Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Fancy, the n.

[orig. used of any adherents of a given amusement, thus J. Moore, Columbarium (1735) 40: ‘These Pigeons by their Flight afford an admirable Satisfaction, to those Gentlemen of the Fancy that have time to attend them’; however NB the 17C ‘Order of the Fancy’, a group of louche aristocratic profligates, headed by Sir J. Mennes, in which fancy was synon. with fantasy, and implied unretsrained, anarchic impule ]

1. (also Fanciers, the) the sporting fraternity, also attrib.; thus fancy house n., a public house where ‘the Fancy’ gather.

Southey Letters from England II (1818) 251: The Amateurs of Boxing, who call themselves the Fancy. They attend the Academies of the two great professors Jackson and Mendoza .
[UK]Egan Boxiana I 1: The Fancy [...] simply means, any person who is fond of a particular amusement, or closely attached to some subject; a lively instance fortunately presents itself in illustrating the phrase beyond all doubt — as the old woman observed, when she kissed her cat, that it was ‘her fancy’.
[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 24 July 2/3: We fear that we shall forever be debarred the privilege of ranking with ‘the fancy,’ since instead of going to the great foot-race between Lawrence and Warren, on Tuesday, we were vulgar enough to go on a fishing party.
[US]‘Geoffrey Crayon’ Tales of A Traveller (1850) 204: I fell in company with a special knot of young fellows, of lively parts and ready wit [...] and become initiated into the Fancy.
[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 12 June 157/2: At six o'clock on Tuesday morning, the Fanciers were on the alert; from the Corinthians' yoke to Hugh Ward's heavy drag, all were making way to the scene of action.
[Aus]Australian (Sydney) 11 July 4/2: [T]he challenge from Kable, alias ‘the Knight of the Fancy,’ to fight men of all sorts and sizes.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 24: This match [...] had excited considerable interest throughout the Fancy.
[UK]‘The New Moll in the Wad’ in Corinthian in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 34: Then there away to fancy shows, / To sport your odds and your evens you goes.
[UK]F.L.G. Swells Night Out n.p.: His parlour is [...] visited not only by every man of note belonging to that class of characters called ‘the fancy,’ but by a numerous and highly respectable company of neighbouring tradesmen.
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 30 July n.p.: A staunch supporter of the ring, who has [...] given to the F‘nacy’ the gratuitous use of his room for benefits .
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 4 Feb. 2/2: To make it more intelligible to the Fancy, the comparison [between fighters] was as a horse to a hen.
[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (1982) II 153: The Pet [...] having been proclaimed victor in more than one of those playfully frolicsome ‘Frolics of the Fancy’.
[US]Broadway Belle (NY) 1 Jan. n.p.: A Grand Sparring Exhibition Came off at the Melodeon [...] and was well attended by the ‘fancy’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor II 66/2: He sometimes put a bird or two in a fancy-house. These are the public-houses resorted to by ‘the fancy’.
[UK]Sportsman (London) 14 July 2/1: If ‘the fancy’ who in retired spots in the Essex marshes fight for their living are put down, there is no reason for permitting men to behave themselves, in crowded places, like intoxicated rowdies, simply because they are ‘gentlemen, officers in the army’.
[UK]J. Greenwood Wilds of London (1881) 21: [chapter heading] Sunday Evening with the ‘Fancy’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 31 Jan. 14/1: The English authorities seem to be remarkably easy-going in the matter of boxing matches, and as the New York police are now down on the sloggers, we should not be surprised to see the ‘fancy’ change their scene of operation.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 409: I told ’em ’s how it were only a couple of gents of the Fancy, but they says ‘Square-coves is square-coves, and if’—.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 8: The Talent - Low gamblers, sharpers, larrikins and their girls, confirmed prostitutes, and ‘the fancy’ generally who frequent their resorts.
[UK]J. Astley Fifty Years (2nd edn) I 89: I subsequently told one of the ‘fancy’ that I would give him a couple of pounds.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 18 Sept. 2/5: He evolved into Francis Patrick Slavin, pet of England’s ‘Fancy,’ boon companion of ‘Squire’ Abingdon Baird [etc].
[UK]A. Binstead Pitcher in Paradise 130: They glared at each like fighting terriers in the ‘pit’ of some Shoreditch tavern frequented by the ‘fancy’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 5 June 2nd sect. 15/3: We had a ‘stoush night’ here on Monday last, a crowd of amateur bruisers [...] coming down to the Victoria Hall to display their prowess with the padded mitts before a large crowd of the‘fancy’.
[Aus]Kia Ora Coo-ee 15 Aug. 5/2: There was a large attendance of the ‘fancy’ and every move in the ring was followed keenly and critically.
[UK]J.B. Booth Pink Parade 28: It was the Pink ’Un who introduced [George] Borrow to Nat Langham’s, the haunt of the ‘fancy’.
[US]A.J. Liebling Sweet Science (2004) 8: In 1951 Joe Louis was entering his eighteenth year as the most conspicuous ornament of the ‘fancy’.

2. (Aus./US) the underworld.

[Aus]J.P. Townsend Rambles in New South Wales 231: Professing to be men of ‘the fancy,’ they made converts of two promising men.
[US]Memphis Dly Appeal (TN) 12 Mar. 3/3: Passing down Jefferson street last night we heard a couple of the fancy [...] talking’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 13 June 9/2: Flemming is known as the ‘Spider’ amongst the ‘fancy.’ He is the mildest mannered man that ever waited on you with a dark-lantern and a knuckle-duster.
[UK]Lantern (NO) 10 Nov. 2: Isaac Sontheiner and Grace Richards [...] concluded, in the parlance of the fancy, to double-up.
[Aus]Truth (Perth) 5 Oct. 11/6: Slogger Tim it were his name, / And you know he were a hot 'un / [...] / Some did say he was a credit / To the Fancy.

3. (US) the aristocracy, the wealthy and powerful.

[US]‘Artemus Ward’ Artemus Ward, His Book 114: Mike gits as drunk as a biled owl & allows that he can lick a yard full of the Veneshun fancy before breakfast, without sweatin a hair.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 73: The Vanderbilts and the Goulds and the rest of the fancy who knew when to break a law and when to make one.

4. (US) the world of professional boxers.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 36: Pugilists are sometimes termed the fancy.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. [as cit. 1859].
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 287: At the same time straightening his right arm and throwing out his clenched fist with a jerk in imitation of that movement known among the ‘fancy’ as ‘delivering from the shoulder.’.
[UK](con. 1835–40) P. Herring Bold Bendigo 90: ‘He’s one of the milling coves.’ ‘A lad of the Fancy, is he?’.
[US]F.X. Toole Rope Burns 110: The members of the fancy [...] need each other, not only for the money, but they need each other so they can, ultimately, test themselves against themselves.

In compounds

fancy lay (n.) [lay n.3 (1)]

1. the sport of boxing, prize-fighting.

[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 36: Why We, who’re of the Fancy lay, / As dead hands at a mill as they, [...] Should not be there, to join the chat.
[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 26 Sept. 5/3: Muir [...] in the fancy lay might reach eminence.

2. (UK Und.) any form of swindling or robbery.

[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 271: Well, ain’t that what I’m trying to tell you: the importance of his face and his clobber to a man that takes on any fancy lay. Such as poge-hunting, for instance.