Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bum adj.

[bum n.3 (2)]

1. (orig. US) useless, second-rate, poor, inferior, dirty, ragged.

[US]Pacific N.W. Quarterly XXXI 292: Bum River Ferry [DA].
[US]C.F. Lummis letter 25 Nov. in Byrkit Letters from the Southwest (1989) 111: Two bum looking strangers came in.
[US]Daily Trib. (Bismarck, ND) 23 Oct. 4/1: A long [theatrical] part is a ‘soaker’ [...] a poor one is ‘bum.’.
[US]H.H. Lewis Gunner Aboard the ‘Yankee’ 28: These floating peddlers sold articles which, to use a slang phrase, were pretty ‘bum’.
[US]‘Billy Burgundy’ Toothsome Tales Told in Sl. 121: A bloke with bum duds is not especially fascinating to women.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Day Resurgent’ Strictly Business (1915) 51: Well, how is that for a bum guess?
[US]W.H. Walp diary 17 July [Internet] Bum guard. Throat ground shut. Can’t do anything with it. Cold dinner & bum supper; bum cook cause of it. Wish we could lose him.
[US]F.S. Fitzgerald ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’ in Scott Fitzgerald V (1963) 90: She has a bum time. Men don’t like her.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 86: He was sick of the bum grub and hard life on the sea.
[US]R. Chandler Farewell, My Lovely (1949) 214: It was a bum idea I had anyway [...] They’ll tear you to pieces out there.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 92: The serving of bum booze to minors.
[US]J. Hersey Algiers Motel Incident 67: They did a [sic] awful bum job on him.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 230: He apologised for the bum luck with the Brink’s truck.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 262: I looked like a bum, in bum suit, under bum hair, on bum shoes.
[UK]Guardian Sat. Rev. 12 June 8: The bum notes of dialogue, the duff characters.
[UK]Guardian Weekend 25 Mar. 28: His sister [...] screws up her face like a Brussels sprout when she fancies she hears a bum note.
[Aus] J.J. DeCeglie ‘Death Cannot Be Delegated’ in Crime Factory: Hard Labour [ebook] It was a bum play though. Put a murder rap directly on me.

2. fake, counterfeit; thus bum dough, bum paper, counterfeit notes; bum paper artist, a counterfeiter.

[US]Ade Artie 104: I’d [...] spring one o’ them bum notes.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 174: They don’t amount to a deuce in a bum deck.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 14 Feb. 5/7: Under the cloak of bum patriotism a bunch of bombastic bounders had sedt going another of these little clubs.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 396: Counterfeit money. Also called bum dough. [Ibid.] 401: Counterfeiter. One who makes bogus money [...] Bum-paper artist.
[US]G. Ahern ‘Our Boarding House’ [comic strip] Mean to say you can write your name under Mike Angelo’s? – You could on a bum check.
[US]J.M. Cain Postman Always Rings Twice (1985) 87: I told a bum story first.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Bum paper, a fraudulent check.
[US]H.A. Smith Life in a Putty Knife Factory (1948) 14: ‘You,’ she said, ‘are the bummest writer I know of.’.
[US]J. Blake letter 12 Jan. in Joint (1972) 38: Danny had been plastering all the jewellers in town with bum checks.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 91: We do the usual thing about getting rented cars and putting on bum plates.
[US]G.V. Higgins At End of Day (2001) 162: Some pissin’ contest over a bum cheque that got out of hand.

3. slightly ill, under the weather.

[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 107: You see the rest of the show. I feel kind of bum.

4. (US) of a part of the body, injured; malfunctioning.

[US]C.L. Cullen More Ex-Tank Tales 97: I can see you hunting around for raw steak for two bum lamps and a bondsman into the bargain.
[UK]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 60: You haven’t got any bum fingers, or a broken arm [...] have y’r?
[US]E. Hemingway letter 3 Mar. in Baker Sel. Letters (1981) 21: The leg is pretty bum.
[US]H.C. Witwer Fighting Blood 135: Lee’s handlers yells for him to go after my bum eye.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl. 10: bum wing–an injured arm.
[US]D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive 107: They claimed bum tickers — From drinking bad likkers.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 77: Jimmy had a bum knee.
[US]M. Richler Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1964) 80: He’d say he had a bum ticker and had been given only six months to live.
[US]T. Thackrey Thief 50: Christ, I got a bum back to this day!
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 142: Not with this bum wing.
[US]C. Hiaasen Stormy Weather 323: With his bum knee, Snapper was easy to catch.
[US]J. Stahl Plainclothes Naked (2002) 18: Get one of these bum tickers to smoke out in the sack, it’s payday.
‘Gut Feeling’ at 8 May [Internet] Night time security is a fat clown with a drink problem and an aged ex-cop with a bum knee.

5. (US, also bummin’) depressed.

[US]J. London ‘Local Color’ Complete Short Stories (1993) I 695: ‘And how’s Slim?’ ‘Bum. Bulls is horstile.’.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 190: They [i.e. the police] knew that I was bum, that I was a hop head, that I had lost my guts.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Mar. 1: bummin’ – depressed.

6. unfair; as adv., unfairly.

[US]A.H. Lewis ‘Crime That Failed’ in Sandburrs 81: It was d’ bummest finish, all d’ same.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 70: I suttenly know I’m bein’ used bum in this act!
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 8 Mar. [synd. col.] It is a bum world at times after all.

7. of food, stale, bad, ‘off’.

[US]W.R. Burnett Iron Man 293: Why did he feel slightly sick at his stomach? Maybe he had eaten some bum food.
[US]Hartford Repub. (KY) 24 Dec. 4/3: Our luck has been the bumest of all the bum luck.
[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Men from the Boys (1967) 15: I’ve had some bum food and my stomach won’t let me sleep.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.

8. (US) aggressive, threatening.

[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 92: The vibe went bad. The spooks vibed lynch mob. Pete caught bum looks.

In derivatives

bumsky (adj.) [-ski sfx]

(US) second-rate, inferior.

[US]DN 4 354: bumsky ‘What a bumsky shot.’ Exclamation of woman who missed her approach in a golf match.
[US]Eve. Missourian (Columbia, MO) 19 Sept. 4/1: University Folk knoiw Old Frisco Brakeman as ‘Mr Bumsky’.

In compounds

bum bend (n.)

an adverse reaction to a hallucinogenic drug.

[US]R.R. Lingeman Drugs from A to Z (1970) 52: bum bend [...] A psychotic or panic reaction to lsd-25 or stp.
bum check artist (n.) (also bum checker, check artist) [SAmE check + -artist sfx]

(US Und.) one who passes bad cheques.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 48: check artist A forger of checks.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 107: The lowly ‘short-story writer’ as the bum-check artist is called in the underworld.
[US] in T.I. Rubin Sweet Daddy 32: Plenty bum checkers, muggers, hustlers in here.
bum clink (n.) [Midlands dial.]

bad or second-rate beer.

[UK]Sl. Dict. 102: Bumclink in the Midland counties the inferior beer brewed for hay-makers and harvest labourers. Derivation obvious.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
bum deal (n.)

(orig. US) a poor bargain, a mistaken agreement.

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ You Can Search Me 49: That’s where Charlie gave us the bum deal.
[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 57: He’ll kill a copper. They all does, them kind o’ boys what’s made sore by what they thinks is a bum deal.
[US]E. Gilbert Vice Trap 16: You get sold a bum deal, you know?
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Oct.
[UK]Guardian 16 July 11: If someone does a bum deal, he’s moved aside.
Fort Lauderdale (FL) Sentinel 26 Oct. [Internet] If workers have received a bum deal from the administration’s so-called stimulus, the federal budget has fared worse.

see separate entries.


see separate entries.


see separate entries.


see separate entries.

bum steer (n.) (also bad steer)(US)

a piece of bad advice or misinformation.

[US]D. Runyon ‘Fat Fallon’ From First to Last (1954) 35: I christen thee the Bum Steer.
[US]K. McGaffey Sorrows of a Show Girl Ch. xix: I says to him, ‘What license you got to give a lady a bum steer like that?’.
[US]E. O’Neill The Web in Ten ‘Lost’ Plays (1995) 64: Yuh tell ’em yuh don’t know anything about me, see? Give ’em a bum steer.
[US]R. Lardner ‘Harmony’ Coll. Short Stories (1941) 197: Now I’ve never given you a bad steer in my life.
[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 21: Watching the sap who is to shoulder the check as he eases himself in for a bum steer.
[US]J. Weidman I Can Get It For You Wholesale 330: So what are you afraid of? Would I give you a bum steer, Meyer?
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 79: Hey, fellers, you don’t think Nick would give us a bum steer?
[US]A. Hynd We Are the Public Enemies 59: His wife, Blanche [...] was waiting for him at the gate. ‘I gave you a bad steer, Daddy,’ she said.
[US]Mad mag. Jan. 8: Don’t worry! I’ve had a bum steer before.
[US]P. Highsmith Two Faces of January (1988) 65: Was Rydal giving him a bum steer?
[US]J. Sayles Union Dues (1978) 378: I personally got my own difficulties, couple wrong guesses, couple bum steers.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 42: I’m a big tipper. I even tip people who give me lousy service and bum steers.
[Aus]C. Bowles G’DAY 89: Jeez, ya know me Shane. Would I give ya a bum steer?
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 127: He ended up putting someone on a bad steer.
[UK]Guardian G2 25 Nov. 4: It was incorrectly reported [...] the paper admitted. Oh dear, bit of a bum steer.
bum trip (n.)

1. any bad situation, experience.

[US]‘Paul Merchant’ ‘Sex Gang’ in Pulling a Train’ (2012) [ebook] It had turned into a bum trip all round.
[US]H.S. Thompson Hell’s Angels (1967) 139: They had been shunted off to a parched meadow nine or ten thousand feet up in the Sierras, but it was obviously a bum trip.
[UK]Gandalf’s Garden 6 n.d. 10: bum-trip: [...] Now applied to bad experiences or poor quality music, events, people, etc.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 70: That chemotherapy shit is a bum trip.

2. an unpleasant experience while under the influence of drugs; as a v., to be subjected to an unpleasant and frightening time; thus bum-tripper n., one who is suffering such an experience.

[US]L. Wolf Voices from the Love Generation 69: They’ve got a philosophy that [...] obliges them to love somebody who’s bum-tripping them, or selling them bad acid.
[US]N. von Hoffman We are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against 16: Bum Trippers and Emergencies Only. [Ibid.] 87: Aren’t you going to help my friend [...] she’s bum-tripping bad.
[US]L. Yablonsky Hippie Trip 268: A large mental hospital population of psychotic ‘bum-trippers’.
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972).
[US]S. King Stand (1990) 55: He could remember a girl who had bum-tripped and gone screaming down the bone-white beach as naked as a jay.

3. (US campus) an uninteresting or lazy person.

[US]Current Sl. V:3.

In phrases

bum (out) (v.)

see separate entry.

bum for (adj.)

(US) bad for, e.g. one’s health.

[US]Dos Passos Manhattan Transfer 110: Ought to go out and eat, bum for the digestion to eat irregularly like I do.
on the bum (adj.) (also on a bum)

1. broken, out of order, deteriorating; lit. and fig. use.

[UK]J.H. Carter Log of Commodore Rollingpin 101: I’ve been on a terrible bum for the last year, and have been going down hill until I’m nothing but a wreck. Will you please advise me what course to pursue, that I may get up in the world again.
[US] ‘O’Reilly’ [US army poem] He drank with all the rookies, and shoved his face as well, / The whole outfit is on the bum, / O’Reilly’s gone to Hell.
[US]Anaconda Standard (MT) 15 Dec. 10/1: Dey tink anything’s good enough for er moocher but [...] some er der stuff dat I got dis trip — Say, it was on de bum, sure.
[US]W. Irwin Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum XI n.p.: Love has put your optics on the bum.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 17 July 3/3: There were eight bouts [...] and out of the lot only one bout [...] was worth looking at. All the others were decidely on the bum.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘Babes in the Jungle’ Strictly Business (1915) 40: I’m afraid your art education is on the bum.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 23 Mar. 15/2: She jabbed [the umbrella] into one of John’s lamps and put that on the bum.
[US] ‘Going Home Song’ in J.J. Niles Singing Soldiers (1927) 3: My whole inner workings have gone on the bum.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win 257: I gathered from it that his cash register ‘bane on the bum.’ Something got wrong with its locking arrangement the night before.
[US]B.M. Harvey Me and Bad Eye and Slim 228: Phoned my mother [...] but the line was on the bum and couldent [sic] hardly hear her.
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 92: When it [i.e. a machine] had gone on the bum, he’d taken it all apart and then fixed it.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Cop This Lot 35: Noothin’ can be seen with it. The thing’s on the boom.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 184: My air conditioner went on the bum and now I am roasting.

2. rubbish, second-rate, inferior, in a bad condition.

[US]Ade Artie (1963) 21: I sized it up that the house was on the bum and she did n’t want me to see it.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 220: Good guys is up agin’ it cause things is on the bum.
[US]A. Berkman Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1926) 260: My shoes are on th’ bum. I am walking on my socks.
[US]H.C. Witwer Fighting Blood 84: The whole joint is on the bum, for a fact!
[US] ‘Police Prerogatives’ in Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 249: You’re one of them American Bullsheviski, / Runnin’ around puttin’ the country on th’ bum.

3. (US campus) drunk.

[US] ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 25: Bum, n. [...] In phrase ‘on the bum.’ 2. Usually drunk.

4. feeling slightly unwell.

[US]Van Loan ‘By a Hair’ Old Man Curry 82: That being the case [...] and Elisha on the bum, I guess I’ll take a night off.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 142: She doesn’t want anything to drink; her stomach’s already on the bum.
put (someone/something) on the bum (v.) (US)

1. to cause trouble for someone or something.

[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 59: You’re supposed to take my picture flirting with this Parisian beauty and show it to the heiress which puts me on the bum and I lose out. [...] I’m supposed to be vexed because you put my wedding on the bum.
[US]Gleason & Taber Is Zat So? II i: Uncle Hap said all skirts were goofs, and for me not to bother with them ever, or they’d put me on the bum.
[US](con. 1890s) A.F. Harlow Old Bowery Days 493: Do you want to put me on the bum, like Tim Campbell and Sulzer? Nit!
[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 27: Those guys [i.e. lawyers] do some real harm. They put banks and whole communities on the bum.
[US](con. 1930s) R. Wright Lawd Today 158: ‘Ain’t it funny how dopey you feel after you done downed a big meal?’ ‘It puts you on the bum.’.

2. to hurt someone, to beat someone up.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 67: Dave Barry put Nicholls on the bum in two rounds.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 32: They put the guy on the bum while her nibs makes a gitaway.