other evening. ‘That's right, my boy,’ rejoined Sharp, extending his hand, ‘but I'm delighted to see you here, just the same’.
Judge 93 9: In this cornah, Mr. ‘Takes us’ Rickard, heavyweight publicity champ of the woild, and in that cornah, ‘Battling Sucker’ Public, the woild’s champion lightwit!
[US](con. 1910s) J. Thompson Heed the Thunder (1994) 47: He’s bamboozled and bulldozed a lot of these light-wits into signing over their property to him.
light woman (n.) (also light lady, light wench)

a prostitute; in weaker sense, an immoral or promiscuous woman.

[UK]R. Barnfield [title] Hellen’s Rape or A light Lanthorne for light Ladies.
[UK]Dekker Honest Whore Pt 2 (1630) VI ii: Light wenches are no idle fraight.
[UK]J. Taylor Juniper Lecture 93: Shee makes her husband a very Asse, an Abram, and a Ninnihammer [...] though shee be counted a Whoore or a light woman.
[UK] ‘A Merry Dialogue’ in Ebsworth Roxburghe Ballads (1893) VII:1 149: But if you’l believe me, I’le tell you true / What light Women are like unto.
Wycherley Plain Dealer (1735) 91: ’Tis often the poor-press’d Widow's Case, to give up her Honour to save her jointure; and seem to be a light Woman, rather than marry.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Light Woman, or Light Huswife Lewd, Whorish.
[UK]Tatler 270 363: All which they utter in Company is as much above what you meet with in other Conversations, as the Charms of a modest are superior to those of a light Woman.
Miscellany Letters in Mist’s Wkly Jrnl I 301: There is nothing certainly a more, abject Thing than a light Woman; and often one single Indiscretion lays a Woman under that Infamy, which all her future Care And Conduct can never wipe off .
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
R. Jephson Julia III:xi: Let that light woman, and her minion, answer.
Browning Men and Women I [title] A ‘light woman’.
[US]‘Paul Cain’ Fast One (1936) 90: Politician Plugged as Prowler by Light Lady.
[US]A.J. Liebling Honest Rainmaker (1991) 122: Kentucky Babe, a light lady from Louisville.

In phrases

light in the ass (adj.)

(US black) second-rate, insubstantial.

[US]Dr Dre ‘Light Speed’ [lyrics] Rap tabloids write Dre’s light in the ass (what?).
light of/on (adj.)

see sense 3 above.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

light blue (n.)

gin.

[UK]‘Peter Corcoran’ ‘Stanzas to Kate’ in Fancy 84: Oh, never again, / I’ll cultivate light blue or brown inebriety.
[UK] ‘The Mill’ Museum of Mirth 45/1: ‘What’ll you take?’ ‘Don’t care, any thing wet – a drap o’ heavy brown, with a dash o’ light blue in’t.’.
[Ire] ‘Oh! Sarah, You Wixen’ Dublin Comic Songster 104: Of Segar’s light blue you’ll take a few glasses.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
lightfoot (n.) [one who has not ‘trod heavily’ in the world]

(US black) a neophyte to the raffish world of the streets, one who leads a sheltered life and does not properly participate in the tougher ghetto world.

[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 40: Not a lightweight or lightfoot [...] but a person of substance.
light horseman (n.) [? from light horseman, a large wherry working the Thames]

a dockside thief.

[UK]P. Colquhoun Commerce and Police of the River Thames 58: Those denominated Light Horsemen seem to have been by far the most pernicious, inasmuch as the pillage they obtained, by their artful practices, was generally extensive and valuable.
[UK]W. Perry London Guide 104: A man might as well talk of the beauties of Grecian building in the reign of King Harry, as of the frauds committed by ‘scuffle-hunters, mudlarks, light horsemen and heavy horsemen upon the trade of the river Thames’.
[UK](con. 1715) W.H. Ainsworth Jack Sheppard (1917) 153: Game watermen and game lightermen, heavy horsemen and light horsemen.
[UK]Marryat Poor Jack 126: Light Horsemen – that’s a name for one set of people who live by plunder... Then we have the Heavy Horsemen – they do their work in the daytime, when they go on board as lumpers to clear the ships .
[UK]Daily News 9 Jan. n.p.: ‘Light Horsemen’ would look out for a lighter having valuable goods on board, and at night, stealing up quietly, would cut her adrift, then following her, as she floated down with the tide, would by-and-by rescue her, and bring her back, claiming salvage.
light housekeeping (n.)

(US black) co-habiting.

[US]H.E. Roberts Third Ear n.p.: light housekeeping v. living together without benefit of matrimony.
light infantry (n.)

fleas.

[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 152: heavy dragoons, bugs, in contradistinction to fleas, which are light infantry.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[UK]Westminster Gazette 15th Nov. 2/2: The nocturnal assaults of heavy cavalry, as well as light infantry issuing after dark from the cracks of an old wood bedstead [F&H].
light-timbered (adj.)

of a person, slender, thin; thus physically weak.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Light-timber’d Fellow limber or slender Limb’d, also weak.
Free-Thinker 17 July 247: Pumilio, a light-timbered, dapper Youth, who might make an eminent Figure upon a Race-Horse at New-Market.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
J.P. Morgan Present Seat of War in Africa 130: The half-famished Infantry were forced to hoof it along very tightly, to keep Pace with their Cavalry; which indeed they did pretty well, the Spaniards being a light timbered Sort of Gentry.
light wet (n.)

see under wet n.

In phrases

light in the loafers (adj.) (also light on her feet) [the image is of the stereotyped effeminate male, tripping along]

(US) homosexual.

[US]Current Sl. IV:1 11: Light on . . . feet, adj. Pertaining to effeminacy in a fellow.
W. Lamb Ground Zero Club 207: Wasn’t Alexander the Great a little light in the loafers?
[US]J. Stahl Perv (2001) 82: You’re one of them sit-down-to-pee’ers, am I right? A little light in the loafers.
[US](con. 1950s) E. White My Lives 108: ‘Trade’ – men who could be ‘serviced’ though of course they’d never reciprocate since they were real men and ‘not at all light in the loafers.’.
L. Welch Half-Truths, Total Lies 83: ‘I think he's a bit too light in the loafers to be effective, if you know what I mean,’said Robert with a smirk. [...] ‘What does light in the loafers even mean?’ ‘Airy fairy, rainbow child’.
lightly and politely (adv.) (also lightly, slightly and politely; slightly, lightly and politely)

(US black) smoothly, effortlessly.

[US]Martin International House [film] Now pat that thing slightly, lightly and politely [HDAS].
[US]Z.N. Hurston ‘Story in Harlem Sl.’ Novels and Stories (1995) 1009: Lightly, slightly, and politely: doing things perfectly.
[US] in R.S. Gold Jazz Lex. (1964) n.p.: ‘Lightly and po-lightly!’ Red exclaimed.