Green’s Dictionary of Slang

come on v.1

[ext. of come v.3 ; var. on come over v.2 /come the... v.]

1. (orig. US) to seem, to appear, to behave; always modified, usu. by an adj. used adverbially, e.g. come on tough, come on nasty etc.

[US]F.M. Whitcher Widow Bedott Papers (1883) 38: I always tho’t I’d like to hev a recknin’ with ye about comin’ such a trick on me.
[US]Ade Fables in Sl. (1902) 91: Zoroaster and Zendavesta came on very Cocky.
[US]J. Lait ‘One Touch of Art’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 208: Don’t come that stuff on me.
[US]Z. Grey Fighting Caravans (1992) 89: Bah! Don’t come that on me, just to make me feel good.
[UK](con. 1916) F. Manning Her Privates We (1986) 148: You needn’t try to come that game on me.
[US]Cab Calloway ‘Are You All Reet?’ 🎵 Do you come on like Shorty George and me? / Just speel some jive, we’ll dig you out, you see.
[US]Mad mag. May–June 20: So old Romeo, if they didn’t pin him Romeo, / Would still be the end and come on hip.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 343: Don’t come on heavy with me. I don’t like it.
[US](con. 1960s) R. Price Wanderers 64: Before a game he liked to come on twice as big and mean as he was.
[US](con. 1960s) D. Goines Black Gangster (1991) 20: Why did you come on with all that motorcycle crap.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 185: A real punk! Now he was coming on like he’d killed those rookies.
[US]D. Woodrell Muscle for the Wing 90: That could be a problem if we come on too loose.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 93: Half the time she’s coming on dead tasty.
[Ire]P. McCabe Mondo Desperado 10: Next they’re coming on like the sweetest little angel you’ve ever set your peepers on.

2. (US black) to dress fashionably, attractively.

D. Burley N.Y. Amsterdam Star-News 11 Apr. 16: The chicks really ‘came on’ too. I saw one wearing a rabbit cut short around he hips [...] a Kelly green hat with black veil, a Kelly green skirt with shoes to match.

3. see come on strong

In phrases

come on like a test pilot (v.) [the test pilot, as a figure of technologically sophisticated derring-do, had a higher profile then than now]

(US black/Harlem) to act in a speedy, efficient manner.

[US]Cab Calloway New Hepsters Dict. in Calloway (1976) 254: comes on like gangbusters (or like test pilot) (v.): plays, sings, or dances in a terrific manner, par excellence in any department.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.
come on strong (v.) (also come on, come strong)

1. to speak aggressively, forcefully; to make one’s presence and opinions felt; used both positively and negatively, the latter often as come on too strong.

[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 19 June 1/5: Now that was coming a bit strong, considering that [etc].
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 30 July 12/2: The R.C. clergy are before all others at ‘raising the wind.’ [...] Last time I was there M’Guanne was coming strong again.
Duckett & Staple ‘Double Feature’ in N.Y. Age 5 June 7/1: The dance was a killer, Jack. Bobby Miller really came on.
[US]C. Himes ‘Let Me at the Enemy’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 37: He come on so fast I done took out my half pint bottle an poured him a shot under the table ’fore I knew what I was doin’.
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 216: After I done it he comes on wit’ a pitch like that.
[US]W. Burroughs Naked Lunch (1968) 19: The type that comes on with bar-tenders and cab drivers.
[US]J. Rechy City of Night 35: Carlo [...] who took me home and for a week came on strong.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 196: I became embroiled in a fist fight with Dallas [...] who I thought was coming on too strong against some of the smaller guys on my team.
[UK]W. Russell Educating Rita I vii: I wanna talk seriously with the rest of you, I don’t wanna spend the night takin’ the piss, comin’ on with the funnies because that’s the only way I can get into the conversation.
[Scot]I. Welsh Filth 294: As for someone who is coming on strong today, you need to question their motives.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 454: The old Pete was fucked. Barb came on strong. Barb begged him: Pull strings. Brace Carlos. Make Pete retire.

2. to be seductive.

[US]J. Blake letter 23 Sept. in Joint (1972) 146: Tony the leader has been coming on strong, apparently in search of a whitey-trophy and he may get it – there’s nothing else on the burner at present.
[US]T. Philbin Under Cover 246: This Ricky is coming on real strong.