Green’s Dictionary of Slang

alligator n.

[SE alligator, based on characteristics of the animal, e.g. gaping jaws, aggressiveness and lack of speed]

1. a singer who opens their mouth wide.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.

2. a herring; a sardine.

[UK]Mankind (Surrey Theatre) in Ware (1909) 134/1: He asks for a pint of mahogany juice, a flight of doorsteps, and a penny halligator.
[UK]Bath Chron. 4 Aug. 25/6: A young man bounced a coin on the counter and said solemnly ‘One alligator on a raft, please.’ The ‘raft’ was a strip of nicely browned toast, the ‘alligator’ a decapitated sardine.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 18/1: mid-C.19–20.

3. a worthless, unpleasant person.

[US]‘Jack Downing’ Andrew Jackson 67: One of these alligator lookin fellers.
[US]Spirit of the Times (N.Y.) 15 June 175: He is emphatically ‘the supreme alligator’ of anything that savors of advance.
[US]W. Guthrie Seeds of Man (1995) 251: The ole crazy alligator. What made ’um [...] pull a stunt like that?

4. (Aus./US) an old and/or slow horse.

[US]R.M. Bird Nick of the Woods I 75: Had the gallant captain of horse-thieves boasted the blood, as he afterwards did the name, of an ‘alligator half-breed,’ he could have scarce conducted himself in a way more worthy of his parentage.
[US]E. Custer Tenting on the Plains (rev.) (1895) 183: He said, an alligator, so I started off to see the animal, and when I found it, what do you think it was, but an old Government mule that had died because it was played out!
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 71: The old Scottish use of crock for a broken-down horse has probably influenced the evolution of the Australian out-back slang crocodile and alligator for a horse.
[US]J.H. Palmer This Was Racing 157: It was disturbing to hear that there were alligators at Hialeah. [...] trotters and runners don’t mix. ‘No, no,’ interrupted a nimble-minded citizen. ‘These alligators aren’t trotting horses. They’re the authentic Florida article.’.
[US]J. Greenway ‘Australian Cattle Lingo’ in AS XXXIII:3 164: alligator, n. A broken-down horse.

5. (US) a native of Florida [the state’s indigenous animal].

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[US] in DARE.
[US]Mencken ‘Some Opprobrious Nicknames’ in AS XXIV:1 29: Alligator for a Floridan.

6. (US) any sexually aggressive male.

[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 118: I hate to see you goin’ bug over that old alligator.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 151: The female animals [...] have their male counterparts – the rooster, the tomcat, the bull, the dog, the alligator.

7. (Aus.) an aggressive, tough person.

[Aus]E. Dyson ‘On a Bender’ in Benno and Some of the Push 80: That ginger pot-polisher’s bin through all the blood-’ouses in town, ’n’ she’s a tough, a fair halligator.

8. (US) a chatterbox, a ‘big mouth’.

[US] ‘Texas Ranger’s Lament’ in G. Logsdon Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing (1995) 56: Those big alligators, the state legislators, / Are puffing and blowing two-thirds of their time.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 321: Who made those allegations? says Alf. – I, says Joe. I’m the alligator.
[US]W. Guthrie Seeds of Man (1995) 224: If that old lobo alligator, Old Man Rio, asks me where I’ve been [...] I’m gonna tell him.
[US]E. Thompson Garden of Sand (1981) 294: Reg’lar little alligator, ain’t he?
[US]L. Dills CB Slanguage 2: Alligator: CBer who talks too much.

9. a person, usu. non-black, who listens to and appreciates jazz, but does not play; orig. dismissive [the jazz musicians’ ref. to someone who ‘swallowed up’ everything on offer, ? coined by Louis Armstrong (1901–71) to describe white musicians who pirated the original ideas created by their black peers; see cit. 1955 at sense 10].

[US]Delineator Nov. 10/2: You are there as an alligator, so don’t applaud [OED].
[US]Pic (N.Y.) Mar. 8: devout alligators. — worshippers of the great God Swing. And how they love it!
[US]Downbeat’s Yearbook of Swing n.p.: alligator: a swing fan who plays no instrument or musician who frequents places where orchestras are playing.
[US] ‘Jiver’s Bible’ in D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive.
[US]M.A. Crane ‘Miscellany’ in AS XXXIII:3 223: The same is true of alligator, gate, and hepcat.

10. (US black) a white jazz musician [see sense 9].

[US]Newark Advocate (OH) 2 Sept. 12/5: The domicile was in solid, with the alligators really taking it on the easy greasy.
[US]Shapiro & Hentoff Hear Me Talking to Ya 97: We’d call them alligators [...] because they were the guys who came up to swallow everything we had to learn.
[US]D. Pinckney High Cotton (1993) 74: Every popular composer was, in his books, an ‘alligator,’ one who stole the melodies and arrangements of others.

11. (US teen) any person, irrespective of musical taste.

[US]N.Y. Herald Trib. 28 Feb. 46/3: ‘The “alligator” is an all-encompassing term and relieves the party of having to recite several names,’ says Rand.
[US](con. 1950s) Jacobs & Casey Grease II i: Okay, alligators, here it is.
[US](con. 1940s) O’Day & Eells High Times Hard Times 94: I’d played to crowds before, but this was the biggest bunch of healthy, happy-looking alligators I’d ever encountered.

12. see gator n.2 (2)

In compounds

alligator cigarette (n.)

(US drugs) a marijuana cigarette.

Hal Ellson Duke 122: Sometimes they sell charge there – alligator cigarettes.
alligator (horse) (n.)

(US) a tough man, usu. used of a Kentucky frontiersman.

[US]C. Schultz Travels (1810) II 145: I am an alligator, half man, half horse; can whip any on the Misissippi by G-d .
[US]S. Woodworth ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ Melodies (1830) 221: We’ll show him that Kentucky boys / Are ‘alligator horses’.
[US]R.M. Bird Nick of the Woods II 246: He [...] launched his broad-horn on the narrow bosom of the Salt, and was soon afterwards transformed into a Mississippi alligator.
[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick in England II 117: You [...] don’t feel jist altogether easy about them cussed alligators and navigators, critters that work on rail-roads all day, and on houses and travellers by night.
[US]Quincy Whig (IL) 9 Apr. 4/1: ‘Eh! hem, a horse, eh!’ said the Judge. ‘Yes sir, an alligator horse.’ [DA].
[US]Richmond Enquirer (VA) 1 Apr. 4/8: We’ll show him that Kentucky boys / Are ‘alligator horses’.
Alligatorland (n.) [sense 4 above: Queensland has a lot of horses]

(Aus.) Queensland.

Queensland Figaro (Brisbane) 12 May 4/3: If any of my alligatorland friends are interested [...] I may casually inform them that the price of a thorough divorce in Brisbane is about £500; but an American axe or a pint of arsenic can be had for 500 pence.
Freeman’s Jrnl (Sydney) 1 Dec. 14/4: [T]he language said to have been worked off during the trouble was about the sultriest ever heard even in the Alligator-land, but the defending counsel coolly informed the Bench that most of the lurid words used were merely ‘bush terms of endearment’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Sydney) 24 June 8/2: it was expected by those who have witnessed their plav this season that the men from Alligator-land would just about put another win to their credit.
Sun (Kalgoorlie, WA) 15 Mar. 4/7: The cynic [...] was expatiating on the lack of virtue of Noo South Wales and Alligatorland.
alligator mouth (n.)

(US) a descriptive term for the mouth of a boaster, a braggart, someone with an inclination to boast or brag but insufficient courage to back up their words; such a person is usu. described in the extended phr. (he’s got) an alligator mouth and a hummingbird/canary ass; note don’t let your (alligator) mouth overload your ass(hole) under mouth n.

[US](con. early 1950s) J. Peacock Valhalla 23: ‘Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your canary ass,’ he said tight-lipped.
[US]J. Bouton Ball Four (1981) 272: A fellow who talks big but appears to lack courage is said to have an alligator mouth and a hummingbird ass.
[US]letter in Florida Today (Cocoa, FL) 7 Feb. 6C/2: On Nov. 1 you wrote a very opinionated column (showing both your immaturity and inexperience) and very capably let yur alligator mouth overload.
Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA) 14 Sept. C5/1: It was one of those deals where your alligator mouth gets your canary butt in a situation you can’t handle.
Night of a Thousand Scars [Internet] I think we all know he’s actually an abrasive asshole (alligator mouth sarcasm alligator mouth).

SE in slang uses

In compounds

alligator bait (n.)

1. a black person, usu. a child [image of racist whites lynching blacks and tossing them to the alligators and f. the practice of Southern whites, who found it amusing to threaten such children with ‘throwing them to the alligators’].

[US]Vassar Misc. 25 206: ‘Never mind, my dear old alligator-bait,’ he said, throwing his arm about the negro's neck.
[US]Eve. Bull. (Honolulu, HI) 30 Dec. 1/5: A photgraph of about a dozen negro babies [...] the title is ‘Alligator Bait’ [and refers to the special tooth of the alligator for the little pickaninny].
[US]Times (Richmond, VA) 5 Feb. 1/4: ‘Alligator Bait’. Two Photographers Jailed for Taking Pictures of Nude Negro Children.
[US]W.H. Oliver Roughing it with the Regulars 75: Pickaninnies or as they are most commonly known, ‘alligator bait,’ swam around the boat .
[US]Laclede Blade (MO) 1 Aug. 4/3: Poets like Horace and virgil had their own [...] gold chariots with liveried alligator bait on the job behind.
[US]H.A. Franck Zone Policeman 88 113: This mornin’ a fool nigger woman asked me if I didn’t want her black pickaninny [...] ‘Yes,’ I says, ‘if I was goin’ alligator huntin’ an’ needed bait!’.
[US]News Scimitar (Memphis, TN) 1 Jan. 2/6: Numerous alligator bait sit enraptured wit the quaint negro melodies.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Johnny Mercer ‘Ugly Chile’ [lyrics] You look like an ape every time you smile, / How I hate you, you alligator bait, you.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 789: alligator bait – [...] a colored person (Negro).
[US]I.L. Allen Lang. of Ethnic Conflict 48: Other Cultural Allusions: alligator-bait [also clipped to ’gator-bait. Usually a child].

2. (US) any inedible food, esp. liver [the practice in early 20C US construction camps of letting bull’s liver rot before cooking it; the meat was thus tenderized, but simultaneously rendered too foul for any human to eat].

[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 79: It seems that the judge has eaten the native’s alligator bait, which is a very serious offense in these parts.
[US]N. Klein ‘Hobo Lingo’ in AS I:12 650: Alligator-bait — fried or stewed liver.
[US]‘Dean Stiff’ Milk and Honey Route 198: Alligator bait – Fried or stewed liver.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 789: alligator bait – Poor food, or meal.

3. (US) a worthless, unpleasant person, of any race.

[US]Williams & Piron ‘Ugly Child’ [lyrics] The clothes you wear are not in style / You look like an ape every time you smile, / How I hate you, you alligator bait, you.

4. (US) a derog. term for a black native of Florida.

[US] ‘Jiver’s Bible’ in D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive.

In phrases

don’t let the alligator beat you to the pond

(US black) don’t be slow(witted) or you will be out-done.

[US]Z.N. Hurston Mules and Men (1995) 135: Say, Big Sweet, don’t let de ’gator beat you to de pond, do he’ll give yo’ more trouble than de day is long.