Green’s Dictionary of Slang

belly up adj.2

[resembling a dead fish]

1. failed, finished, esp. bankrupt; usu. prefaced by go.

[US]New North-West (Deer Lodge, MT) 2 Nov. 4/3: Everything in Montana [...] was going hell beat to financial ruin; the Helena banks were going belly-up at every turn out of the box.
[US]Oasis (Arizola, AZ) 9 Sept. 4/1: [They] have been repeatedly informed [...] that certain folks in Nogales ‘were soon going belly up’.
[US]S.F. Call 10 Aug. 8/2: This is the poetic way of saying that the earth will go belly-up some day.
Tractor and Gas Engine Review 17 178/1: In 1893, right in the midst of the panic, C. Aultman & Co. went ‘belly-up’ on its creditors, and I was made minister plenepotentiary, and agent extraordinary for the receiver.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 358: Labor’s belly up completely – The only hope is the I.W.W.
[UK]Manchester Guardian Weekly 11 Oct. 17: If New York can go belly-up, why not any city?
[US]J. Wambaugh Golden Orange (1991) 280: The new bank he founded went belly up.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 25 June 6: West [...] duly found another publisher in Richard Cohen Books, which promptly went belly-up.
[UK](con. 1940) W. Woodruff Beyond Nab End 278: ‘He’s belly-up,’ said Mum. ‘Lost ’is own and ’is wife’s money.’.
[Aus]L. Redhead Peepshow [ebook] The restaurant had gone belly-up and the Parisi brothers were moving.

2. (also belly upwards) dead; often as float belly-up(wards) v.; thus knock belly-up v., to kill.

[UK]Whitby Gaz. 13 Dec. n.p.: ‘As dead as a herring,’ Billy said [...] ‘and the day after tomorrow he’ll be floating belly up’.
[US]N. Algren Somebody in Boots 343: Bedraggled grey rats would be left lying belly-up in front of the furnace grate.
[US]J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath (1951) 154: I’ll knock you belly-up with a bucket.
[US]H. Hunt East of Farewell 18: By God, Bert, if you and me was floating around out there tonight belly-up, it’d be that damn’ freighter’s fault.
[UK]C. Fry Dark is Light Enough 18: What’s this Floating belly-upwards? A dead fish?
[US]New Yorker 11 Nov. 80: It had already crossed Liebergot’s mind that the astronauts could be what he called ‘belly up’ in a matter of hours.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 68/2: since ca. 1960.
[US]J. Wambaugh Finnegan’s Week 146: All the ants went tits up [...] Sorry, ma’am. Belly-up.
[UK]Indep. 22 Mar. 15: She was found floating belly-up.