Green’s Dictionary of Slang

A-1 adj.

also a-1, a-one, A-number-one, A No.1
[insurance jargon A1, the top rating given to a ship at the insurers Lloyds of London]

1. (also A1 copper-bottom(ed), letter A number 1) excellent, perfect, first class, in prime condition.

[UK]C.M. Westmacott Eng. Spy II 294: They always pull out an odd bottle from the family bin, marked A-1, when I visit them.
[US]Morning Courier and N.-Y. Enquirer Jan. 23 2/1: Several splendid parties have been given by those who rank A No. 1 in the beau monde.
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker I 46: He is a most splendid man that — we class him No. 1, letter A.
[US] in Wood Hill Their Sisters’ Keepers (1993) 348: An 1839 source asserted that her house at 134 Duane Street was ‘decidedly A. No. 1, for respectability’.
[US]T. Haliburton Letter-bag of the Great Western (1873) 142: The truth is, we stand letter A. No. 1 abroad.
[US]W.T. Thompson Chronicles of Pineville 77: Among the acknowledged sense-keepers of Pineville, Mr. Montgomery, the schoolmaster, stood ‘A. No.1’.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 14 Nov. 3/2: A nobbler’ was not A 1—that it was not sufficiently aristocratic.
[US]Woodville Republican (MS) 1/2 1/2: In swapping of ‘Ole Bullet,’ / He is ‘A, number one’.
[UK]Dickens Bleak House (1991) 260: Her attention was attracted to that Bark A-1, when she was something flushed by the hot weather.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown’s School-Days (1896) 258: I want to be A 1 at cricket and football.
[UK]‘Strike of the Journeyman Tailors’ in C. Hindley Curiosities of Street Lit. (1871) 135: He stitched away when the world began, / And made fig leaf togs, A No. 1.
[US]R.F. Burton City of the Saints 166: ‘What is his general character?’ ‘Letter A. No. 1.’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 102/1: Captain Grant was a skillful ‘buz-man’ and reckoned A No. 1 among the fraternity.
[US]Letters by an Odd Boy 11: She looks after the young ’uns [...] and ain’t she A 1 at stewed prunes!
[UK]J. Greenwood Unsentimental Journeys 56: Those celebrated merchant ‘clippers’ — A 1, and copper-hearted.
[UK] ‘Conversation on the Coming Elections’ in C. Hindley Curiosities of Street Lit. (1871) 80: You think your Irish Church Bill [...] will make you A No. 1.
[UK]E. Greey Queen’s Sailors III 278: You were always a manly [...] A 1, first-rate young feller.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 229: She is a prime girl; she is A. Number one, copper-bottomed.
[US]A. Garcia Tough Trip Through Paradise (1977) 244: There was not a robe or fur pelt in the whole damn wagonload that would grade A-No.1 prime.
[US]Besant & Rice ‘Seamy Side’ in Appleton’s Journal (N.Y.) Nov. 409: A serviceable craft, quartermaster. A 1, first class, and well found.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 17 Jan. 10/2: He offered for deposit $19,000 in western acceptances, which [...] were found to be A1 houses.
[UK]Punch lxxxii. 181/1: Now when I want a fellow’s candid opinion about my pictures, I ask him to dinner, give him a first-rate bottle of claret, a cup of A1 coffee, a glass of old cognac, and the best cigar money can buy, and then I show him my pictures, and I always find that his candid opinion coincides with my own.
[UK]Sporting Times 18 Oct. 2/2: Giving specimens gratis of A1 copper bottom ballys.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 12 Sept. 5/1: These lines are really effective, and show that you are an A1, full-rigged, clipper-built, copper-bottomed genius.
[UK]London Dly News 1 Feb. 4/7: We are taight to distinguish between ‘first class, letter A’, ‘A, copper-bottomed,’ and ‘A1 and no mistake’.
[UK]J. Astley Fifty Years (2nd edn) I 271: Some good chap had sent me out a box of A 1 cigars.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 3 Feb. 3/6: ’E’s got a reglar slap-up donah, too — an A1 judy.
Tresor & LeBrunn [perf. Marie Lloyd] Among My Knick-knacks [lyrics] I’m A.1. at Lloyds with the camera.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 97: The ‘A Number One Gun,’ like the millionaire, is classified in a ‘Social Register’ and a ‘Who’s Who’.
[UK]D. Cotsford Society Snapshots 197: By Jove! an A 1 idea!
[US]Ade More Fables in Sl. (1960) 141: He [...] had A1 Prospects.
[US]Ade Forty Modern Fables 63: In the Commercial Agencies he was Rated AA Plus A1, which meant that he had it in Bales.
[US]H. Hapgood Autobiog. of a Thief 173: He was sent to Sing Sing for his repeating methods at election, at which game he was A No. 1.
[US]C. M’Govern By Bolo and Krag 28: Wot de hell is wrong wit you, Jerry Hopkins? You ust to be an A number one soldier when you was with me in the 39th.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘Night in New Arabia’ Strictly Business (1915) 218: He slung imported A1 fancy groceries about as though they were only the stuff he delivered at boarding-houses.
[US]O. Johnson Varmint 308: I’ve got a couple of A. No. 1 millionaire cigars.
[UK]A. Brazil Fourth Form Friendship 12: ‘Now, isn’t this A1? Put it inside your case. There! Off you go!’.
[US]M. Glass Potash And Perlmutter 2: He knows his cloak and suit business from A to Z, and he’s a first-class A number one feller.
[UK]‘Ian Hay’ Lighter Side of School Life 200: Thanks ever so much for the ten bob, also the lobster and cake, which are A1.
Nonpartisan Leader (Fargo, ND) 7 Dec. 3/2: [cartoon caption] This is the best, most wholesome, A-Number-One, hard wheat that was ever raised.
[NZ]‘Anzac’ On the Anzac Trail 30: I must say the cooks turned out an A1 meal.
[US]H.C. Witwer Smile A Minute 10: I am now nothin’ less than a full fledge A No. 1 2nd lieutenant.
[US]Ade Hand-made Fables 41: As soon as he got into Practice and began to connect with the Currency he could shake the Oatmeal Circuit and move up to an A 1 Hotel.
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 2: In truth, that Dutch lady’s dinners were A number one; they stuck to your ribs.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 9: You kids are A-No I, high-grade scouts.
[US]W.R. Burnett Iron Man 130: ‘How you feeling, Coke?’ asked Regan. ‘A-one,’ said Coke. ‘I feel like a champion.’.
[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 15: They would turn out A. No. 1.
[UK]W. Holtby South Riding (1988) 69: Have an aniseed ball, love. A.1. for flatulence.
[US]T. Thursday ‘License for Theft’ in Ten Detective Aces Sept. [Internet] Honest, officer, my reputation is A Number One.
[UK]J.B. Booth Sporting Times 265: Joe Dillon and Harry Maggs [...] were distinctly not to be included in the A.1 family.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 153: Some of them were beginning to wonder if we could ever get in that A-1 class.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Seraph on the Suwanee (1995) 657: Dessie is an A-number-one mid-wife.
[US]R. Fuller ‘Big Target’ Black Bk Detective Sept. [Internet] The C.P.O. looked down at his notes and began reciting. That chief certainly was an A-one note-taker.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 143: He was A number 1 with all the big boys.
[US] in C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 78: She [...] equipped him generally for an A No 1 pickpocket.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 67: It’s got to be an A-1 racket.
[US](con. 1920s–30s) J.O. Killens Youngblood (1956) 400: He would give him an ‘A’-number-one job.
[US]Mad mag. Sept. 32: Them Comic Books is A-Number-Vun!
[UK](con. 1940s) D. MacCuish Do Not Go Gentle (1962) 202: That queer’s really a first class A-1 mother-rapin’ gutless wonder of a horse’s ass!
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 789: a-1-Prime; the best; altogether trustworthy.
[US]Kerouac letter 15 Nov. in Charters II (1999) 460: As for you, you’re my A number One man.
[US]G.V. Higgins Digger’s Game (1981) 169: A-number-one, first cabin all the way.
[UK]F. Norman Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper 139: It had checked out A 1, none other than the Jodpur diamond, on the missing list since the 1920s.
[Aus]A. Weller Day of the Dog 7: What about that Chinese woman? She was A one, man.
[UK]G. Norman in Norman (1921) 130: I was passed A.1.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 45: She was in the A.1. bracket. Keith wasn’t the sort of bloke who disapproved of people who had a lot of money.
[US]T. Jones Pugilist at Rest 143: He would do an A-number-one job without screwing up.
[US]T. Willocks Green River Rising 246: The most evil A Number One baddest-nigger-in-town voice he’d ever heard.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We Have No 39: I [...] help myself to a bit of A-1 crumpet.

2. extreme, supreme, in both negative as well as positive contexts.

[US]‘Timothy Titcomb’ Letters to Young People 140: If you wish to be an ‘A No. 1’ woman, you have got to ‘toe the mark,’ and be less ‘hifalutin’.
[UK]Bird o’ Freedom 22 Jan. 5: Having just recovered from a veritable good old attack of influenza — no second quality, mind you, but a regular A-1, registered at Lloyd’s, sort.
[UK]Sporting Times 15 Apr. 2/3: He was a A1 case of fidgets.
[US]J.T. Farrell World I Never Made 188: That floorwalker was a first-class, A-number-one brand of unadulterated fathead.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 30: Not that Rufus hadn’t deserved an A-1 ass-eating.
[US]E. Torres After Hours 64: He’s getting fifteen to life on an A-one state case.
[US]Mother Jones July/Aug. [Internet] You’re a grade A1 asshole when it needs to be.

In derivatives

A-1-er (n.)

an exceptional person, an aristocrat.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Feb. 4/3: At puddings and pies she’s a ‘stunner,’ / At roasting and boiling no chick; In fact, she’s really ‘A1’-er – / A regular housekeeping brick.
[UK]B.L. Farjeon Mystery of M. Felix I 6: He’s a trump, a regular A-one-er.
[UK] ‘’Arry and [...] Lady Cyclists’ in Punch 15 June 285/2: Fanthy me in my cotton pwint wobbling among thuch A-wonnerth ath thoth!