Green’s Dictionary of Slang

wash-out n.

1. (also wash) a disappointment, a failure.

[UK]Westminster Gazette 1 Nov. 2/1: As Harker remarked, ‘Half a guinea for an essay is no wash-out’ .
[UK]J. Buchan Thirty-Nine Steps (1930) 46: You’re a Free Trader, and can tell our people what a wash-out Protection is in the Colonies.
[US]J.M. Grider War Birds (1926) 74: Yesterday was a washout day so we all went into town again.
[Aus]W.H. Downing Digger Dialects 53: washout — (1) A failure; (2) an empty, useless or ineffectual thing.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 11 Aug. 15/1: It makes all the difference between a profitable haul and a wash-out .
[UK]L. Thomas Woodfill of the Regulars 308: I guess the Jew isn’t such a washout as a fighter.
[UK]A. Christie Three Act Tragedy (1964) 116: We know now that certain of those ideas are definitely washouts.
[Aus]K. Tennant Foveaux 31: Bob Noblett says Twofold’s a washout.
[Ire]‘Myles na gCopaleen’ Best of Myles (1968) 218: From what small two-letter word may the whole thing be said to have been a wash-out?
[Aus]A. Gurney Bluey & Curley 10 Dec. [synd. cartoon] You’re a wash-out!
[UK]A. Buckeridge Jennings Goes To School 46: It’s all a wash-out, now.
[UK]A. Baron Lowlife (2001) 30: The two girls married washouts.
[NZ]F.A. Cleary A Pocketful of Years 92: He was growling about Gus being a football washout.
[Ire]H. Leonard Out After Dark 117: Oh, a washout.
[UK]Beano Comic Library No. 190 42: This holiday’s a wash-out!
[UK]Guardian 13 Aug. 14: Perhaps the evening wasn’t going to be a total washout after all.
[US]C. Stella Jimmy Bench-Press 169: There’s always a chance your charges againt Fama will stick [...] I’m not saying it’s a complete wash.
[UK]N. ‘Razor’ Smith Raiders 192: The Hendon job had been a bit of a wash-out, but at least none of us had been nicked.
[US]T. Piccirilli Last Whisper in the Dark 278: ‘We’ll call it a wash. You walk away and you stay away’.
[US](con. 1962) J. Ellroy Enchanters 252: He said she’s a wash — doesn’t know shit from Shinola.

2. (US prison) a life sentence.

[US]J. Sullivan ‘Criminal Sl.’ in Amer. Law Rev. LII (1918) 891: ‘Track 13’ and ‘washout’ is a life sentence in a Western penitentiary.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 235/1: Washout. (Rare) A life-sentence with no parole; a death-sentence.

3. a useless or unsuccessful person; thus washed-out adj.

[UK]A.G. Empey Over the Top 12: The Captain sent for me and informed me: ‘Empey, as a recruiting Sergeant you are a washout.’.
[US](con. 1920s) S. Lewis Elmer Gantry 415: Would you condemn a fine aspiring institution full of broad-gauged, earnest fellows, because one of them was a wash-out?
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 138: He ranks very low down among the wines and spirits. A washout, I should describe him as.
[UK](con. 1928) R. Westerby Mad in Pursuit 100: I seen a million drunks. All washouts.
[UK](con. 1912) B. Marshall George Brown’s Schooldays 8: You washed-out ruin.
[Aus]D. Niland Big Smoke 16: Hay’s got another washout. Where does he pick ’em up?
[UK]B. Reckord Skyvers I ii: So long as people are talking about him he doesn’t care if they’re only saying he’s a washout.
[SA]A. Brink Dry White Season 20: Her mother, I believe, was something of a sentimental wash-out who meekly followed her lord and master.
[UK](con. 1940s) D. Nobbs Second From Last in the Sack Race 195: With Diana such a wash-out [...] Henry didn’t think he could stand a week of it.
[UK]J. Osborne Déjàvu Act I: Bit of a wash-out ...
[US]J. Stahl Happy Mutant Baby Pills 113: Some seven-dollar-an-hour Police Academy washout.

4. a failure in a test or examination.

[Aus]B. Moore Lex. of Cadet Lang. 420: usage: ‘He had a washout in all his subjects.’.
[Aus]T. Winton ‘Immunity’ in Turning (2005) 296: You wave a flag for a washout, a total miss.