Green’s Dictionary of Slang

mean adj.

1. very good, very clever, adroit, with implications of ‘so good it’s unfair’, on the ‘outlaw’ bad = good model.

[UK]Sporting Times 11 Jan. 1: Certain it is that our merry boys blue are no mean elocutionists or chirrupers.
[US]E. Hemingway letter 30 Apr. in Baker Sel. Letters (1981) 24: Rather good-looking and a pretty mean dancer.
[US]S. Young Encaustics 4: ‘What was it to throw a mean bust?’ ‘To have a fine figure,’ he exclaimed. ‘Like saying she’s a mean kisser. Special or extra or something like that.’.
[US]Wesley Wilson & Harry McDaniels [song title] She Shakes a Mean Ashcan.
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 5: She had one of the meanest rolls a man could want.
[US]S. Lewis World So Wide 46: Hell, I used to skip down to Florida, one time, and enjoy yanking in a mean tarpon.
[US]R. De Christoforo Grease 144: It was a mean, hot song.
[US]G. Tate ‘Adeva’ in Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992) 113: Adeva ain’t no fake; she’s skying a mean Cameo haircut.
[US]D. Burke Street Talk 2 31: He plays the meanest piano!
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Rev. 14 May 54: She does a mean shepherd’s pie.
[US]C.W. Ford Deuce’s Wild 27: He’s stylin’ himself as the meanest, baddest rapper.

2. (US black) exceptionally attractive or stylish.

[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Rock 89: She moves off, switching a mean tail.
[UK]Sun. Times Ingear19 Dec. 7: [headline] Harley Davidson, known for its fat ‘Hogs’, will have fans squealing with its mean new sportsbike.

In compounds

mean machine (n.)

1. (orig. US) a fast or stylish car.

[US]W. Safire What’s the Good Word? 80: While rolling in your ride or mean machine.
[US]S. King Christine 187: I was looking over your mean machine.
[UK]Guardian 5 Apr. 🌐 And you drive this on the street? I do, yeah. It’s quite a mean machine. It does get a few looks. It’s definitely not quiet.

2. fig. a powerful team or person.

[UK]Guardian 20 Mar. 🌐 Gold stars for Houllier’s mean machine.

SE in slang uses

In compounds


see separate entries.

mean-eye (v.)

(US) to stare at aggressively, in a hostile manner.

[US]E. Anderson Thieves Like Us (1999) 21: That girl of yours sure mean-eyed me this morning.
mean-hair (adj.)

(gay) unpleasant, cruel.

[US]H.S. Thompson Hell’s Angels (1967) 88: They’re a bunch of mean-hair fairies, that’s all. They’re enough to make anyone sick.
mean mug (v.) [mug n.1 (1b)]

(US black) to look at someone in a disrespectful and hostile manner; thus as n. a scowl.

[UK]Guardian G2 14 Feb. 5/1: As it said in the New York Times ‘Suspects tell the police they killed someone who “disrespected” them [...] or someone who was “mean-mugging” them, which the police loosely translated as giving a dirty look’.
[US]W.D. Myers Cruisers 81: Them bears used to look at Robby McRabbit, and when they did they were mean mugging him from the tip of his pointy ears to his nasty little toes.
[US]W.D. Myers Cruisers: A Star is Born 128: I saw Mr. Lord look over [...] and throw down a halfhearted mean mug.
mean reds (n.) [coined by Truman Capote in Breakast at Tiffany’s (1958)]

(US campus) a fit of depression.

[US]Breakfast at Tiffany’s [film] holly: Listen. You know those days when you get the mean reds? paul: The ‘mean reds?’ You mean, like the blues? holly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat or it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Don’t you ever get that feeling?
[US]F. Kohner Affairs of Gidget 67: Poor Mimsy had the mean reds.
[US]R.M. Brown Southern Discomfort (1983) 70: ‘Why are you singing the blues?’ ‘More like the mean reds, really.’.
K. Frazier Scoop 233: I flopped face-down on my bed with a bad case of Holly Golightly’s Mean Reds.
mean soup (n.)

(Aus.) alcohol.

[Aus]Bug (Aus.) 14 May 🌐 Do you know how many times The Bash was found outside a cop shop in a taxi comatosed from the mean soup? Twenty fucking four!
mean white (n.) [SE mean, impoverished]

(US black) an extremely poor white person.

H. Martineau Society in America ii 311: There are a few, called by the slaves mean whites, signifying whites who work with the hands [F&H].
A.W. Tourgée Toinette ix 104: There was no chance of patronizing this woman, if she was a ‘mean white’ [DA].
[UK]Sl. Dict. 224: Mean white a term of contempt among negroes, in the old slavery days, for white men without landed property.
J. McCarthy Fair Saxon xix: That despised and degraded class, the mean whites – the creatures who had neither the social postition and property that seemed essential to freedom in the South, nor the protected comfort of slavery [F&H].
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 175/1: Mean white (Anglo-Indian). A poor Englishman.

In phrases

so mean... (also mean enough...)

used in phrs. denoting an individual’s meanness, usu. prefaced by they’re so mean they wouldn’t…; combs. are cited below; others include …give a wave if they owned the ocean, …give you a fright if they were a ghost, …give you their cold, …spit in your mouth if your throat was on fire, and so mean they still have their lunch money from school.

[UK]Gravesend Reporter 16 Dec. 3/3: ‘He’s mean he wouldn’t even tell a joke at his own expense’.
[US]Altoona Trib. (PA) 8 June 7/1: He was so mean hewouldn’t give a fellow an apple core without makin’ him pay back in chewin’ gum.
[US]Altoona Trib. (PA) 27 Sept. 3/3: There are people so mean that they wouldn’t kick a yellow dog if they thought ity would do him any good.
[Aus]Aussie (France) IX Dec. 22/2: Mean! Why if the cow owned an electric power station he wouldn’t give a man a shock!
Citizen (Howard, KS) 15 May 5/6: That fellow’s so mean he wouldn’t even give a tip to his hat.
[Aus]Aussie (France) XIII Apr. 3/1: Cripes! the cow was mean enough to pinch a fly from a blind spider!
[US]Orlando Sentinel (FL) 7 July 2/3: Waitress — He’s so mean wouldn’t even leave an asparugus tip on the table.
[US]Star Trib. (Minneapolis, MN) 3 Sept. 14/6: ‘He’s so mean [...] he wouldn’t give a drownin’ feller a drink’.
[US]Boston Globe (MA) 23 Nov. 35/2: That guy is so mean he wouldn’t give an orphan child the measles after he got through with it.
[Aus]‘Banjo’ Paterson Shearer’s Colt 93: He’s that mean he wouldn’t give a dog a drink at his mirage.
[UK]Illus. Sporting & Dramatic News 19 Jan. 21/2: He ‘was so mean that he wouldn’t tell you the time of day if he had two watches’.
Monroe News-Star (LA) 5 Apr. 4/6: Some are so mean they wouldn’t give their old mother a seat on the subway.
[UK]P. Hoskins No Hiding Place! 190/2: He wouldn’t tell you the Time. He is mean and suspicious.
[Aus]R. Beckett Dinkum Aussie Dict. 58: Wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him: The person referred to shows a marked reluctance to stand his ‘round’ in the public bar ‘school’ and is seldom, if ever, in the ‘chair’.
[US]Detroit Free Press (MI) 25 Dec. 2/4: A former Texas attorney [...] was ‘so mean he wouldn’t spit in your ear if your brains were on fire’.
[Aus]Jennifer ‘Australian Sl. Phrases’ Jennifer’s Jibberish 🌐 wouldn’t shout in a shark attack ..... a person who will not take their turn in buying a round of drinks.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 195: so mean/tight he/she couldn’t pass caraway seeds Mean with money. [...] so mean/tight he/she wouldn’t give a rat a railway pie/piss on you if you were on fire/sell you the steam off his/her shit Memorably mean with money. ANZ. [...] so mean/tight you couldn’t pound a toothpick up her/his arse with a pile-driver/screw anything out of her/him with a post-hole borer up her/his bum Astonishingly mean with money. ANZ. [Ibid.] 234: wouldn’t piss down someone’s throat if their guts were on fire Held in contempt. ANZ.
too mean to part with one’s shit (adj.)

very mean indeed.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1248: [...] late C.19–20.