Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sharp adj.

[fig. use of SE sharp]

1. cunning, on the lookout for oneself.

[UK]T. Betterton Match in Newgate IV i: Thou’rt plaguie sharp.
[UK]T. Shadwell Squire of Alsatia III i: They are all deep, they are very deep and sharp, sharp as needles, adad.
[UK]N. Ward London Spy V 119: They are a Pack of the sharpest Knaves about London.
[UK]N. Ward Compleat and Humorous Account of Remarkable Clubs (1756) 64: By that Time he’ll have learnt to be as sharp as themselves.
[UK]Vanbrugh & Cibber Provoked Husband II i: This is a sharp Tawn, we mun look about us here, John [...] see that no Body runs away with them before they get to the Stables.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: sharp subtle, acute, quick witted.
[UK]‘T.B. Junr.’ Pettyfogger Dramatized II iii: Dam’me, they know nothing of the practice, and are above doing a sharp thing.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]M. Edgeworth Love and Law I i: But, Phil, was not there something of this man’s being dismissed the courts for too sharp practice?
[UK]W. Combe Doctor Syntax, Wife (1868) 335/2: The Doctor might have found disgrace / Among the sharp set jockey race.
[UK]Dickens Oliver Twist (1966) 382: Why, one needs be sharp in this town, my dear [...] and that’s the truth.
[UK]Punch 31 July I 26: There is a man in Quamphegan so tarnation sharp that he cuts his creditors whenever he meets them.
[UK]E. Eden Semi-Detached House (1979) 171: A sharp fellow, and he seems to know what he is about [...] for I never could catch his eye, and I never feel sure of a man who will not look me in the face.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 255/2: The butchers, if the ‘finder’ be detected, ‘won’t,’ I was told by a sharp youth [...] ‘go bothering themselves to a beak, but gives you a scruff of the neck and a kick and lets you go’.
[UK] ‘’Arry on Himself’ Punch 21 Dec. in P. Marks (2006) 6: But you’ll only queer flats in that fashion, the sharp sort is bound to be fly.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Stiffner and Jim’ in Roderick (1972) 124: He was meaner than a gold-field Chinaman, and sharper than a sewer rat.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 130: All you City lawyers an’ clurks are pretty bleed’n’ sharp, I know, but you ain’t done me, an’ I don’t bear no malice.
[Aus]‘Henry Handel Richardson’ Aus. Felix (1971) 234: Doctor knew what lawyers were – the whole breed of ’em! Sharp as needles.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 87: She told me she had to be cautious with Yanks, because they were so sharp that they would sell her swag, and then steal it from her.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 8: Many commercial gentlemen are called ‘crooks’ until it is discovered that they are merely sharp business men.
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 7: [They] felt they were about as sharp as the next pair of hustlers.
[US]M. Spillane One Lonely Night 24: Most of the sharp boys are against him.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 46: I’m dead sharp, see? But the law’s dead agin me, see?
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 44: He was sharp enough, burt scrupulously fair.
[UK] in D. Campbell That Was Business, This Is Personal 14: We stood around looking sharp and talking out of the side of our mouths.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 20 Apr. 7: What we need to do with you is get you looking sharper, meaner, up on your toes, out there the second a billy walks on to this forecourt.

2. intelligent, perceptive.

[UK]T. Lucas Lives of the Gamesters (1930) 217: Being a great gamester, and most an end on the losing side, by playing with those who were sharper than himself.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Sharp, subtle, acute, quick witted.
[Ire] ‘The Man of Fashion’ Luke Caffrey’s Gost 5: All you that are counted witty with spirits alamode, Repair to Dublin City [...] For to rabble and to rant to swagger and to cant, / To look sharp on every occasion.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[US]A. Greene Glance at N.Y. II v: However sharp a stranger to New-York may be, he’ll find plenty of folks ready and willing to teach him.
[UK]Thackeray Vanity Fair I 204: She was a sharp one, a dangerous one.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 405/2: The police is too sharp for us in London.
[US]W.H. Thomes Slaver’s Adventures 370: You have some sharpness, if you are an American.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 204: If he didn’t know us there was no fear of any one else being that sharp to do it.
[UK]M. Williams Round London 131: He’s as sharp as they make ’em.
[US]Ade More Fables in Sl. (1960) 147: It was Common Talk that the Boy was Sharp as a Tack.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 325: I know the fellow and he’s as sharp as they make ’em.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Bulldog Drummond 120: Your worry is that you’re too quick on the uptake. Your brain is too sharp.
[UK]F. Durbridge Send for Paul Temple (1992) 41: Blimey, ’e was sharp all right. This place is a proper white elephant.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Killer’s Cure’ Hollywood Detective Mar. [Internet] Brett was [...] as sharp as a tack where brains were concerned.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 24: He was sharp, young and ready in those days.
[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 51: He wasn’t a square, but he wasn’t sharp neither.
[US]L. Bruce Essential Lenny Bruce 167: I’ll get me some sharp chick.
[US]D. Goines Inner City Hoodlum 56: We got some fuckin’ sharp dudes out there.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 88: Easy, man, Luis is a sharp kid.
[UK]V. Headley Yardie 10: There was much money to be made here from someone as sharp as he was.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 160: He’s very sharp, this kid.
[UK]J. Joso Soothing Music for Stray Cats 59: Sharp, Ron, very sharp, ‘Nothing gets past you, eh?’.
[UK]K. Sampson Killing Pool 4: She’s a bright cookie [...] sharp as a tack.

3. of a woman, attractive.

[Aus]H. Lawson ‘His Unconquerable Soul’ in Roderick (1972) 814: Half-furtive glimpses of sharp youngish women [...] are caught mornings and afternoons.
[US]Kerouac On the Road (The Orig. Scroll) (2007) 109: His beautiful little sharp chick Louanne.
[US]‘Curt Cannon’ ‘Now Die In It’ in I Like ’Em Tough (1958) 52: She’s real sharp.
[UK]S. Selvon Lonely Londoners 92: And then you would see a sharp piece of skin come up the escalator.
[UK]J. Cameron It Was An Accident 191: She got a sharp body.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skinny Dip 204: She was fun and good-looking and sharp.

4. fashionable, good, admirable.

[US]F. Swados House of Fury (1959) 117: She was workin’ as a sud-buster an’ give him ten dollars toward one a them sharp green suits with broad pointy shoulders an’ a narrow waist.
[US]W. Fisher Waiters 163: Asher saw that beneath her ‘sharp’ green hat her eyes were smouldering.
[US]H. Selby Jr Last Exit to Brooklyn (1966) 3: Yasee the grill on the new Pontiac? Man, thats real sharp.
[US](con. 1960s) R. Price Wanderers 132: He turned on his record player, dressed up in his sharpest clothes, and practised dancing.
[Can]M. Atwood Cat’s Eye (1989) 209: ‘Don’t turn your collar up like that. It’s cheap.’ ‘It’s not cheap,’ says Cordelia. ‘It’s sharp.’.
[US]L. Pettiway Workin’ It 147: We had the sharpest house in the projects [...] we had the best of everything. Pole lamps and fish tanks and stuff.
[UK]Guardian Guide 8–14 Jan. 52: His glowing perma-tan and super-sharp, wide-boy whistles.

5. good (of quality).

[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 246: A hotel room is a pretty sharp indication of the manners of the guests.
[US](con. late 1940s) E. Thompson Tattoo (1977) 485: Paul had one of the first really sharp Model A hot rods in town.
[Ire]J. O’Connor Secret World of the Irish Male (1995) 213: I see a banner on the far side of the pitch. tommy coyne, sharper than jimmy hill’s chin.
[US]J. Ellroy ‘Hot-Prowl Rape-O’ in Destination: Morgue! (2004) 271: Chez Donna: a sharp chateau off L.A. Country Club.

6. used of a person who dresses well and with style, e.g. sharp dresser.

[US]R. Fisher Walls Of Jericho 305: sharp Striking ‘Keen.’ A beautifully dressed woman is ‘sharp out of this world’.
[US]C. Himes ‘Lunching at the Ritzmore’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 16: Strutting Filipinos, the sharp-cat Mexican youths in their ultra drapes.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 93: He’s a real sharp dresser [...] Did you see that brown tweed coat and that black short-brim he wore?
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 88: He was a sharp dresser and he drove a Buick convertible.
[Aus]Argus (Melbourne) 1 Dec. 3/3: Knives, knuckledusters, and ice-picks are part of a really ‘sharp’ teenager’s dress .
[US]A. Anderson ‘A Sound of Screaming’ in Lover Man 45: He’d fall into town sharper’n a tack / With a brand new suit laid on his back.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 29: The barber shop where the sharp cats got their kinks straightened with a mixture of Vaseline and potash lye.
[UK]G.F. Newman You Flash Bastard 205: Of Spanish extraction, Baez was a sharp, if tasteless dresser, whose heavily oiled hair flopped down over his narrow forehead.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 109: I stay sharp while I’m at the pad too.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 31: All Club had to do was stand there looking sharp as a jockey’s prick in his pearlgray threepiece.
[UK]Indep. Mag. 19 Feb. 6: I still look in the mirror when I’m dressed ready for the act and think: that looks very sharp.

7. (S.Afr.) good (of health).

[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 85: Two tits she’s lost already, and a kidney’s coming out next week. The liver’s not too sharp either.
[UK]Observer Mag. 30 May 23: ‘Sharp (good) man?’ asked another.

8. (US drugs) intoxicated by a given drug.

[US]Anslinger & Tompkins Traffic In Narcotics 314: sharp. To be elated by drugs.

9. (S.Afr.) promiscuous.

[SA]L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 113: They [a gang called Americans] derive their name from the fact that they go dressed in the loudest American fashions [...] and are much sought after by the ‘nice-time girls’. Their monopolisation of these ‘sharp’ girls leads to occasional fights with the ‘Berliners’.

In compounds

sharping-omee (n.) (also sharpy) [omee n.]

a policeman.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[Aus]Melbourne Punch ‘City Police Court’ 3 Oct. 234/1: Prisoner. A cakey-pannum-fencer, as ought to know better, peached on her, and she was nabbed by the sharping omee, and the queer-cuffen shut her up in the jug for a moll tooler.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]R. Hauser Homosexual Society Appendix 3, 167: Sharpy, police.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 126: the police [...] sharpy (Brit gay sl, fr Parlyaree sharping-omee = constable).

In phrases

not the sharpest tool in the shed

see under tool n.1

sharp as a harp (adj.)

(Aus.) extra-conscientious.

[Aus]Argus (Melbourne) 15 Nov. 7/1: Had an extra grouse time in town last Thursday, gorging myself to the last T [...] I’ll have to be as sharp as a harp about my diet now.
sharp as a mosquito’s peter (adj.) (also sharp as a rat turd) [pun on SE sharp + mosquito pron. ‘moskeeter’ for assonance + peter n.4 ]

(US black) very smartly and fashionably dressed.

[US](con. 1920s–30s) J.O. Killens Youngblood (1956) 130: He had on his togs and he was sharp as a rat-tud [sic]. And that’s sharp on both ends.
[US]H. Rhodes Chosen Few (1966) 185: Thought you cats might like t’be knowin’ that Corporal Raymond Fisher just left th’ post, sharp as a rat turd.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 111: Expressions reserved for being extraordinarily well dressed ([...] clean/ fonky/mod/ragged/tabbed/ sharp to the bone, sharp as a mosquiter’s peter).
sharp up (v.) (also sharpen up)

(US) to dress up smartly.

[US]D. Runyon ‘Situation Wanted’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 661: He is all sharpened up in new clothes.
[US]T.I. Rubin In the Life 138: I’d like you to see me in clothes, regular clothes [...] Boy, I’ll get them to really sharp me up real nice. [...] Put on some nice things, get sharped up.
you’re so sharp you’ll cut yourself

a mocking phr. directed at someone who seems to think themselves exceptionally clever, well-informed etc.; note ad hoc var. in cit. 1937.

[UK]J. Curtis There Ain’t No Justice 152: Regular Miss Sharp, ain’t you? It’s a wonder you don’t cut yourself.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1368/1: late C.19–20.