Green’s Dictionary of Slang

yarn n.

[the stories told by sailors during the lengthy processes of making ropes; note Hall Caine, The Deemster (1897): ‘Without motive a story is not a novel, but only a yarn’: in other words, a yarn implies the dichotomy between ‘literary’ and ‘popular’ writing]
(orig. naut.)

1. a story, esp. a long and poss. implausibly wonderful one.

[UK]J. Burrowes Life in St George’s Fields 13: You see what a tough yarn the Doctor was spinning.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 261: [note] Young pugilists may be seen listening to the ‘long yarn’ of Tom Owen, about the exploits and victories of the boxers of the Olden Times.
[US]D. Crockett in Meine Crockett Almanacks (1955) 146: Clear the coal-dust out of your wizzard, and give us a yarn about your tower.
[Ind]Bellew Memoirs of a Griffin I 140: Some ladies, whom he was evidently entertaining with a ‘yarn’.
[US]J.S. Robb Streaks of Squatter Life 142: Tom squared himself for a yarn, wet his lips with a little corn juice, took a small strip of Missouri weed, and let out .
[US]Southern Literary Messenger Apr. 216: The old Judge suggested a trick, which was to get Burton to telling one of his Kentucky yarns.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 105/1: Before we had arranged for ‘graft,’ the old tar finished his yarn.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 132: I had already found how little reliance is placed on ‘prisoners’ yarns.’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Jan. 2/1: In elegance of diction, boldness of grammar, profoundness of thought, and originality of punctuation, the yarn certainly surpasses anything we have seen since the late Bernardo Bladkins wrote ‘Rodolpho the Revengeful.’.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Story of Malachi’ in Roderick (1972) 11: He would indeed sometimes remark that our yarns were a caution, but that was all.
[UK]Birmingham Dly Post 31 Mar. 3/4: [H]e unravelled such a ‘yarn’ that even the good man [...] deemed it rather ‘thick’.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 98: Yarn, a long story; ‘spin a yarn,’ tell a tale.
[UK]A. Binstead Mop Fair 49: I have listened to his breezy bleat so often that I know his yarn by heart.
[UK]E. Pugh Cockney At Home 168: It’s a kind of yarn in its way, if you’d like to hear it.
[UK]‘Bartimeus’ Great Security 3: Where did you get that yarn from?
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 176: I didn’t take the least bit of interest in his yarns.
[UK]S. Jackson An Indiscreet Guide to Soho 99: George Gee who tells the latest yarn with terrific zest.
[US]M. Spillane One Lonely Night 76: It’s the old yarn of mistaken identity.
[Aus]J. Holledge Great Aust. Gamble 64: [T]he yarn proved popular and [Nat] Gould kept it going for 42 chapters.
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 39: He [...] cooked up a yarn about stop-cocks.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘Strained Relations’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] If I hear another nautical yarn I’ll swing for him!
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Godson 336: ‘I’ll have a good yarn for you’.
[UK]Guardian Guide 12–18 June 18: Reissue of the seminal gangster yarn, with Caine as the avenging bruiser.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 11 Feb. 5: This movie [...] is a rattling good yarn.

2. a chat, a conversation.

[NZ]H.W. Harper Letters from N.Z. (1914) 49: This has been a long yarn. I hope it has not tried your patience too much.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery under Arms (2006) 113: After tea, father and I and Jim had a long yarn.
[UK]C. Roberts Adrift in America 124: I went over to the house and had a yarn with the depot agent.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 9 Dec. 3/4: Marster Robberd [...] ’ad a yarn with Mister McMillan an’ they sat down an’ torked a bit.
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 55: I only called in for a yarn.
[UK](con. 1916) F. Manning Her Privates We (1986) 157: Come along to my tent for a while, and have a yarn.
[Aus]K. Tennant Foveaux 114: I just dropped in for a yarn.
[Aus]L. Glassop We Were the Rats 47: I just came in for a yarn with Happy.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 54: We had a good old yarn and Pat took one of my cigars.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Gone Fishin’ 190: We’ll have a cup o’ tea and a bit of a yarn.
[Aus](con. 1930s) F. Huelin ‘Keep Moving’ 62: Go and have a yarn to them [...] You might get somewhere.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett You Wouldn’t Be Dead for Quids (1989) 17: Come up to the club tonight [...] and have a yarn to the boss.
[UK]R. Barnard Death in a Cold Climate (1991) 31: He joined us [...] and we had a bit of a yarn.
[Aus]P. Temple Black Tide (2012) [ebook] I’ll have a yarn with him.
[Aus]P. Temple Broken Shore (2007) [ebook] You might want to have a yarn with a Bruce Starkey.

In compounds

yarn-chopper (n.) (also yarn-pitcher, yarn-slinger, yarn-spinner)

a story-teller, a chatterer.

[UK]B. Patterson Life in the Ranks 139: Others will call upon some of the yarn spinners to entertain them.
[Aus]Bird o’ Freedom (Sydney) 4 Apr. 7/4: The ‘yarn pitcher’ at Tattersall’s was in great form on Wednesday, and kept the room in roars .
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues VII 3721: yarn-chopper (or slinger) = (1) a long prosy talker.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 12: Booze Artists [...] very amusing yarn-spinners and musicians and singers.
[Aus]F.J. Hardy Yarns of Billy Borker 55: Every Australian yarn is true — for the yarn-spinner who tells it.

In phrases

pitch a yarn (v.)

to recount a story.

[UK] ‘Tale Of A Shift’ in Cuckold’s Nest 34: He got my mistress in the barn, / And pitched her such a decent yarn, / That he soon got into the tail of marm.
[UK]H. Kingsley Recollections of G. Hamlyn (1891) 354: Can’t you pitch us a yarn, daddy? [...] Tell us something about the old country.
[UK]J. Greenwood Dick Temple I 153: You pitch that pretty yarn to a sittin’ magistrate.
[UK] ‘’Arry on ’onesty’ in Punch 31 Jan. 60/1: I love ’onesty all round my ’at, and no kid, / I could pitch you a yarn on that text.
[UK]J. Buchan Mr Standfast (1930) 527: I [...] pitched him a yarn about Prince Charlie and how my mother’s great-grandfather had played some kind of part in that show.
[UK]‘Operator 1384’ McCann the Spy 170: [H]e had absolute power of life and death over us [...] Paris might make inquiries later, but he could pitch them any yarn without fear of contradiction.
[UK](con. 1940s) G. Dutton Andy 98: Those bloody reffos always pitch that yarn.
sling a yarn (v.) [sling v. (2a)]

to tell a story.

[US]B. Harte Gabriel Conroy II 302: Well, you jess stands up afore the jedge, and you slings ’em a yarn.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ in Roderick (1967–9) I 57: I’ll sling you a yarn worth more nor two / Such pumped-up yarns as that.