1. unfair, ‘mean’, difficult.
|Music and Musket (1981) 104: Looking at his mutilated wrists [...] said ‘G--d----d tough, ain’t it?’.|
|Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 43: Seems tough for me to bust up now.|
|Enemy to Society 149: It’s pretty tough when a lot of wise ones have to take their orders from a simp like him.|
|You Can’t Win (2000) 34: Lay away from it [i.e. gambling], kid. It’s a tough racket.|
|(con. 1919) USA (1966) 711: Pretty tough but if he ain’t got a service record how can we make out his discharge.Nineteen Nineteen in|
|(con. 1944) Naked and Dead 551: ‘Everybody knows you, Willie.’ ‘Yeah, ain’t it tough?’.|
|London Fields 5: It’s tough at the top, and it’s tough at the bottom, too.|
|It Was An Accident 85: I had to walk home. Got to be tough.|
2. (orig. US) resolute, vigorously uncompromising, severe.
|Memoirs of the US Secret Service 349: Old Johnny Hart was ‘pumped’ and preached to vigorously, all night long, by the Colonel; but he would not squeal on the engravers. He was a tough old coon, this Johnny Hart!|
|On Many Seas 398: He was a tough cuss, and we both had quite a lively time pounding and kicking him to get the bag away.|
|Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 61: Pugnose was a gun fighter and a tough proposition in a rough-and-tumble.|
|Abe And Mawruss 38: What could you expect from a couple of tough propositions like that?|
|You Can’t Win (2000) 138: We’ve got two tough raps [...] In the first place a hypo ain’t supposed to be found within a block of police headquarters [...] In the second place, a hypo ain’t allowed to leave Chinatown.|
|(con. 1920s) Studs Lonigan (1936) 247: Zip Malloy stood with arms folded, his tough mug intent.Young Manhood in|
|Battlers 24: There are only two kinds of sergeants in the mid-west: the ‘soft’ variety, who will listen to a man’s tale of woe and let him stay in a town more than a fortnight, and the ‘tough’ variety, whose chief joy is to ‘hunt’ bagmen, swagmen, sundowners, hoboes, or whatever their local appellation may be.|
|World of Paul Slickey Act I: You boys are so tough in this racket!|
|Much Obliged, Jeeves 154: In L.P. Runkle she had picked a tough customer to try to freeze.|
|Under Cover 229: That Spagnoli, he’s a tough fucker. He’ll make ’em talk.|
|Indep. on Sun. 10 Oct. 11: Politicians who glibly advocate these ‘tough’ policies as the panacea for allaying public fears about crime in the community.|
|Dreamcatcher 15: ‘I’m a tough sell,’ she says [...] ‘but I guess you’re on.’.|
3. (orig. US) aggressive, menacing.
|Hans Breitmann in Church 129: De row vas rough und tough.‘The First Edition of Breitmann’ in|
|Calif. n.p.: I don’t know much about flying through the air, but I reckon I can show you as strange and tough a sight if you want to see, if you like to risk it, for the ladies.|
|N.Y. Herald 1 Apr. 9/6: A young man with a very ‘tough’ air threw himself in the chair.|
|Artie (1963) 19: Some o’ them was dead tough and the others was hams.|
|Powers That Prey 11: If my town’s tough it’s you hoosiers that come down here an’ turn yourselves loose an’ make it so.|
|Bowery Life [ebook] He handed me er tuff look—it couldn't hev been worse if I wuz wun uv dem strong-arm guys wot wuz after his super.|
|Psmith in the City (1993) 56: Kenningford, S.E., is undoubtedly by way of being a tough sort of place.|
|Fighting Blood 32: The tough-looking baby suddenly grabs me by the shoulder and gives me a push.|
|(con. 1920s) Studs Lonigan (1936) 262: His kid brother was just like he’d been, and plenty tough.Young Manhood in|
|‘Don’t Give Your Right Name’ in Goulart (1967) 5: Lots of guys get tough if they catch us.|
|Shiralee 128: What are you getting tough about?|
|Big Rumble 41: We might find him in some tough pool room.|
|Much Obliged, Jeeves 65: Ginger no doubt had a special posse of tough supporters, talking and spitting out of the side of their mouths.|
|A-Team Storybook 20: You sayin’ we’re not tough enough?|
4. unfortunate, pertaining to hard luck; usu. as that’s tough [backform. f. tough luck ].
|implied in tough break|
|(con. 1920s) Studs Lonigan (1936) 28: ‘That’s tough,’ Studs said.Young Manhood in|
|Corner Boy 93: ‘That slug clipped off half a lung’ [...] ‘Tough,’ Scar said.|
|Gentleman Junkie 24: ‘I need a fix, now! I’ve got pain, Nancy.’ [...] ‘Tough, pops.’.‘Gentleman Junkie’ in|
|Much Obliged, Jeeves 81: Tough on you, but we all have our cross to bear.|
|Some Lives! 132: ‘Don’t like them silly puffers,’ she says [...] ‘Well tough because you’ve got to use them.’.|
5. bad, depressed.
|Songs of a Sourdough 29: Sink to sleep at midnight, and although you’re feeling tough, – Yet grin.‘Grin’ in|
|Runyon on Broadway (1954) 67: These old-time memories seem to make Miss Abigail Ardsley feel very tough [...] she starts to weep.‘The Old Doll’s House’ in|
6. (US black/campus) admirable, excellent; also as adv. [on bad = good model].
|‘Little Queen of Spades’ [lyrics] But she got a way of trimmin’ down, hoo fair brown, and I mean it’s most too tough.|
|Corner Boy 143: ‘Sophisticated Lady’ turned out to be real tough [...] ‘Dig this crazy jam.’.|
|Real Bohemia xx: If the quality is high (pure, almost unadulterated), the drug is ‘boss,’ ‘tough,’ ‘dynamite.’.|
|Wisconsin State Jrnl 17 Jan. 1-2: [T]he male students describe a pretty girl as ‘tough’ or a ‘tough head’.|
|Snakes (1971) 56: I know they got some tough sides [i.e. records] round here.|
|Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992) 33: I saw a Japanese chick singing, sounded like Sarah Vaughan. This girl couldn’t speak English too tough, but when she sang she had Sarah Vaughan down.‘Atomic Dog’ in|
|Campus Sl. Spring.|
|Campus Sl. Dec.|
7. of clothes or their wearer, fashionable [on bad = good model].
|‘Mexicana Rose’ in Life (1976) 37: My man Smitty was also pressed / And looked real tough. I must confess.et al.|
|City of Night 129: I bought me these here boots [...] Tough, huh?|
|Third Ear n.p.: tough, tough enough, ‘tuft’ adj. […] 2. stylish.|
|Campus Sl. Apr. 6: tough – unusual, interesting, admirable. ‘Man, that is a tough sweater.’.|
8. attractive, of objects or people [on bad = good model].
|Burn, Killer, Burn! 102: Ain’t she tough? A real looker, right?|
|Campus Sl. Fall 5: tough – good-looking, appealing, sexy; either male or female.|
|Sl. U. 195: tough nice-looking (usually, of clothing or accessories).|
|Makes Me Wanna Holler (1995) 124: I sat there, tripping and gawking at the tough furniture.|
1. a thug, a violent, lawless person.
|Taking the Count 217: Some tough baby, me!‘Scrap Iron’ in|
|Harlem in Coll. Writings (2003) 322: A couple of tough babies begins scrappin’ an’ de neighbors called de police.|
|Und. Detective Mar. [Internet] They ain’t cookies — they are tough babies.‘The Ruse in Cocaine Alley’ in|
|Tucker’s People (1944) 342: Tucker was one tough damn baby.|
|Fireworks (1988) 59: She was one of those tough babies. All the toughies had a soft streak.‘The Cellini Chalice’ in|
|Much Obliged, Jeeves 114: A tough baby?|
2. as above, used affectionately.
|Observer Mag. 4 Jan. 17: His mother [...] gave him the nickname Spike because, she later told him, he was ‘a tough baby.’.|
3. (US gang) a young woman who associates with gang members.
|Haunch Paunch and Jowl 57: Nice girls dreaded the gang [...] But the gang had its female followers, who were admiringly called ‘tough babies.’.|
|Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).|
4. a challenging proposition, a problem.
|Texas by the Tail (1994) 10: He’d run a boiler room all day, bossing a bunch of phone men and closing the tough babies himself.|
see stiff bikkies under stiff adj.
a thug, a violent, lawless person.
|Classics in Sl. 73: This 28-Round Murphy’s real name is Launcelot Fishbaum, and he is no cake eater, but one tough boy.|
|High Window 119: ‘In my business,’ he said, ‘tough boys come a dime a dozen. And would-be tough boys come a nickel a gross.’.|
|Hollywood Detective Jan. [Internet] Send some tough boys into the hills and make the grab.‘Focus on Death’|
|Playback 179: I was a real tough boy tonight.|
an instance of bad luck.
|Fighting Blood 273: You think you just got a tough break [...] But you’re mistaken. We got the tough break right here for you. Listen —.|
|Soldiers of Darkness 250: Tears were in his eyes, and we heard him repeating: ‘It’s a tough break, old boy — it’s a tough break.’.|
|Voices from the Love Generation 119: If you’re screwed, you’re screwed ... tough break.|
|Ending 88: ‘Tough break.’ I placed a basket of candy at every place setting [...] ‘Tough break,’ he said again.|
|Clay Yeager’s Redemption 130: ‘Tough break,’ the deputy said sympathetically. ... ‘Real tough break,’ he said.|
|Blood Reins 209: A flat tire is a tough break. Not getting a promotion is a tough break.|
(US black) a man who is a successful womanizer.
|Third Ear n.p.: tough cat n. a man who has his own individual style of clothes, a way with women, and a very ‘long rap.’.|
bad luck .
|Letters of Irish Parish Priest 62: If the bishop don’t like the way I come and go that’s tough cheese on the bishop.|
|Fixx 286: Tough Cheddar, we said — you used him, he’s yours.|
(US) a survivor, an emotionally, or physically, strong person.
|Nightmare Alley (1947) 283: McGraw’s a hard cookie.|
|Mister Roberts Ii i: The Admiral’s a pretty tough cookie when he’s mad.|
|Dud Avocado (1960) 70: She was [...] almost a man’s man, really, with all her hearty camaraderie. A tough cookie.|
|Bunch of Ratbags 212: He was a small bloke, but a very tough cookie for his size.|
|Family Arsenal 29: Look at that – Weech is a tough cookie.|
|More Tales of the City (1984) 28: She was a tough old cookie.|
|(con. early 1950s) L.A. Confidential 156: Don’t be such a tough cookie, huh? I’m on your side.|
|Indep. on Sun. Rev. 7 May 70: Johnny is a much tougher cookie than I am.|
|Raiders 149: The Turk was one tough cookie who would rather die than reveal his secret.|
|Artefacts of the Dead [ebook] It’ll be OK [...] Clare’s a tough cookie.|
see tough nut n. (1)
physically close dancing, emphasizing (and offering an opportunity for) sexual intimacy.
|Cheap Amusements 114: Tough dancing not only permitted phyical contact, it celebrated it. Indeed the essence of tough dancing was its suggestion of sexual intercourse.|
1. a thug, a violent person.
|Gunner Depew 260: The prisoners there got to be pretty tough eggs [...] They thought nothing of picking a fight with a sentry.|
|Me – Gangster 5: I guess he was a tough old egg. He used to come home drunk and once kicked me in the stomach.|
|Free To Love 25: The only way to treat a gang of hard eggs like that is to throw the fear of God into them.|
|Spicy Detective Stories Nov. [Internet] You came to this paper with the reputation of being a hardboiled reporter — a tough egg. I hired you on that assumption.‘Live Bait’ in|
|Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 206: He was thin, but a tough egg all the same.|
|Sexus (1969) 22: He was capable of shoving a guy against a wall and pummeling his brains out. He was the sort of tough egg who can sing falsetto.|
|Mating Season 94: The tough eggs at the back of the back row will rush the stage and lynch me.|
|Crazy Kill 31: No matter how tough an egg he was, if they kept him in there long enough he would hatch out a pigeon.|
|Bunch of Ratbags 155: I began to know these two tough eggs. They liked me because I was so thin and frail standing beside them with their enormous bodies.|
|Guardian G2 27 June 12: Nick Ross, who is cast rather against type as a tough egg.|
2. an uncompromising individual.
|Man’s Grim Justice 59: The Warden [...] was the toughest egg that I ever met.|
|Reporter 88: One, brave, breaks the silence. It’s hard egg Sorrocco of the Chronicle.|
(US black) a well-cut suit or other garment.
|Black Jargon in White America 84: tough fit n. attractive clothes; nice-looking apparel .|
see separate entries.
bad luck; esp. as excl. tough luck!
|Atlanta Constitution 19 Nov. 2: The new slang term from the South, ‘bull-dozing,’ which means intimidation, is having tough luck in the newspapers, the proof-readers and type-settters not having mastered it yet.|
|Lantern (N.O.) 27 Oct. 6: Oh, Lord, what tough luck!|
|Bill Truetell 272: You’ve been against a lot of tough luck.|
|Songs of a Sentimental Bloke 15: Tough luck! I s’pose it’s ’ow a man is built.‘A Spring Song’ in|
|Carry on, Jeeves 150: Tough luck. No wonder you’ve lost your morale.|
|Born to Be (1975) 147: I am born to have tough luck with the ladies.|
|Iron Man 62: Tough luck, old kid [...] You’ll make it yet.|
|Sudden Takes the Trail 26: Tough luck, Jake.|
|Boy’s Book of Cricket 28: ‘Tough luck,’ sympathised Tony.|
|Long Good-Bye 221: It’s your tough luck you were here, Marlowe. What was the cheque for?|
|Much Obliged, Jeeves 20: A less tactful man [...] might have gone on to add ‘Oh, tough luck!’.|
|Patrolman 23: Normally that’s just tough luck and you wait for the next class.|
|Vic Reeves Big Night Out n.p.: Tough luck! Try your stick.|
|Guardian 25 Jan. 18: If that means letting in Rhodri or Ken, tough luck.|
see tough guy n. (1)
see separate entries.
see tough-nut adj.
see tough shit adj.
see separate entries.
(US) a problematic, demanding situation; hard times.
|New York Day by Day 12 Jan. [synd. col.] The slump in the moving picture industry is going to make it hard sledding for many authors this winter.|
|(con. 1920s) Studs Lonigan (1936) 716: It’s going to be tough sledding.Judgement Day in|
|(con. 1920s) USA (1966) 801: It was heavy sledding because Merrit was [...] trying to size up Charley.Big Money in|
|Monkey On My Back (1954) 183: Charlie had taken the cure. It was tough sledding, though, when he got out.|
|Permanent Midnight 69: The pay’s swell, but it’s tough sledding for the hard-core delusional intent on maintaining the facade of free will.|
|I, Fatty 220: I’m generally inclined to compassion [...] but in Virginia’s case I found it tough sledding.|
1. bad luck.
|Mad mag. Jan.–Feb. 16: Tough stuff, cat, you were almost with it!|
2. (US black) anything appealing or pleasing in the realms of sex or drugs.
|Jailhouse Jargon and Street Sl. [unpub. ms.].|
(S.Afr.) hard luck.
|cited in Dict. S. Afr. Eng. (1991).|
|JJ’s Secret 106: If you get claustrophobic or simply fed up, it will be ‘tough tackie’, to use one of JJ’s expressions.|
|posting at www.moneyweb.co.za 15 Sept. [Internet] Thirdly, your employees were probably in SA illegally anyway, so tough takkie for you if you employed them!|
see tough titty under titty n.
|Beat Generation 57: This block you have about sex is tough toenails [...] It’s too bad, man.|
(US) bad luck.
|TAD Lex. (1993) 84: Do you remember how they panned Billy Nolan, manager of Bat Nelson, when Billy made Joe Gans weigh in at 133 at Goldfield, Nevada, wearing shoes, gloves, and trunks? Tough turkey, wasn’t it.in Zwilling|
|in El Paso Herald 4 Dec. 11/3: Of course, it is tough turkey on a fellow like Petey, who does not have much amusement except pushing over tall ones.|
1. a very great lie.
|Bulletin (Sydney) 4 July 9/1: Wouldn’t the Hadmiral do you for to-night, or, if not, the Bishop? They say (this with a wink) he can pitch a tough ’un.|
2. an aggressive person.
|Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Oct. 24/1: The success of Otto Cribb has caused brother Arthur to take to the bruising game; he’ll shape up against ‘Rollo’ at the Golden Gate [...] next week. Rollo’s [...] a tough ’un who’ll want licking.|
|Sportsman (Melbourne) 30 Nov. 5/4: He was the victim simply of misfortune, and it was a bit tough on him to punish him.|
|My Brilliant Career 214: ‘It was a bit tough being cleared out from all the old ways, but if I have you to stand by me it will be a great start’.|
|Wkly Times (Melbourne) 20 Aug. 5/2: ‘She would think you’d only been fooling, and so would everyone else, and that’s a bit tough for a girl’.Two Chain Road in|
|Punch (Melbourne) 27 Jan. 6/3: ‘Come, come, Colonel,’ said one of the group, doubtfully, ‘isn’t that a bit tough?’.|
|Land (Sydney) 26 May. 12/3: He hadn’t had a holiday, or been further from his home than Tullibigeal for 24 years. ‘That sounds a bit tough’.|
|Queensland Times (Brisbane) 15 Nov. 3/3: ‘How long this traffic flow will be diverted is not known [...] ’ Mr. Hill commented. Cr. J. Barbour: It’s a bit tough, isn’t it?|
used of one who is considered ‘hard’ or ‘tough’.
|letter in Letters: a New Sel. (1949) 127: The ‘cold fowl’ was a lukewarm one, and as tough as leather .|
|Eclectic Mag. XVI 427: Lisa labored ten hours a-day, with a voice as tough as shoe-leather, and hoarse and uncertain; but on she went.|
|Literary World XXVII 477: The only person depicted, old or young, whose heart is not as dry as desert sand, and whose moral sense as tough as shoe leather.|
|DN III:v 422: tough as a biled owl, adj. phr. Used of a person of strong constitution.‘Cape Cod Dialect – Addenda’ in|
|Folk-Say 310: Tough as boiled owl.‘Chuck Away’ in Botkin|
|AS XIV:4 261: Another’s strength elicits such admiring phrases as ‘tough as sole leather.’.‘Folk “Sayings” From Indiana’ in|
|He’s in the Engineers Now 82: Here was no doubt about it, these engineers were as tough as shoe leather, and healthy as young wildcats itching for a battle.|
|Gun in My Hand 48: He was tough as old boots.|
|Holy Smoke 9: Only a little bloke, picked before he was ripe, but game as Ned Kelly and tough as fencing wire.|
|inJane Hicks Gentry 26: Some folks say that Madison County folks are hard as nails, rough as pig iron, balky as mules, and tough as shoe leather.|
|Honor Bound 515: Day described him as ‘a tall man with a large, rawboned frame and a ruggedly handsome face’ and with a resistance posture as ‘tough as shoe leather’.|
(orig. US) hostile towards, making life hard for someone.
|Diary of a Forty-Niner (1906) 170: The crowd agreed it was pretty tough on Jim and proceeded to help him forget it by ordering drinks all round.|
|Stock Grower and Farmer 8 Mar. 4/2: The recent blizzard [...] was pretty tough on range cattle [OED].|
|Get Next 46: Which was tough on Peaches, but good for the bungalow.|
|Nightmare Town (2001) 201: It’s tough on Stan, but women and children first.‘Death on Pine Street’ in|
|(con. 1920s) Studs Lonigan (1936) 520: Life was tough on mothers.Judgement Day in|
|Runyon à la Carte 61: The D.A. is tough on parties who assist guys he is looking for.|
|From Here to Eternity (1998) 194: Its goin to sure be tough on poor old Preem.|
|Down These Mean Streets (1970) 123: It must be tough on you Negroes.|
|Traveller’s Tool 128: You might think I’m being a bit tough on Gwen but there’s nothing on this page I wouldn’t say to her, face to face.|
|Indep. on Sun. 27 Feb. 10: Heads told to be tough on gangs.|
see under apple n.1
(US) bad luck (not that I care).
|NewsObserver.com 20 Jul. [Internet] They didn’t think they should have to be bothered with any second-guessing from Congress or the American people. If they had to engage in some hoodwinkery so they could forge ahead with their grand designs, well, tough beans.|
(US) a phr. of dismissal, uninterest, ‘that’s your bad luck’.
|Current Sl. II:4 10: Tough darts, interj. Too bad.|
|Running Dog (1992) 218: ‘Take off your top.’ ‘Tough darts, bubie.’.|
(US) (that’s) bad luck!
|Breaks 220: ‘She’s got the hots for you.’ ‘Tough noogies.’.|
|Wash. Post 28 Nov. [Internet] Having hand-counted almost 500,000 ballots, the county was facing a 5 p.m. deadline with 800 to 1,000 ballots still outstanding. It faxed the ever-accommodating Katherine Harris and asked for a bit more time. Tough noogies, she replied.|
see separate entry.
see tough shit! excl.