Green’s Dictionary of Slang

action n.

[all fig. uses of SE; note Shakespeare’s use of action (and activity) as sexual intercourse]

1. in hetero- or homosexual senses, sexual activity, spec. sexual intercourse.

[UK]Dryden Juvenal VI 106: Rank Matrons, Dancing to the Pipe, Gig with their Bums, and are for Action ripe; [...] ’Tis downright Lust, and Acted to the Life. [...] Now is the time of Action; now begin, They cry, and let the lusty Lovers in.
[UK]Banquet of Wit 60: A forward young girl having been debauched, her father applied to counsel to know whether an action would not lie between his daughter and her gallant? ‘Go home, honest man, replied the barrister, I find there has been already too much action between them’.
[UK] ‘A Wife’s Appetite’ Cuckold’s Nest 43: The morn they were wed the maid said to her bunny, / To-night you shall make poor old Roger feel funny. / So she curled it and frizzed it, and made it all right, / Then wrapped it up warm, fit for action at night.
[UK]‘The Tree of Life’ in Fake Away Songster in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) III 292: I have it just now at the height of perfection, / Adapted for handling, and fit for an action!
[UK]C. Deveureux Venus in India I 36: We had been in intense action nearly a whole hour.
[US]‘Lou Rand’ Gay Detective (2003) 86: Two servicemen were wrapped together in a desperate passionate embrace [...] Olsen nudged Francis. ‘Hey, get a load of that action.’.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 298: ‘You’re looking for action, and Red’s laying to give you all you can handle.’ [...] ‘You think I bend over [...] for anything with a prick?’.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell Plays Solomon (1976) 7: Her blue eyes seemed to shine out of her face and she was built for action.
[US]R. De Christoforo Grease 33: They asked a lot of dumb questions, like how many times did we get action.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 254: Heading over to Biscayne Bay for some action.
[US]T. Jones Pugilist at Rest 98: I had more action than ever before. Chicks coming and going.
[US]J. Lerner You Got Nothing Coming 37: So if you must get some cock action, let the con sitting next to you suck your dick.
Woroni (Canberra) 1 Oct. 12/3: Their student representative body (bagma - Bigger Arseholes Get More Action) is shambolic, bordering on preposterous.

2. in a physical sense, movement indicative of sexuality, i.e. the erotic ‘action’ of the hips or pelvis; cit. 1930 indicates the movement of a woman’s hips as she dances or walks.

[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 329: ‘Jeez, baby, you’ve got some action,’ he said, after they’d been dancing a little while.
[US] ‘Pete in “No Pay”’ [comic strip] in B. Adelman Tijuana Bibles (1997) 43: Did I have that action! – Why when I shoved the throbbing monster in her gravy receiver I thought she would shake herself apart.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 72: The guys knew he only went for girls with action.
[US] in T.I. Rubin Sweet Daddy 23: Paid her but she would’ve done it for free, she liked my action so much.
[US]Maledicta III:2 232: He also may or may not know the following words and expressions: [...] give him the shaft (the action, the rod, the works, etc.).
[US]R. Campbell Alice in La-La Land (1999) 120: He watched her action as she walked through the arch to the rest rooms. He couldn’t help himself. No man could help himself from watching that action.

3. (US) financial transactions, esp. bets and wagers.

[US]A.H. Lewis Wolfville 72: He sets in to win Jennie hard. Jim tries to crowd the game an’ get action.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ John Henry 13: All the time I’m giving this glad speech I’m going down the line mentally to see who will give me quick action on a steam-heated touch.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘Poet and the Peasant’ in Strictly Business (1915) 79: Know where a fellow could get action on about $9 or $10.
[US]C.E. Mulford Hopalong Cassidy Returns 315: ‘Goin’ to show you all some action right soon,’ he boasted.
[US]A.J. Liebling Honest Rainmaker (1991) 68: ‘Play only one race a day, or if you go to the track, play only two or three.’ ‘You call that action?’ the woman said.
[US]T. Berger Reinhart in Love (1963) 46: And ‘action,’ that’s action, which tonight is craps in the second-floor front over Honey Dove’s Turkish Lounge.
[US]G.V. Higgins Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) 53: There’s always some lunatic looking around to take the numbers action.
[UK]M. Thelwell Harder They Come 141: Too much action roun’ town fe me play wid no bruk sport who can’t pay me.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 98: Most of our action came from bookmakers, not individual bettors.
[Aus] J.J. DeCeglie ‘Death Cannot Be Delegated’ in Crime Factory: Hard Labour [ebook] I’d lost more than that amount in just over two hours on at least three separate occasions. Poker typically, some horse action too.

4. (orig. US black) what is going on; thus a situation or state of affairs, anything exciting, current, interesting, depending on the context, e.g. the chance for sex, a musical performance, a night’s gambling; often used in the greeting, Where’s/what’s the action?

[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Fisher Mutt Complete Compilation (1977) 154: I’m the original hard luck kid. Bet on a horse and get no action. They scratched him.
[US]Blanche Calloway ‘Make Me Know It’ [lyrics] Make me know it, baby, I crave some action; / Make me know it, baby, prove what you say.
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 17: If a chap is such a rabbit that he can’t get action when he’s handed the thing on a plate.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Very Honorable Guy’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 418: There is very little action of any kind in town with the high shots gone.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 94: Any action in the way of card-playing, or crap-shooting [...] or betting on baseball games, for The Sky is always moving around the country following the action.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 17/1: Action. Criminal activity. ‘Shape up (be present) tonight, Joe, there’s action — a Brooklyn score (robbery).’.
[US]M. Braly Shake Him Till He Rattles (1964) 10: Is there action there tonight?
[UK]T. Keyes All Night Stand 190: I thought you were the one wanting all the action.
[US]D. Goines Street Players 20: You sure get a lot of action when you ride in a hog!
[Aus]B. Humphries Traveller’s Tool 3: The spot on the globe ‘where the action is’ today.
[UK]V. Headley Yardie 39: He was using their stuff to [...] take over some of their action.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 368: Quietly, Pat had let himself into James and Keva’s suite, hoping he hadn’t missed all the action.
[US]Hip-Hop Connection Jan. 73: The tiny elevator is crammed to the limit as it ferries hundreds of fresh-faced b-people to the action.
[UK]Guardian 23 Nov. [Internet] It seems to me that you have to be where the action is, so that means a large party whose votes actually count in an Assembly and which has a voice, however small, on the national stage.
[UK]T. Black ‘I Want Candy’ in Killing Time in Las Vegas [ebook] You’re a city boy, don’t you miss the action?

5. the potential client for a prostitute, or victim of a confidence trick etc.

[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 109: Their regular customers, as well as bellboys and cab-drivers who are their agents, know the numbers, and call whenever there is action.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 33: He gave me the office that some action was coming down the street.

6. (US) one’s choice, one’s preference.

[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 202: When they learn that ain’t your action, there’s going to be a lot of suckers [...] hitting hard.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 17: Action [late ’50s–mid ’60s] one’s ideology, philosophy of living.

7. the effects of a drug.

[US]N. Heard Howard Street 136: That was some boss action, baby. I mean it swung, y’know.

8. (US) a revolver.

[US]H. Rap Brown Die Nigger Die! 70: Wasn’t nobody in the car but me and George Greene and George don’t take no shit off white folks, either. And, of course, I had my action with me, a .38.

9. manipulations, activities, esp. when illegal or corrupt.

[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 243: En gee [...] no fucking good. The loot came down on all my action.
[US](con. 1975–6) E. Little Steel Toes 114: One thing about Syd [...] she don’t mind sharin’ the action, we’ll get hooked up.
[UK](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 429: He’s a tea leaf. He just wanted in on your action, Johnny.

10. (drugs) the current availability of drugs and opportunity to obtain them.

[US]J. Mills Panic in Needle Park (1971) 51: Santo said he could get me a piece any time I wanted, ’cause he’s not married to Tony you know. He has a little action on the side, too, that even Tony don’t know about.
[US]Current Sl. III–IV (Cumulation Issue) 1: Action, n. A lot of drugs in the neighborhood; opportunity to obtain drugs.

11. (orig. US black) a woman.

[US]M. Braly Shake Him Till He Rattles (1964) 47: Ol’ Tree’s got action.
[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 171: What kind of high-class akshon is going to [...] place their lips upon yours.
[US](con. 1986) G. Pelecanos Sweet Forever 4: Had me a little brown sugar action this morning.

12. (orig. US black) a response or acknowledgement, whether verbal or physical, esp. when flirtatious.

[US]Milner & Milner Black Players 87: Once she begins to give him ‘action’ (a certain look, a smile, or a verbal response) the pimp goes into high gear.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 227: action, the 1. Exchange or interaction (especially between males and females engaged in seductive overtures).
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 77: They expected that the offical wheels of justice would grund up the guilty. But neither of them got any action from City Hall.

13. (Aus. prison) homosexuality.

[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Action. Homosexual activity.

In compounds

action piece (n.) (US black)

1. a woman [piece n. (1a)].

[US]R. Klein Jailhouse Jargon and Street Sl. [unpub. ms.].

2. a gun [piece n. (3a)].

Elmira Arms Company catalog [Internet] AYA MODEL NUMBER 53–20 Ga. A lovely round action piece with detachable sidelocks featuring 27" barrels choked IC/Mod. Double triggers, ejectors, and English stock with checkered butt giving 14 3/8" pull. Like new with box. $3995.00.

In phrases

action on a solid half traction [sense 4 above + engineering imagery]

(US black, mainly Harlem) ready for anything.

[US]D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive 18: I’m with the issue and down with the action, especially since it’s built on a solid half-traction.