Green’s Dictionary of Slang

slate n.1

[various aspects of SE slate, i.e. (1) flatness, (2) its use as a writing material, (3) its being ‘on top’]

1. a bedsheet.

[UK]Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 83: a slate or slates a shete or shetes.
[UK]Groundworke of Conny-catching Ch. 16: Some of these [a demaunder for glimmar] go with slates at their backes, which is a sheete to lye in a nights.
[UK]Dekker Belman of London D3: Kinching Morts [...] are girles of a yeare or two old, which the Morts (their mothers) carry at their backes in their Slates (which in the Canting tongue are sheetes).
[UK]Rowlands Martin Mark-all 42: O Ben mort will thou pad with me / One ben slate shall serue both thee & me.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Beggar’s Bush III iv: To maund on the pad, and strike all the cheats, / To mill from the Ruffmans, Commission and slates.
[UK]J. Taylor Crabtree Lectures 193: Mort. If you tower any states [sic] lye upon the Cracke, mill them, and budge a beak.
[UK]Dekker Canters Dict. in Eng. Villainies (9th edn).
[Ire]Head Eng. Rogue I 52: Slate, a Sheet.
[Ire]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 63: [as cit. 1608].
[UK]R. Holme Academy of Armory Ch. iii item 68c: Canting Terms used by Beggars, Vagabonds, Cheaters, Cripples and Bedlams. [...] Slate, a Sheet.
[UK]J. Shirley Triumph of Wit 198: [as cit. 1637].
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (1795).
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.

2. one’s bill, the credit one has run up; usu. in a public house or bar.

[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 84: You would be astonished at the number of portraits [...] which adorn that apartment [i.e. a publican’s sitting-room]. Has the blushing canvas blotted out the sins of the slate?
[UK]Sporting Times 20 Sept. 2/5: A poetical publican [...] keeps what is vulgarly known as a ‘slate;’ but he calls it ‘rosemary’ because, he says, it is for remembrance.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Sept. 22/3: We say it without fear of contradiction, Billy was as square as a chessboard. He was no chump. He never killed a man without cause. He never forgot to settle his score on the slate.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Stiffner and Jim’ in Roderick (1972) 126: ‘How’s the slate?’ [...] ‘Oh, well, we’ll call it thirty bob.’.
[UK]Sporting Times 11 Feb. 2/5: The copster leads an active life, / And won’t allow no slates: / ‘Pay up, without deceit or strife / Those merry little—spondulicks, or / you’ll have a man in nex’ week.’.
[UK]J.B. Booth London Town 213: I win tree, four tousand pound! [...] I ’ave no more slates!
[Aus]Townsville Daily Bulletin 3 Aug. 5/1: ‘Tis a sl;ate they have, me bhoy, and what would jim Murphy be doin’ [...] if the name of Sardine kelly was not well inscibed upon that slate.
[NZ]J.A. Lee Shiner Slattery 41: We’ll get one on the slate.
[Ire]C. Brown Down All the Days 143: Put that on the slate, me little dote.
[UK]A. Payne ‘All Mod Cons’ in Minder [TV script] 56: And it’s about time you settled your slate.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 694: I impulse bought green tomatoes, black olives, halloumi, smoked roe, pitta bread. I put it on the slate.

3. in pl., the brains .

[UK]A. Chevalier ‘’E Ain’t Got the Shadder of a Notion!’ 🎵 But 'e ain't got the shadder of a notion! / ’E’s jest abart as simple as a kid! / I fink ’e’s short in ’is slates above.

In phrases

clean (off) the slate (v.) (also wipe off the slate)

lit. or fig., to pay off one’s outstanding debts.

[UK]W. Besant Orange Girl II 214: I think I have done pretty well for my mother and for Doll. Their slate is clean again. They can begin fair.
[US]O. Johnson Varmint 358: You know you said you were going to clean off the whole slate with Al, sure as Turkey boned up.
[US]C.E. Mulford Bar-20 Days 175: I like to square my own accounts. It’s allus that way. I get plugged an’ my friends clean the slate.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 100: The hundred and fifty bucks that his sudden death had wiped off the slate.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 54: Eight years for bad checks should clean the slate.
on one’s/the slate [the practice of writing public house debts on a slate]

on credit.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 2 May 23/2: The Greymouth correspondent of the Down and Gumtree Jernil is fit to run rings round Ananias, or even to give Sapphira ten on the slate and force a naked blush from her mendacious modesty.
[UK]Music Hall & Theatre Rev. 31 May 6/1: He induced the Gendarmes to bring in some booze, and also to put it on the slate.
[UK]T.W.H. Crosland ‘Chocolate’ in Absent-Minded Mule and Verses 19: ‘Ho,’ says the Queen, says she. / ‘Put it on my slate, / Half a pound of chocolate / For Mister Thomas A.’.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[US]Van Loan ‘On Account of a Lady’ in Taking the Count 123: When these birds ain’t got any dough, I put ’em on the slate till they get some.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 358: Fellows run up a bill on the slate and then slinking around the back streets into somewhere else.
[US]Stephen Longstreet Decade 83: Judges allus put it on the slate.
[UK]F. Norman Fings I i: He [...] always lets everyone have things on the slate from his tea bar.
[UK](con. 1930s) D. Behan Teems of Times and Happy Returns 159: Put it on the slate, will yeh?
[UK]P. Barker Union Street 7: I’m just saying there’s too much on the slate.
[Ire](con. 1930s) L. Redmond Emerald Square 342: ‘Put that on the slate, Willie,’ he told the young barman.
[Ire](con. 1930s) K.C. Kearns Dublin Street Life and Lore 80: Your drink could be bought on credit – put it on the ‘tick’ or the ‘slate’.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 43: He had too much on the slate.