Green’s Dictionary of Slang

lark n.3

[? northern dial. lake, to play (its Yorks. pron. might well have sounded more like ‘lark’) or SE skylark, to play tricks, to indulge in rough horseplay]

1. a frolic, a game; thus larkiness, a propensity for such pleasures; also used ironically/negatively.

[UK] ‘A Leary Mot’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 78: Milling up and down with cut heads, and lots of broken ribs / But the lark being over – they ginned themselves at jolly Tom Cribb’s.
[UK]Thomas Moore ‘Milling Match’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 86: His pall, well-known through many a lark and spree.
[UK] ‘Lag’s Lament’ (trans. of an untitled cant poem) in Vidocq (1829) IV 266: Though very hard, I confess it appears, / To be lagged, for a lark, for fourteen years.
[UK] ‘London, at Twelve at Night’ in Fun Alive O! 26: Then they stagger through the streets, ripe and ready for a lark.
[Aus]Cornwall Chron. (Launceston, Tas.) 11 Aug. 2/7: A party of pleasure (or as their slang goes, a prime spree, or a lark).
[UK]New Sprees of London 5: Always get plenty of small silver before you start on a lark, to avoid the necessity of producing sovereigns, which might chance to occur at an inconvenient time.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd Ser.) 34: I’ve a precious good mind to have a lark, and pit you against his Grace’s tailor.
[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Adventures of Mr Verdant Green I 83: They think it no end of a lark.
[UK]Broad Arrow Jack 21: Somebody’s having a lark, I reckon.
[Aus]Hamilton Spectator (Vic.) 7 Jan. 1/7: Sometimes he may be tempted out on a ‘lark,’ or a ‘spree’.
[UK] ‘’Arry on His ’Oliday’ in Punch 13 Oct. 160/2: O Charlie, such larks as I’m ’aving!
[UK]J. Greenwood Tag, Rag & Co. 53: Half a dozen of them [...] ripe for a ‘lark,’ came yelling and whooping to the scene.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (2006) 252: My word! it was the greatest lark out.
[UK]Bird o’ Freedom 15 Jan. 7/1: Here is the extract I spoke of. It was larks, I tell you.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 4 Oct. 5/2: ‘No larks, old chap; fair dinkum’.
[NZ]N.Z. Observer and Free Lance (Auckland) 27 Nov. 7/2: He is as smart as they make them, and you don’t play any larks on him.
[UK]Kipling ‘Stalky’ in Complete Stalky & Co. (1987) 13: Come on, Corkham. It’s no end of a lark.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 10 Nov. 84: Mr. Cobb will be very angry when he hears about this lark of yours [...] because he hates practical joking.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 142: My, if this ain’t a lark!
[UK]Rollitt & LeBrunn [perf. Marie Lloyd] I’ve never lost my last train yet [lyrics] But although I love a lark / In the day and in the dark / I have never lost my last train yet.
[US]E. Pound letter 18 Apr. in Paige (1971) 58: Nobody has written satire, in the best English iambic tradition since God knows when. Hood was sheer larks.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 68: Met her once in the park. In the dark. What a lark.
[UK]Wodehouse Carry on, Jeeves 237: It’s an awful lark. He’s going to give a lecture to the school.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 71: We’re couple of noblemen sons out for a bit of a bloody lark, guv’ner.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 258: They say there’s going to be a bus strike for the Coronation. Won’t it be a lark?
[US]G. Marx letter in Groucho Letters (1967) 18: Harpo and Chico are itinerant rug peddlars who are weary of laying rugs and enter a monastery just for a lark.
[UK]J. MacLaren-Ross ‘I Had to Go Sick’ in Memoirs of the Forties (1984) 268: All the cookhouse fires had been let out. ‘Bloody lark this is, ain’t it?’ said the cooks.
[UK]K. Amis letter 18 Oct. in Leader (2000) 406: Hilly, for a lark you know, ripped his flies open.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 29: A great lark, and something [i.e. S&M] I’d never actually seen before.
[US]E. Shepard Doom Pussy 174: Am I a lark to you? Four-flushers are nil in my book.
[US]D. Goines Swamp Man 110: To the remaining brothers, the search was just a lark.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 210: Access to quote classy call girls unquote who might pose for a lark if their quote crazy sugar daddyo unquote agreed.
[UK]G. Burn Happy Like Murderers 125: Having a lark. She was a bit of a girl, Rena. She was a goer.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Rev. 30 Jan. 16: Sod this for a lark.

2. a propensity for fun and games.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 355: No one of the masquers present created more fun, showed more lark, or entered more into the spirit of the scene.

3. the butt of a joke or ‘game’.

[UK]Thackeray Pendennis II 11: ‘Don’t make a lark of me, hang it, Poyntz,’ said Foker, turning red.

4. (also larkey) an amusing person.

[US]J.H. Green Reformed Gambler 137: Merely to make the game interesting, my larkey, I will try you with two thousand dollars.
[UK]P. Reading ‘Eavesdropped’ in Nothing For Anyone 39: Jim was a lark today in the Rose & Crown.

5. any form of activity, occupation.

[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 57/1: Oh! it’s a good lark just here, sir, but tremendous hard work, for there’s so many figures to work.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 119: I’ll be round to-morrow morning with bags of dough in my pocket and all the dope on the marrying lark.
[UK]‘Henry Green’ Caught (2001) 162: An officer can’t afford to get mixed up with his men on that sort of a lark.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 122: Glad to know that this bloody Christmas lark was over.
[UK]F. Norman Guntz 27: I knew little of the theatre lark.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 99: That ship’s casino lark, I could be on to something there.
[UK]W. Russell Educating Rita I ii: Is this the absolute maximum I can expect from this livin’ lark?
[UK]Guardian Sport 18 Sept. 16: It’s all very well this book lark. What I hadn’t cottoned on to was the publicity.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 14 Feb. 8: Sod this violin lark.
[UK]Indep. 16 May 30/6: Who’s the chief honcho in this Christianity lark?

6. (also larks) a criminal scheme.

[US]Brooklyn Dly Eagle (NY) 11 Dec. 4/7: ‘The Ballad of the Bunco Man’ [...] He sported a light overcoat, / Wore a most stunning spark / Was always lavish with his cash / When out upon a lark.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘Knight’s Return’ in Chisholm (1951) 85: ’E grabs ’is bag, an’ views me battered dile / With sudden fears uv spielers an’ their larks.
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 32: I’m going steady from now on. No more larks for Joe.
[UK]F. Norman in Daily Mail 18 May in Norman’s London (1969) 94: The protection racket is probably one of the easiest larks to run in the entire world.
[UK](con. c.1915) A. Harding in Samuel East End Und. 156: When I came out of prison he was in the racing lark with the Raddies.
[UK]C. Dexter Remorseful Day (2000) 99: There’d have to be an end to all that stolen-property lark.

In derivatives

larkishness (n.)


[UK]quoted in R. Nicholson Rogue’s Progress (1966) 221: Our old city, from east to west, ran riot in the pre-eminence of its larkishness.

In compounds

In phrases

and no larks

and no fooling around.

[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 259: It was a bottle in a sock as ’d done that day-o’-judgement business for me, and no larks but what it was meant for outing dues.
kick up a lark (v.) [kick up v.]

to cause a commotion.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 73: He was fond of a little sport, and, at times, not very nice in ‘kicking up a lark’ in order to produce it.
on a lark

on a spree.

[UK]W. Perry London Guide 80: Pretending to be officers [...] but if discovered, pretending to be upon the lark.
[UK]N.T.H. Bayly Spitalfields Weaver I i: Don’t offer me money, I warn you of that; no, no, when we’re out on a lark, if you wish to treat me, well and good, but no money given.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 6 Oct. 3: Out on a lark, spending his money like a thoroughbred.
[US]Lippincott’s Monthly Mag. (Phila.) Aug. 291: The students gather in the recitation-rooms, where they ‘rush’ or ‘flunk,’ according as they have studied the night before or been ‘out on a lark’ [DA].
[US]H. Green Mr. Jackson 258: Some of these sagacious people have travelled in the Orient, so we mustn’t look like Cairo cab drivers on a lark.
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 66: The girls would walk four abreast, youthful, chattering, happy. They were on a lark.