Green’s Dictionary of Slang

screw up v.

1. to cheat, to defraud; to drive a very hard bargain.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: To Screw one up, to exact upon one, or Squeeze one in a Bargain or Reckoning.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: To screw one up; to exact upon one in a bargain or reckoning.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 11 Dec. 9/3: One of the banks in Brisbane, well known for its liberality in the screwing up line [etc].
[Scot]R.L. Stevenson Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde 8: ‘Well, we screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the child’s family’.
[UK]L. Davidson Rose of Tibet 298: He’s offered forty million escudo. It’s only half what the stuff is worth, but they have big risks. They’ve got to get it into Goa. And we can screw them up a bit .

2. to imprison [screw n.1 (2)].

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 255: If I am ever screwed up within these walls, I hope you will not forget to call and see an old friend.
[US]D. Hammett Red Harvest (1965) 74: ‘Somebody dynamited the floor out of the can. [...] Noonan had ought to know he’d never keep that guy screwed up--not in this burg’.

3. to make trouble, to cause difficulties for.

[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend II 96: However what finally screwed up my stocking altogether gents, was their taking away my gas.
[US]B. Schulberg What Makes Sammy Run? (1992) 216: He says that strike screwed us up good.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 81: You screwed me up at what you thought would be your last opportunity.
[US]L. Bruce How to Talk Dirty 11: Oh God, the movies really did screw us up.
[US]V.E. Smith Jones Men 151: You won’t have to worry about this guy [...] screwing you up.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘The Second Time Around’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] She’ll screw you up, you mark my words.
[US]J. Wambaugh Golden Orange (1991) 247: I don’t want you screwin me up jist because you gone loopy over some little squeeze.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 24 Sept. 3: He apologised [...] for getting addicted to hard drugs and screwing up the group.
D. Shaw ‘Dead Beard’ at 🌐 ‘What’s up, Dionne? Don’t you like being screwed the way you’ve screwed up all other mugs who’ve trusted you?’ she sneers.
[Scot]V. McDermid Insidious Intent (2018) 121: Most alcoholics [...] screwed up the lives of everybpody who cared about them.

4. to garrotte [SE screw up, to tighten].

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 77: screwing up Choking; garroting. ‘Screw up the bloke, and that will stop his blasted red rag from chanting beef,’ choke the man, and that will prevent him from crying ‘stop thief.’.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 419: Favouring me with a few practical illustrations of his manual dexterity in the performance of such delicate little operations as ‘cross-fanning,’ ‘screwing-up,’ and taking a letter from the inside breast-pocket of my coat.

5. (orig. US) to make a mess, to blunder badly.

[US]J. Weidman I Can Get It For You Wholesale 72: Well, this was the last time Tootsie Maltz would ever have to screw up the works for me.
[UK]H. Brown Walk in Sun 28: If we hang around here any longer we’ll screw up the whole works.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 140: You’re screwing the works up pretty nicely.
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 37: You’re about to do something to screw yourself up.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 47: His voice-box screwed up on him a ‘dime’ ago.
[US]R. De Christoforo Grease 91: You really did it this time, huh? [...] you not only screwed up with Sandy again, but you got yourself wired into team tryouts.
[UK]T. Lewis GBH 73: ‘Can’t understand the fellow, screwing it up the way he did’.
[US]C. Stroud Close Pursuit (1988) 37: Along every step of the way there was ample opportunity to screw up royally.
[US]Source Oct. 154: If you vouch for a player and he or she screws up [...] you’re responsible.
[UK]Guardian G2 20 Jan. 10: If no one takes responsibility for them, of course they are going to screw up.
[UK]in K. Richards Life 285: ‘Stop sniveling, boy. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t screwed up’.
[US]Baltimore Sun (MD) 7 May T11/1: I screwed up.
[UK]M. Herron Joe Country [ebook] Anton wasn’t thrilled to hear him explain how they’d screwed up.
[Aus]D. Whish-Wilson Shore Leave 26: ‘I had some repeat offenders clean it yesterday, as a taste if they screw up again and go AWOL with one of your local ladies’.
[Ire]Breen & Conlon Hitmen 240: [They] were unable to see exactly how badly Kelly had screwed up his task.

6. (US) to confuse, to perturb.

[US]R. Blount Jr About Three Bricks Shy of a Load 116: ‘One of the things I think you have to do in coaching is not screw up people you’re working with’.
[US](con. 1940s) C. Bram Hold Tight (1990) 156: That circus queen was sure one sick woman [...] she was out to screw your head up.
[US]T. Piccirilli Last Kind Words 218: ‘She was a screwed-up kid taking powerful meds in dangerous amounts’.
[US]Rayman & Blau Riker’s 244: The adolescents were just totally housed inappropriately. They screwed that whole age group up.

7. to hurt, to put out of order, to destroy.

[US]T. Williams Camino Real Block Twelve: This filing system is screwed up six ways from next Sunday ... File this crap under crap!
[US]G. Swarthout Where the Boys Are 191: If you think I’ll screw up the last two days of my vacation for a stunt as Boy Scout and yo-yo as this, you are stark raving.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 383: I used to like to run [...] but all that pounding up and down screwed up my back.
[US]C. Cook Robbers (2001) 31: Screwed up a shitload of computers, too.

In phrases

screw up (with) (v.)

(US) to get involved with, associated with.

[US]H.S. Thompson Hell’s Angels (1967) 117: Man, when you were fifteen or sixteen years old did you ever think you’d end up as a Hell’s Angel? How did I get screwed up with you guys anyway?