Green’s Dictionary of Slang

fly v.

[fig. uses of SE fly]

1. [mid-19C] (UK Und.) to lift, to raise; thus fly a window v., to open a (sash) window for the purpose of breaking into a house [note theatre jargon fly, to suspend scenery or lights from above the stage].

2. [late 19C+] of an idea, a plan, to work out, usu. in negative [the same metaphorical ‘flag’ as found in the SE phr. run it up the flagpole and we’ll see who salutes].

3. [1930s+] (US drugs) to take or to be intoxicated by psychotropic drugs [one gets high adj.1 (3)].

4. [1970s+] to be drunk [one gets high adj.1 (1)].

In phrases

SE, meaning to rush away, in slang uses

In compounds

fly-away (n.)

1. [late 19C] a tricycle.

2. [1910s–30s] (US) a deserter.

3. [1940s] (US prison) a fugitive.

fly-boy (n.)

see separate entry.

fly-pitch (n.) [i.e. they run off when a police officer approaches]

[20C+] any form of street stall or other place where goods are sold in the open air; thus fly-pitcher, a street-seller.

In phrases

fly a line (v.) [SE line, a short letter or note]

[mid-19C] to send a letter.

fly one’s mouth (v.)

see under mouth n.

SE, meaning to travel through the air, in slang uses

In compounds

flyball (n.) [? the image is of a ball that travels far and fast; or ? pun on baseball jargon flyball, a ball that can be caught ‘on the fly’]

1. [1920s–30s] (US tramp) a city detective.

2. [1960s–70s] (US) a male homosexual.

fly-over people (n.)

[1990s+] (US) inhabitants of those states of the US over which one passes in an aeroplane flying from coast to coast; ‘middle America’.

In phrases


see separate entries.

fly by the seat of one’s pants (v.) (also drive by the seat of one’s pants, fly with one’s ass)

1. [1940s+] to fly an aircraft using natural ability and daring rather than instruments and technology; thus fig. to gamble with one’s life, to take extravagant risks.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

fly-flapped (adj.) [SE fly-flap, to beat, to whip, orig. to hit flies with a swatter]

[late 18C] whipped at the cart’s tail or in the stocks.

fly hot (v.) [SE fly, to become + hot adj. (4a)]

[1900s–40s] (US black) to lose one’s temper suddenly.

flying light (adj.) [Irwin, American Tramp and Underworld Slang (1931): ‘From the railroads, where a “light engine” is one travelling over the line without a train, and so able to move swiftly and without needless delay’]

[1930s–60s] (US tramp) hungry; unencumbered by a pack or similar possessions.

flying low (adj.) [pun]

[1960s+] (Irish) having one’s flies open.

flying porter (n.)

[late 18C–early 19C] a cheat who approaches the victim of robbery, tells him that he can regain the stolen goods for him and demands a payment for fetching them.

flying stationer (n.) [SE stationer, a bookseller]

[late 18C–19C] a street seller of cheap ballads, criminal ‘confessions’ and similar popular material.

fly low (v.)

[1900s] (US) to economize.

fly Mexican airlines (v.) [the easy access to marijuana in Mexico + flying ‘high’]

[1960s+] (drugs) to smoke marijuana.

fly off in one’s face (v.) (also fly up...)

[20C+] (W.I.) to lose control, to become extremely angry.

fly out of one’s skin (v.)

[20C+] (W.I.) to become violently excited.

fly the flag (v.)

see separate entries.

fly the red flag (v.)

[1920s+] to be menstruating.

fly up (v.)

[19C+] (US) to lose one’s temper, to lose control.

fly (up) in one’s head (v.)

[20C+] (W.I.) of alcohol, to go to one’s head, to make one extremely and thus dangerously drunk.