Green’s Dictionary of Slang

blues n.1

also blue, blue mouldies
[orig. general, white use, despite assumption that the term was created/patented by US blacks. The OED’s first citation is from a letter by the actor David Garrick (11 July 1741): ‘I am far from being quite well, tho not troubled wth ye Blews as I have been’]

1. misery, depression, unhappiness.

[UK]Garrick Letters 11 July (1963) I. 26: I am far from being quite well, tho not troubled wth ye Blews as I have been .
[UK]‘T.B. Junr.’ Pettyfogger Dramatized II vi: Now I must get drunk to-night or the damn’d horrors will get me; I shall be eat up by the blues.
[US]Irving & Paulding Salmagundi (1860) 126: Everybody knows how provoking it is to be cut short in a fit of the blues, by an impertinent question about ‘what is the matter?’.
[US]A.N. Royall Letters from Alabama 18 Feb. 179: If this does not cure you of the blues, nothing that I can give you will.
[US]R.M. Bird City Looking Glass V ii: Troubled with the blues, doctor, very blue – ha, ha, ha! [...] I am resolved to be drunk.
[UK] ‘Hints for an Historical Play’ in Bentley’s Misc. June 598: This gives him the ‘Blues,’ which impairs the delight / He’d have otherwise felt when they dub him a Knight.
[UK]R. Barham ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in Ingoldsby Legends (1842) 54: This step of the Jew’s [...] Gave the newly-made Bridegroom a fit of ‘the Blues’.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ G’hals of N.Y. 198: Now that I have reasoned you out of the blues, let’s wet with a little red-eye!
Christy and Fox’s Complete Melodist and Joke-Book in Tosches (2001) n.p.: ‘Julius, what’s the matter with you this evening — you seem so down-hearted.’ ‘Sam, I got a touch ob de blues.’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 101/1: Tu ’ell wi’ thes game; et give mi t’ blues t’ b’ sittin’ ’ere loike a bloody dummy.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 406: A single day in the quiet town of Jeffersonville was sufficient to give one the blues.
[Ire]C.J. Kickham Knocknagow 187: He has cured me of a severe fit of the blues.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 11 Apr. 4/2: [F]eeling that, after an acute attack of the ‘blues,’ we had a desire to be in love and charity with all men – hard though it be; for included in that all are some of the greatest scoundrels yet unhung […].
[UK] ‘’Arry on ’appiness’ in Punch 3 Jan. 4/1: You’ll be thinking I’ve got the blue-mouldies, old man, and you won’t be fur hout.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Meeting Old Mates’ in Roderick (1972) 166: Pretty soon you get the blues badly, and feel nearly smothered in there.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 8 Dec. 148: When I got back to school, I found Cobb in a fit of blues.
[US]Eve. Star (Wash., DC) 25 Dec. 15/3: I hate the sea [...] it always gets on my nerves and gives me the blues.
[US]Abbeville Press & Banner 28 Apr. 5/5: The ‘blues’ is a subject which deserves the biggest attention [...] We coime in contact with many ‘blues’, [...] the Monday morning ‘blues’ [...] the ‘crazy blues’ very common among boys [...] His girl gives him the ‘high foot’ [...] His heart is sad. He has those ‘crazy blues’.
[US](con. 1917) J. Stevens Mattock 224: I figured he must be down in the dumps with the blues.
[US](con. 1917–19) Dos Passos Nineteen Nineteen in USA (1966) 576: I’ve got the blues / I’ve got the blues / I’ve got the alcoholic blues.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 4: They taught me the blues in Pontiac – I mean the blues, blues that I felt from my head to my shoes, really the blues.
[US]N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 80: Early in the morning before day / That’s when my blues come falling down.
[UK]G. Lambert Inside Daisy Clover (1966) 21: I’ve got an attack of the blues.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 39: I slipped on a mournful mask, faking the emotions of a dude with hurtful blues.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘From Prussia With Love’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] She’s just got like baby blues that’s all.
[UK]Guardian G2 19 July 23: The gripping, terrible pathos of his sidekick’s post-divorce blues.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 16 Feb. 7: Millions swear by St John’s Wort, the natural way to lift the blues.

2. a problem.

[US]E. Grogan Ringolevio 221: The agents simply suggested that the brevity of his return home was his own blues.

In phrases

come the blues (v.)

to act sanctimoniously.

[UK]Morn. Post 18 Dec. 3/3: To the chaplain if he’ll listen and come the holy blues.
cry the blues (v.) (also shout the blues)

1. (US) to complain, to whinge, to bemoan one’s lot.

[US]J.H. O’Hara Pal Joey 23: Just think a year ago you were the one crying the blues.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 216: Miniff came crying the blues louder than ever.
[US]Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 25 Feb. 20/1: Harlem mammas shouting the blues.
Courier-Post (Camden, NJ) 2 Nov. 8/6: Reading all those yes votes crying the blues must bring tears to the eyes.
[US]Petaluma Argus-Courier (CA) 2 Dec. 8/1: Folks who were crying the blues because it didn’t rain, will soon by crying the blues if it doesn’t stop.
[US]Courier Times (Levittown, PA) 4 Feb. 6/5: Everything is crying the blues business-wise.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 64: He comes back to Bel-Air and cries the blues to the pro. Tells him he’s got to see his dying aunt, or go to the hospital for some tests.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 179: He keeps crying the blues about his damn Easter outfit.
[US]UGK ‘Trill Niggaz Don’t Die’ [lyrics] Some niggaz getting bruised, some always crying the blues.

2. to mourn, to regret.

[US]Mad mag. Jan.–Feb. 48: So how come you don’t cry the blues for him?

3. to make a request, to demand.

[US]Simon & Burns ‘Boys of Summer’ Wire ser. 4 ep. 1 [TV script] They want one debate for crime and safety [...] Tony Gray cryin’ the same blues.
in the blue [note WWI milit. in the blue, referring to troops who were in difficulties, e.g. from a failed attack] (Aus.)

1. in debt, in difficulties.

[Aus]Mail (Adelaide) 21 Feb. 2/5: The scheme has been kicked clean off its actuarial and insurance basis and is now in the blue.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang.

2. out of control.

[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 234/2: in the blue – out of control.
sing the blues (v.)

to complain, to whinge.

[US]A.C. Huber Diary of a Doughboy 19 Sept. [Internet] And I’m not singing the ‘Blues’ either, for it’s a actual fact for I feel like my stomach is touching my backbone.
Lincoln Jrnl Star (NE) 5 July 23/1: When you unload your troubles on a friend [...] you are ‘singing the blues’.
[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 3: You came in here carryin’ the banner and singin’ the blues.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Young Manhood in Studs Lonigan (1936) 361: ‘You singin’ the blues again?’ asked Slug.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 16 Dec. [synd. col.] All look healthy, even though they still sing the blues about ‘No dough.’.
[US]H. Hunt East of Farewell 112: Pipe down [...] You’re always singin’ the blues.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 164: ‘The hell with it, Josh,’ I sighed, singing the blues for real.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We have No 186: I don’t mean to sing the blues.
[US]E. Weiner Big Boat to Bye-Bye 1: Normally when I sing the blues I keep it in the shower and spare the staff. But this wasn’t normal.
sob the blues (v.)

to be very unhappy.

Courier-Jrnl (Louisville, KY) 10 Sept. 12/5: They’re all ‘sobbing the blues’ — squawking their heads off.
[US]Akron Beacon Jrnl (OH) 4 Oct. 19/5: Businessmen are sitting around sucking their thumbs and sobbing the blues.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 538: With [...] my old man sobbing the blues every night about how broke he is.
[US]Altoona Trib. (PA) 12 July 9/3: Man, we’re really sobbing the blues over this.
[US]Arizona Republican (Phoeniz, AZ) 15 Jan. 47/7: [small ad.] Seller sobbing the blues & will sacrifice this 4 Br plus huge farmhouse.
[US]Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) 16 Apr. 66/2: Pressure from a parent or boss may have you sobbing the blues.
Star Gaz. (Elmira, NY) 19 Apr. 11/4: After months of sobbing the blues over New York [the] executive’s office is singing a happier tune.