Green’s Dictionary of Slang

stem n.

also the stem

1. (US, orig. tramp) a street; usu. as main stem n.

[US]J. London ‘The Road’ in Hendricks & Shepherd Jack London Reports (1970) 311–21: It is often impossible to even comprehend the very ‘Profesh.’ Attempt to translate this : – De stem? Nit! Yaeggin’s on the sugar train.
[US]Cincinnati Enquirer (OH) 12 May 12/2: ‘I stalls [...] an’ pipes off the stem for a bull’.
[US]N. Anderson Hobo 4: In the parlance of the ‘road’ such a section is known as the ‘stem’ or the ‘main drag’.
[US]Flash! (Wash., D.C.) 21 Feb. 11/1: watering places—The most popular eat, drink and dine places along any stem, usually catering especially to satiation of the thirst.
[US]D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive 30: My Chippie lays down, like the kong that / Runs in rivers in the gage joints on the Stem.
[US]L. Durst Jives of Dr. Hepcat (1989) 1: At a certain time a group of youngsters gather around the corner drugstore to meet their dates, have sodas, dance and generally pass the time away. ‘It’s “swoon time” on the stem and the gone cats are cruising on down to get with their woo numbers and cut a few rugs and make with the malts.’.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 97: You would also be playing your girl against a half-dozen strong, jasper whores on this stem.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 31: He leapt out and galloped [...] to her side of the stem.
[US]I.L. Allen City in Sl. (1995) 41: By 1900 some of their argot, including main drag and main stem – or, extended to any street, just a drag or a stem – had begun to leak into popular speech. Today, these terms are widely used, informal expressions for the streets of a town or city.
[US]W. Shaw Westsiders 141: The strip around the Dunbar [Hotel], which boasted the very best nightlife Central had to offer, was known as ‘the Stem’.

2. in drug uses.

(a) an opium pipe.

[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 195: Bring a couple shells an’ a stem.
[US]Spokane Press (WA) 22 Sept. 7/3: You had better lay off that stem, or get a new chef to cook your hop.
[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 116: First comes the pipe – the stem and the bowl.
[US]‘Boxcar Bertha’ Sister of the Road (1975) 115: This particular outfit, or ‘layout,’ consisted of six bowls and four stems, three small traveling lamps that burned peanut oil, a dozen yen hoks, (like a crochet hook, but finer and more flexible, used for preparing the opium pill) and three yen shee gows, steel instruments for removing the yen shee or ash from the inside of the bowl.
[US]Anslinger & Tompkins Traffic In Narcotics 315: stem. An opium pipe.
[US]J.E. Schmidt Narcotics Lingo and Lore.

(b) in pl., marijuana stems, as unsmokeable debris.

[US] cited in Spears Sl. and Jargon of Drugs and Drink (1986).
[US]ONDCP Street Terms 20: Stems — Marijuana.

(c) a marijuana/hashish pipe.

[US]H. Selby Jr Requiem for a Dream (1987) 34: The stem was handed to Harry and he sucked on it.

(d) a crack cocaine pipe (laboratory pipette).

[US]T. Williams Crackhouse 82: I had a pipe and a stem on me, but no drugs.
[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 79: Your only worry was making a cloud in your stem [glass crack pipe].
[US]J. Stahl Plainclothes Naked (2002) 89: He loaded the rocks into a glass stem that’d been broken so many times it was now only an inch long.

3. (US Und.) a drill, used in safebreaking.

[US]F.H. Tillotson How I Became a Detective 96: Stems – Drills.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 81: stem [...] Current among yeggs. A steel drill.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 172: I opened the small parcel containing the ‘dan’ and ‘stems’ (drills).
[US]Flynn’s 16 Mar. 102/1: I was inserting a ‘stem’ (drill) in a brace when I heard a most peculiar noise .
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 209/2: Stem, n. [...] 4. A steel drill used by safe- and vault-burglars.

4. the area where tramps beg.

[US]N. Anderson Hobo 6: On the ‘stem’ it is known as ‘Bum Park,’ and men who visit it daily know no other name for it.
[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 345: Stem— [...] also a street where one begs.

5. (US tramp) an act of begging.

[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 345: Stem—Act of begging.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 209/2: Stem, n. [...] 2. Professional beggary.

6. (US black) the world of the street, as a generic.

[US]T. Minehan Boy and Girl Tramps of America (1976) 20: The stem is pretty tough all through the South.
[US]L. Durst Jives of Dr. Hepcat (1989) 6: I stash me down to cop a nod, if I am lame I’m not to blame, the stem is hard.

In compounds

stem story (n.) (also stem spiel)

(US) a fantasy.

[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 139: ‘I can’t stand fer none o’ dem race-horse hoodoo tales, fer I know de most o’ dem is stem-stories’.
[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 172: ‘[D]at ain’t no stem spiel, neider. Wait till I get a little booze under me belt an’ I’ll tell youse about it’.

In phrases

hit the stem (v.)

1. (US tramp) to beg on the main street; thus stem hitter n., a street beggar.

[US]L. Light Modern Hobo 44: I started to hit the stem.
[US]J. Tully Beggars of Life 88: I’ll hit the stem and beg enough to get me to Chi on a street car.
[US]T. Minehan Boy and Girl Tramps of America (1976) 126: Street begging is only part of the boy tramp’s game. You hit the stem, but you also hit the houses.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 224: stem hitter A street beggar.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 98/1: Hit the stem. To walk along the street, especially to steal or beg.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 115: I’ll hit the stem long enough to get a three- or four-buck road stake.

2. (US drugs) to smoke opium.

[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 6: Where he ‘hit the stem’ and beautiful girls cooked and lit his pill.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
on the stem

smoking crack cocaine.

[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 161: I’m a stupid [very] skinny nigga’. So I have to be careful how I dress, otherwise people will think I be on the stem [a crack addict who smokes out of a glass-stem pipe].
up against the stem

(US drugs) smoking opium.

[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 28: Benny’s father [...] had been up against the stem (pipe) for fifteen years.