Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cove n.

[either 16C Scot. cofe, a chapman or pedlar or, like a number of 16C cant terms, Rom., in this case cova or covo, man]

1. (orig. UK Und.) a man.

[UK]R. Copland Hye Way to the Spyttel House line 1046: Inow, ynow: with bousy coue maimed nace Teare the patryng coue in the darkman cace.
[UK] Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 84: gentry cofe a noble or gentleman .
[UK]Dekker Lanthorne and Candle-Light Ch. 1: The word Coue, or Cofe, or Cuffin, fignifies a Man, a Fellow, &c. But differs something in his property, according as it meetes with other wordes : For a Gentleman is called a Gentry Coue, or Cofe: A good fellow, is a Bene Cofe.
[UK]Dekker ‘O per se O’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 11: For all your Duds are bingd awaste / the bien cove hath the loure.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Beggar’s Bush II i: A cove! fumbumbis!
[UK]Witts Recreations ‘Fancies & Fantasticks’ No. 126: There’s a Gentry Cove here, / Is the top of the shiere, / Of the Bever Ken, / A man among men.
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 47: Cove or Cuffin is in general terms a Man.
[UK]R. Holme Academy of Armory Ch. iiiitem 68c: Canting Terms used by Beggars, Vagabonds, Cheaters, Cripples and Bedlams. [...] Cove, or Cofe, Coffin or Cuffin, a Man, a Fellow.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew.
[UK]Hell Upon Earth 5: Cove, a Man.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Noted Highway-men, etc. I 195: The old Cove [...] was ready to hang himself in his own Garters.
[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 22: What does the Cove want?
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict. 18: A Man – Cove.
[UK](con. 1710–25) Tyburn Chronicle II in Groom (1999) xxvi: A Cove, or Cull A Man – Cull is likewise frequently used to signify a Fool.
[UK]G. Parker ? ‘Sandman’s Wedding’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 65: None of the coves dare but like it, / As Joey, her kiddy, was there.
[UK] ‘Flash Language’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 18: A man, a cove.
[US]H. Tufts Autobiog. (1930) 291: A cove, signifies a man.
[UK] ‘A Leary Mot’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 77: For he valued neither cove nor swell, for he had wedge snug in his cly.
[UK]J. Burrowes Life in St George’s Fields 4: A thorough-bred Surrey Cove allows of no place under the sun to stand in comparison.
[Aus]Three Years Practical Experience of a Settler in NSW in Sydney Monitor 14 Nov. 1838 2/4: There is an immense deal of slang in the language of the country — ‘cove,’ ‘gammon,’ ‘plant’ are as familiar as household words.
[UK] ‘Frisky Poll Of Broker’s Alley’ Knowing Chaunter 19: Squinting Poll of Broker’s-alley, / Got quite nutty vith the cove, [...] Poll swore that he was quite the kick.
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 4 Feb. 4/2: Miles’ Boy does not know the Cove who commands.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd series) 276: Such a seedy-looking cove.
[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (1982) I 95: There’s the cove that’ll do the trick for you!
[UK]Vanity Fair (N.Y.) 9 Nov. 216: Old ABE’s a prig that all my coves do fear.
[UK]‘Edward Howe’ Boy in the Bush 158: The cove is so jolly green, it’s my belief he’ll never miss ’em.
[Aus]Hamilton Spectator (Vic.) 7 Jan. 1/7: All the male portion of humanity may now be recognised, from boyhood to old age, under the title ‘coves,’ ‘buffers,’ ‘shavers,’ ‘fogies,’ and ‘flukes;’ buffers and fogies are particularly appropriate to grey hairs.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 220: The landlord was a ‘fly cove’; he took his dukeship in and sent down for an inspector of police at once.
[UK]Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday 21 June 61: [caption] Blest if there ain’t a cove goin ’ fishing for winkles with a double-barrelled blunderbus.
[UK]J. Runciman Chequers 114: A regular toff [...] and yet he will speak to ordinary coves without exhibiting the least pride!
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Visit of Condolence’ in Roderick (1972) 32: I wouldn’t like to see a cove collar a cove’s job an’ not tell a bloke about it.
[UK]Castling & LeBrunn [perf. Marie Lloyd] No, ’Arry don’t ask me to marry [lyrics] For you’re the only cove I know is good.
[UK]A. Binstead Pitcher in Paradise 145: This cove is a-talkin to old Bob Moody, the Jockey Club janitor.
[US]T.A. Dorgan Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit 17 Dec. [synd. cartoon strip] Three cheers for old coves.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Benno & his Old ’Uns’ in Roderick (1972) 803: Benno is a ‘peaceful sort o’ cove’ as a rule.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Bulldog Drummond 175: He must be a popular sort of cove.
[UK]‘Leslie Charteris’ Enter the Saint 57: You’re an odd cove [...] Your trouble is that you’re too serious.
[Aus]‘Australianaise’ in Mess Songs & Rhymes of the RAAF 15: Fellers of Australia / Blokes and coves and coots.
[UK]J. Symons Man Called Jones (1949) 119: Devil of a queer cove he was.
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit 115: A cove of the name of Spinoza.
[UK]A. Garve Boomerang 143: You know, Birdie, for a Pommie bastard you’re quite a bright cove.
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 14: You’d better take that Cretan cove with you.
[UK]T. Paulin [title] ‘A Rum Cove, a Stout Cove’.
[UK]P. Bailey Kitty and Virgil (1999) 21: The rantings and ravings of that tiresome old cove.
[UK]Guardian 12 Jan. 10: A decent sort of cove.
[UK]H. Mantel Beyond Black 132: I know that cove, he’s dead he is.

2. (UK Und.) a receiver.

[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (1795).
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Flash Dict.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.

3. the owner or manager of an establishment, esp. (Aus.) of a sheep station.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 233: cove: the master of a house or shop, is called the Cove; on other occasions, when joined to particular words, as a cross-cove, a flash-cove, a leary-cove, &c., it simply implies a man of these several descriptions; sometimes, in speaking of any third person, whose name you are either ignorant of; or don’t wish to mention, the word cove is adopted by way of emphasis.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 218: The Cove and Covess of the Sluicery [...] are pocketing the blunt almost as fast as they can count it.
[Aus][A. Harris] (con. 1820s) Settlers & Convicts 65: ‘How far is it to your cove’s?’ (master’s).
[Aus]Melbourne Punch 20 Nov. 3/2: Boss —Noun. A cove, a beak, a guvnor, a nob, an old ’un, a big-wig etc.
[Aus]Sydney Morn. Herald 8 Dec. 5/4: ‘[T]he cove,’ to render in Australian the English slang of ‘the governor,’ gave orders that no unmanageable animals should longer be supplied me.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 62: A station manager was formerly known as a super or cove.

4. a sheriff’s officer, a policeman.

[UK]Vidocq Memoirs (trans. W. McGinn) III 75: Spy if you twig any coves or beaks.

5. an assistant, a shop-boy.

[UK]J. Greenwood Little Ragamuffin 304: I’m a greengrocer’s cove now – carries out coals, and taters, and all that. [Ibid.] 305: I should say you was a linen-draper’s cove.

6. constr. with a, oneself, e.g. a cove ought to get drunk once in a while.

[UK]Wild Boys of London I 152/1: If he did do for the Welcher, it was a haxident; a cove can’t alwis regulate the pressure when the hug’s on.

7. see cove of the ken

In phrases

arch-cove (n.) [SE pfx arch-, principal]

(UK Und.) the leader of a gang of thieves.

[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict. n.p.: Arch cove or Dimber damber an upright man; the leader or head of a gang of thieves; shoplifters or gypsies.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 8: arch-coves Chief of the gang or mob; headmen, governors; presidents.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 14 Sept. n.p.: The ‘arch cove’ of the last attempt [to escape prison] is a ‘milken’ named John Smith alias Slim Jim.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
cove of the ken (n.) (also cove, ken cove) [ken n.1 (1)]

the master of the house, a landlord; thus covess of the ken, a landlady or brothel-keeper.

[UK]Rowlands Martin Mark-all 42: Out budgd the Coue of the Ken, / With a ben filtch in his quarr’me.
[UK]R. Brome Jovial Crew II i: For all this bene Cribbing and Peck let us then, / Bowse a health to the Gentry Cofe of the Ken.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 153: He was well acquainted with the cove and covess, that is, the landlord and landlady.
[UK] ‘Flash Lang.’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 18: Master of the house, cove of the ken.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Apr. XVI 26/2: I called at a flash ken [...] closeted with the cove and Sly Sal for half an hour.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 233: covess: the mistress of a house or shop, and used on other occasions, in the same manner as Cove, when applied to a man.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 220: Over the fire-place [...] the Cove of the Ken, has placed the portraits of Innocence and Virtue. [Ibid.] 324: Tom inquired of the covess of the ken [...] the names of the dancers.
[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 1 Feb. 2/3: The ken cove, [...] being a Queer buffer [...] a regular brush was kicked up, and the Charlies being called, before they could burn the ken, [...] they were nabbed and carried to the nask.
[UK]Egan Finish to the Adventures of Tom and Jerry (1889) 186: When the clock struck eleven, the ‘Cove of the Ken,’ for the sake of his license, turned the whole of the company out.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 103: Covess of a ken, a female keeper of a brothel.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict. n.p.: Ken cove the master of a house.
square cove (n.) [square adj. (1) ]

an honest man.

[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: A square cove, i.e. a man who does not steal, or get his living by dishonest means.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 268: square: A tradesman or other person who is considered by the world to be an honest man, and who is unacquainted with family people, and their system of operations, is by the latter emphatically styled a square cove, whereas an old thief who has acquired an independence, and now confines himself to square practices, is still called by his old palls a flash cove, who has tyed up prigging.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor IV 419/1: All dodges are getting stale; square coves (i.e., honest folks) are so wide awake.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sussex Advertiser 23 June 4/6: I’ve told ye already I’m not a prig, but a square cove.
[UK]Lloyd’s Wkly Newspaper 22 Apr. 2/5: That ’ere Mr Williams was a real square cove [...] If there was more of the like of ’im amongst the beaks there wouldn’t be quite so many bad ’uns about.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 409: I told ’em ’s how it were only a couple of gents of the Fancy, but they says ‘Square-coves is square-coves’.