Green’s Dictionary of Slang

gag n.

[fig. uses of SE gag, something thrust into the mouth to procure the victim’s silence. Note that Share suggests ON gaghals, with one’s neck thrown back]

1. (also geg) a joke, a tease; thus gaggist, a joke-teller, gaggery, joke-telling .

[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 35: The gag was good! the thought well done.
[UK]Manchester Courier 20 Dec. 9/4: ‘Gaggery,’ to use a slang phrase of the stage, is nowhere less required, even for the vulgar object of rasing a laugh.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 126/2: You see the performance consisted of all gag.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 326: The British public would not like it at all if there was not a little gag to the doll trick.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 27 Mar. 2/1: The great theatrical ‘gag’ word of the day is ‘author!’.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘The Barred Bard’ Sporting Times 8 Feb. 1/2: As a gaggist he’d a great reputation.
[US]Ade More Fables in Sl. (1960) 178: He did the Shoulder-Slap and rang in the Auld Lang Syne gag.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 11: Great Scott, that’s a gag as old as I am.
[US]R. Lardner ‘Gullible’s Travels’ in Gullible’s Travels 117: He had his gags rehearsed so’s he could tell the same one a thousand times and never change a word.
[UK]Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves 172: Without one good laugh or the semblance of a gag in it.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 158: I tell you what: this is a good gag. Hide a match under the belt of your shorts [...] and set fire to the top of his shoe.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 98: ‘You play the flute too?’ he asked me [...] and they all fell about at this funny gag.
[UK]J. Osborne Epitaph for George Dillon Act II: I’m not in the right frame of mind for shoddy little gags.
[US]L. Rosten Dear ‘Herm’ 100: This is not a gag, Leo, but a real tough business problem we have!
[US]Batman No. 321 18: It’s the old phony-hand-up-the-sleeve gag, sucker!
[US]B. Hamper Rivethead (1992) 114: This was the most hysterical gag Moore had ever heard of.
[US]J. Stahl I, Fatty 182: The man who thinks about gags [...] and funny angles.
[UK]K. Richards Life 42: Gus [...] always had a gag; he could always laugh.

2. a deception, a lie; thus gaggery, deception.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 85: Gag — a grand imposition upon the public; as a mountebank’s professions, his cures and his lottery-bags are so many broad gags.
[US]N.-Y. Enquirer 4 May 2/2: The fact is, no dramatic concern in this country is carried on with less of ‘gag and humbug’ than the Park, and no generous or liberal person would prefer such charges.
[UK]Bell’s Wkly Messenger 13 Oct. 485/3: The system is one of trick, venality, and delusion. [...] . But this cannot succeed. There are too many intelligent eyes fixed upon the national Drama [...] to admit of sheer impudence and (to use the phrase of such persons) gaggery upholding miserable cause without the stamp of merit.
[UK]Fast Man 12:1 n.p.: If they see a yokel come in it is all right—by a species of gag, which they [i.e. touts] well understand, the yokel takes the bait and is dragged ashore.
[US]N.Y. Clipper 18 June 2/2: The latest Gag. Of all the humbugs imputed to Barnum, he was never guilty of so transparent a piece of gaggery as [the following].
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 288: He met a good-humored man, who had a fondness for ‘gags,’ and was ever joking.
[UK]Western Mail 14 Jan. 4/7: Our government of jobbery and gaggery only keeps its place by bribery, intimidation, corruption and coercion.
[UK]S. Crane in Cornhill Mag. Mar. in Stallman (1966) 201: I worked him with the projected horse-car-line gag.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 20 Feb. 1/4: [of fraudulent racing tips] Has his touts and gees and runners / Sent round givin’ of a gag.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Oct. 18/4: Brother John Verran is still busy knocking the bottom out of the old gag that when the Labor party got into power nobody would get more than 8s. a day or thereabouts.
[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 340: Gag—A means of getting by; an alibi.
[UK] (ref. to 1920s) L. Duncan Over the Wall 154: It’s the old sure-fire sympathy gag.
[US]J. Thompson Getaway in Four Novels (1983) 52: Put the bag in for you, then switched keys on you. It’s one of the oldest con gags in the country.
[US]C. Bukowski Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1973) 17: They thought it was some publicity gag.
[UK]A. Sayle Train to Hell 67: Guido was too experienced a copper to be taken in by the old ‘no, that’s my brother’ gag.
[US]J. Ridley Love Is a Racket 164: They bought my gun gag. Now I just had to play this thing through.

3. (US) a fool, a laughing stock.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 26: Sam, says he, they tell me you broke down the other day in the house of representatives, and made a proper gag of yourself.
[Ire]C.J. Kickham Knocknagow 351: Ay, begor, an’ a good-lookin’ young fellow, too, though he’s a gag itse’f.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Poet and the Peasant’ in Strictly Business (1915) 78: He was one of the oldest of the ‘gags’ that the city must endure.

4. the sales talk of a street-seller of broadsides; the ‘patter’ of a beggar; a piece of publicity.

[UK]C. Hindley Life and Times of James Catnach 369: The following is the style of a ‘gag’ and ‘patter’ of a man formerly well known [...] as ‘Tragedy Bill’.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 17 Dec. 3/3: Talented men are engaged by showmen at enormous salaries to devise what are known as ‘gags’ to [...] warrant the attentions of journalists.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 17 June 1/4: ‘Hooray for Honesty and Beer!’ / yes, that’s the gag for Tamworth.
[UK]T. Norman Penny Showman 12: Up would go the Oil Paintings in the windows, Sawdust on the floor, write gags on the windows with whitening or soap, and in a very short time all would be ready for opening.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 82: GAG. – Any begging trick, ‘ghost story’ or other recital.
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Down and Out in Complete Works I (1986) 171: The amounts that one [i.e. a street beggar] can earn by the different ‘gags’ also vary.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Beyond Justice’ in Spicy Detective Stories Nov. [Internet] This beauty contest was his idea of a publicity gag.

5. an ad-lib remark.

[UK]Punch I 105: I shall do the liberal in the way of terms, and get up the gag properly [F&H].
[UK]Sl. Dict. 171: Gag language introduced by an actor into his part. In certain pieces this is allowed by custom, and these are called gag-pieces.
[UK]Globe (London) 12 Oct. 4/4: In a high-class music hall it is a rule that no song must be sung till it is read and signed by the manager, and this applies even to the gag [F&H].
[UK]Pall Mall Gazette 5 Mar. 4/3: Mr. Augustus Harris pointed out that if the clause were carried the penalty would, in many cases, be incurred twenty times in one scene, for actors and singers were continually introducing gag into their business [F&H].
[UK]Wodehouse Mating Season 86: The gag had failed to bring balm.
[US]W. Burroughs Naked Lunch 154: His ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

6. a plan, a scheme.

[US]J.M. Field Drama in Pokerville 118: We must think of a gag!
[UK]Marvel III:58 22: ‘Yer may as well weigh out the information.’ ‘That’s the gag!’ came from several at once.
[US]News & Courier (Charleston, SC) 14 Apr. 18/2: This is a drowsy burg, and the folks don’t like the new gags.
[Aus]W.H. Downing Digger Dialects 25: gag [...] an idea.
[US]Jerry on the Job [comic strip] I simply gotta cook up some gag to cop a hunk of change.
[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 7: It isn’t a spontaneous impulse like a great patriotic march in war time; it is the melodising, lyricising and popularising of a ‘gag’.
[US]‘Paul Cain’ Fast One (1936) 127: The greaser kept fingering a chiv [...] the old noiseless ear-to-ear gag.
[UK]Wodehouse Mating Season 82: It’s the old dragon gag.
[US]B. Spicer Blues for the Prince (1989) 88: What’s the gag, Wilde? You trying to get that bastard, Magee, out of jail?
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 178: The third time I tried it the gag worked and boom! out shoots the drawer.

7. oratory, speechifying.

[UK] ‘’Arriet on Labour’ in Punch 26 Aug. 88/1: ‘We must bust up Mernopoly,’ sez Sam, a-looking martial. [...] ‘Bit o’ yer platform gag,’ sez I.
[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] An’ dis gag erbout art galleries. W'y, dat gives me stagnation uv me liver an’ I'll pass it up.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ You Should Worry cap. 8: I’m a slob on that auction bridge thing [...] but I’ll do the advice gag if it chokes me.

8. chatter (as in a restaurant or bar).

[UK] ‘’Arry in Switzerland’ in Punch 5 Dec. in P. Marks (2006) 98: L’Horloge ain’t arf bad. Snakes! sich voices! The cackle and gag, too, fust-rate.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 6 June 2/4: That wowsers will stop smokin’ is now the daily gag.

9. (UK tramp) an account; a begging tale.

[UK]W. Newton Secrets of Tramp Life Revealed 4: Tramps have a cant of their own [...] the ‘gag’ is the painful story each one has to tell. [...] ‘The young children knock “gags” out of time now (gags vary in price from threepence to two shillings, according to price and quality.) But,’ he said, ‘I have had as much as four shillings for quack work.’.
[US]Chicago Eagle 14 Sept. 7/2: A Shrewd Hobo Had a ‘Gag’ that Worked in Boston.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 302: Gag—a trick used to assist in begging; a fake story.
[US]C. McKay Banjo 148: ‘What’s his gag, pardner?’ asked Banjo. ‘He’s a regular guy. I just got a hundred francs outa him.’ ‘How come? Why didn’t you put me next, too? Is he rough-trade business?’.

10. (US) any form of behaviour or practice, or thing.

[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 240: You see, now’days in England, to beg much of a swag a feller has got to have some sort of a gag, and the hawkin’ gag is as good as any.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 4: Same old gag; they’d make up. [Ibid.] 63: There wasn’t no towel fur my bath last night and it’s the second Satiddy night the same gag has come off.
[US]F.H. Tillotson How I Became a Detective 89: A ‘gag’ is anything that you want it to be. If you say, ‘pipe de gags on the bowser,’ you might mean look at the woman’s shoes or her gloves or her clothes.
[US]Ade Hand-made Fables 55: The Trouble-Maker was up at the Apartment, smoking Joe’s 30-cent Brevas and telling Mrs. Pilkins that she was In Wrong. That Sympathy Gag will get to any one.

11. (US drugs) narcotic drug addiction.

[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 271: So yer agin the dope [...] I used to smoke onct in a while, but I didn’t never git no habit. The morphine gag’s worse.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 40: If y’ll take a tip from me [...] y’ll cut out the dope gag.

12. (US) a thing or aspect.

[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 151: A lotta judges is tryin’ to copper the lowdown on the bad boy problem. It ain’ no problem. They’s only two gags to it – what youse tallheads calls heredity an’ environment.

In compounds

In phrases

lounge the gag (v.)

(UK Und.) to beg.

H. Lemoine ‘Education’ in Attic Misc. 116: Nor could she lounge the gag to shule a win; / The knowing bench had tipp'd her buzer queer.
[UK] ‘Sonnets for the Fancy’ Egan Boxiana III 622: [as 1791].
pull a gag (v.)

(US) to play a trick.

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ You Can Search Me 72: I felt sure that Bunch was rid of his grouch [...] and that he wouldn’t have a rock in his hat for me for pulling that ‘Uncle Cornelius’ gag.
[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 103: You had to laugh when Kenny pulled his gags.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 49: I start [...] wonderin’ why she pulled that gag on me with the cigarette case.
[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 16: It’s probably Johnny, pulling one of his gags.
[US]C. Himes Run Man Run (1969) 11: The Negro looked too scared to pull a gag.
stand the gag (v.) [? earlier use of sense 4 above]

1. to cry out.

[UK] ‘The Potato Man’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 54: A link boy once I stood the gag / At Charing Cross did ply.

2. to enjoy a performance.

S.W. Ryley Itinerant V 220: To tell you the truth, l am tired to death with starring it on profits,for though the people stand the gag ever so well, the managers sack the money.
strike the gag (v.) [SE strike, to desist from ]

to stop playing around, to stop joking.

[UK](con. 1715) W.H. Ainsworth Jack Sheppard (1917) 83: Strike the gag, Blueskin.