Green’s Dictionary of Slang

beat v.


1. [mid-19C+] to steal from, to defraud, to rob.

2. [mid-19C+] to defeat intellectually, to baffle, to confuse; often as beats me!

3. [late 19C–1930s] to leave quickly.

4. [late 19C+] of a criminal, to be acquitted of a crime, to defeat a case; of a lawyer, to defend a client successfully.

5. [20C+] to escape from prison.

6. [1910s+] to escape or avoid, e.g. a duty or obligation.

7. to pay for.

8. [1940s+] (orig. US black, also beat up on) of a man, to have heterosexual intercourse.

9. see beat off v. (1)

In compounds

beat artist (n.) [-artist sfx]

[1980s+] (US black) one who sells poor quality or fake drugs.

In phrases

beat a freight (v.)

[1900s–30s] (Can.) to steal a ride on a freight train.

beat ass (v.)

see separate entry.

beat it (v.)

see separate entry.

beat off (v.)

[1920s] (US Und.) to rob, to break into.

beat one’s way (v.)

[late 19C–1920] (US) to travel on any form of transport without paying for one’s ticket.

beat (someone) for (v.)

[1950s+] to take a person’s money, whether it is offered or not; to trick someone out of; to rob.

beat (someone) out of (v.) [mid-19C+] (US)

1. to cheat, to defraud, to steal from.

2. to overcome, to beat a rival.

beat someone’s time (v.)

1. [mid–late 19C] (US) to confuse, to confound.

2. [1930s–50s] (US black/campus) to cheat or be cheated in a love affair.

can you beat it? (also can you beat that?)

[mid-19C+] (orig. US) a phr. used to express surprise or amazement.

have someone/something beat (v.)

[20C+] (US) to defeat intellectually, to get the better of, to baffle, to confuse.

In exclamations

beats me! (also beats all! beats my ass! it beats me!)

[mid-19C+] a general excl. of incomprehension, ‘I just can’t understand it!’.

SE, meaning to defeat, to surpass, in slang uses

In compounds

beat-ass (adj.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

beat akeybo (v.) [ety. unknown; note Norfolk dial. acabo, akeybo, used in phr. that would puzzle acabo]

[mid-19C] to be confusing; thus he beats akeybo, he acts in an extreme manner; akeybo beats the devil, something is extremely confusing.

beat all (v.) (also beat all hell, ...hollow, ...holler, ...nature, sticks)

[mid-18C+] orig. horseracing use, to surpass in every way; often in phr. don’t that beat all.

beat all cockfight (v.)

[20C+] (W.I.) to be unbelievable, unheard of, utterly ridiculous.

beat bobtail (v.) [? euph. for beat the devil, but also ? link to the ‘bob-tailed nag’ of Stephen Foster’s song ‘Camptown Races’ (1850)]

[mid-19C–1950s] (US) to surpass in every way.

beat into fits (v.) (also beat all to fits, ...out of fits)

[mid-19C+] to defeat or surpass completely.

beat (the) old Nick (v.)

of an individual, to be remarkable / outstanding in one’s behaviour.

beat someone to the punch (v.) [boxing imagery] [1960s+] (orig. US black)

1. to arrive at a destination sooner than another person.

2. to appreciate or understand something faster than another person.

beat the bugs (v.)

[mid-19C–1940s] to surpass any contender.

beat the cars (v.) [SE street cars]

[19C] (US) to surpass in every way.

beat the Dutch (v.)

see separate entry.

beat the gun (v.) [sporting imagery]

[1940s+] (Aus.) for an engaged woman to have sex with her fiancé and to get pregnant thereby.

beat the Jews (v.) [the stereotype of Jewish ambition/deviousness]

[mid-19C–1960s] (US) lit. or fig., to surpass any contender.

beat the little dish (v.) (also beat the wee wheel)

[1920s–40s] (Irish) to surpass everything.

beat the priest (v.) [negative image of clerical hypocrisy]

[20C+] (W.I., Gren.) to commit a major crime and act brazenly in acknowledging it without any form of shame or sorrow.

beat the starter (v.) (also cheat the starter) [sporting imagery]

[1910s+] to have a child out of wedlock; to become pregnant before the wedding.

beat to snuff (v.) [SE snuff, powdered tobacco; thus lit. ‘to reduce to powder’]

[early 19C–1920s] to defeat comprehensively.

beat to the gun (v.) (also beat to the wheel) [the starting gun at races]

[1920s–30s] (US) to start first.

couldn’t beat a carpet

[late 19C+] (Aus.) a phr. used to indicate weakness.

that beats cockfighting (also this beats cockfighting, that beats thunder, ...a hen a-scratchin’, …a-lopin’)

[early 19C–1920s] that is really amazing, that’s beyond the bounds of possibility.

that beats the devil (also beats the old Nick)

[late 19C] (US) that is really amazing, that’s beyond the bounds of possibility.

to beat four of a kind (adv.) [poker imagery]

[late 19C] (US campus) to a very great extent.

SE, meaning to hit, in slang uses

In compounds

beat-down (n.)

see separate entry.

beat-off (n.)

see separate entry.


see separate entries.

In phrases

beat about the bush (v.) (also beat around the bush, beat the bush, bush-beat, go about the bush) [hunting imagery]

1. [late 16C+] to avoid a topic, to fail deliberately to come to the point.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

beat a dje (v.) [Fr. guerre, war]

[20C+] (W.I., Gren.) to be in the mood for a physical fight or verbal confrontation, esp. one that will last for several days.

beat down (v.)

see separate entry.

beat-’em-up (n.)

see separate entry.

beat feet (it) (v.) (also beat the feet)

1. [1940s+] (US campus) to leave, to depart quickly.

2. [1970s+] (US campus) to hurry.

beat goose (v.) [the movement supposedly resembles a goose in flight]

[late 19C] to strike one’s hands under the armpits to warm them.

beat it on the hoof (v.) [SE beat it, i.e. the ground + hoof n. (1)]

[late 17C–mid-18C] to walk on foot.

beat liquor (v.)

[20C+] (W.I.) to drink heavily.

beat off (v.)

see separate entry.

beat one’s gums (v.)

see separate entries.

beat one’s hog (v.)

see under hog n.

beat one’s meat (v.)

see under meat n.

beat (one’s) skin (v.)

[1940s] (US black/Harlem) to applaud, to clap.

beat tar (v.) (also slap tar) [SE tar, by metonymy the pavement]

[20C+] (W.I., Bdos) to walk around.

beat the boards (v.)

[1940s] (US black) to (tap)dance.

beat the books (v.)

[1940s+] (US/W.I.) to work very hard.

beat the breeze (v.) [SE breeze/breeze n.1 (1d)]

[1940s+] (US) to chatter, to gossip.

beat the hoof (v.)

see under hoof n.

beat the hound out of (v.) [SE hound, cussedness, stubbornness]

[1940s+] (US) to thrash severely.

beat the (living) daylights out of (v.)

see under daylights n.

beat the piss out of (v.)

see under piss n.

beat the rocks (v.) [esp. used in the context of walking the streets in search of employment]

[1940s] (US black) to walk the streets.

beat the sheets (v.) (also press blankets, press the sheets)

[1950s+] to sleep deeply.

beat the shit out of (v.)

see separate entry.

beat the tracks (v.) [beat it v. (1) + SE tracks]

[20C+] (Aus.) to walk a long way, usu. over rough country.

beat up (v.)

see separate entry.