Green’s Dictionary of Slang

ivory n.

[lit. or fig. uses of SE ivory used in manufacturing all these items]

1. usu. in pl., dice; thus ivory roller n., a dice-player.

[UK]‘Whipping-Tom’ Democritus III 10: Some go to a Gaming-House, to throw away Money upon the Chance of a Card, or Fate of a Die; and be bubled out of an Estate by a little spotted Ivory.
[UK]W. Read Rouge et Noir 68: He shakes / The rattling ivory!
[UK]Era 28 Mar. 11/1: There are the dice you missed [...] on the next occasion [...] try if you can twig the ivories.
[UK]Illus. London News 31 Aug. 183/2: ‘l shay, young’un, here’s a shance; fork up a bob, and I’ll put you on a lay you never know nothink of, to vin no end of monish vith the ivories, or the blacks and reds’.
[UK]G.A. Sala Quite Alone I 119: I will keep my head cool, and won’t touch ivory to-night.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 24 Jan. 11/1: If any prince over there wants something handy with a broom and with a 500 h.p voice we think we can fix things. He is at liberty to ‘palm’ the ivories all he knows, and even should he desire to ring in the ‘tail grey,’ we shouldn’t grumble.
[US]Anaconda Standard (MT) 8 Oct. 3/2: We pass hours in saloons, rolling the ivories or shaking the dice.
[UK]C. Whibley ‘Deacon Brodie’ A Book of Scoundrels 239: He was [...] shaking the ivories.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 274: Chappies were playin’ lawn tennis, and luggin’ golf bags around, and keepin’ the ivories rollin’.
[US]A. Baer Two and Three 11 Jan. [synd. col.] The ivory influenza spread over Europe [...] A doughboy won the Rock of Gibraltar in two throws.
[US]H. Wiley Wildcat 83: The Wildcat rolled a careless brace of ivory and lost on a sneakin’ seven.
[UK]Bath Chron. 17 Feb. 15/4: For the first hour we shall play with your dice. We shall then substitute this pair of ‘loaded’ ivories.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl.
[Aus]R. Rivett Behind Bamboo 379/1: Ivories, dice.
[US]H. Ellison ‘High Dice’ in Gentleman Junkie 87: Down on my hunches [...] tossing those ivories.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[US] ‘Animated Dominoes, Dice’ at Old and Sold 🌐 No matter how tough the police make it, a compulsive ivory roller can find ways and means to pull the law’s leg.

2. usu. in pl., a tooth; also attrib.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn) n.p.: Ivories. Teeth. How the swell flashed his ivories; how the gentleman shewed his teeth.
[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) II 81: The ivory fences of her pretty mouth committed alternate trespass on her soft and suffering lips.
[UK] ‘Battle’ in Fancy I XVII 405: Hudson planted a tremendous hit upon his opponent’s ivories.
[US]N.Y. Gazette and General Advertiser 2 Dec. 2/1–2: ‘You lie,’ said the opponent, bestowing at the same time a dab upon the ivory of his antagonist, ‘and if you get up in a week, write me down an ass.’.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 44: A very slight tinge of claret appeared on Gaynor’s ivories.
[US]Flash (N.Y.) 10 July 2/2: Both men made good play, Lilly making several feints; succeeding in first reaching his man, which he did by planting a stinger on his ivories.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 6 Sept. 4/3: Sambo [...] unmasked his ivories, and came cheerfully to his work.
[US]Durivage & Burnham Stray Subjects (1848) 106: Perhaps his sable friend’s eye didn’t glisten, and may be his ‘ivory’ didn’t shine.
[UK]Sam Sly 12 May 2/1: That carrotty-polled slut [...] to take out those four false teeth, as she is so fond of chatting about the whiteness of her ivories.
[US]N.Y. Clipper n.p.: [H]e gave him one for his gob on the ivories .
[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend II 320: Jacky showed his ivories.
[Aus]Golden Age (Queanbeyan, NSW) 4 Sept. 3/2: Tom’s fistic slang is like so much Hebrew to us, we being in a most pastoral state of ignorance as to the meanings of [...] ‘rattling the ivories,’ ‘closing the skylights,’ ‘rolling in lemons,’ ‘drawing the vermillion,’ ‘tapping the claret,’ ‘flinging up the sponge,’ and the various other terms with which he garnishes his narrative.
[US]H.L. Williams Gay Life in N.Y. 88: A noted pugilist who ‘queered the ogles,’ ‘tapped the claret;’ ‘smashed the ivories;’ and ‘pounded the breadbasket;’ of many an adversary.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 237: It landed slap and sharp on Elias’ tater-trap, and made his ivories rattle a good ’un.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 11 Apr. 17/3: Pettengell at one time had Matthews at a great disadvantage, for he fought him right up against the wall, and when there gave him [a blow] on the nob that sent it against the whitewash, and must have made his ivories rattle.
[UK]Sporting Times 27 Mar. 2/5: The identical toothbrush the Rov cleans his ivories with.
[UK]B. Mitford Weird of Deadly Hollow – Tale of the Cape Colony 171: ‘Baba!’ replied the woman, showing a splendid set of ‘ivories’.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 38: Ivories, the teeth.
[Scot]A. McCormick Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway 238: Her mouth opened, revealing a perfect set of white ivories.
[US]Van Loan ‘Egyptian Corn’ in Old Man Curry 238: Shanghai showed a double row of glistening ivories.
[US]W.R. Burnett Iron Man 24: ‘When we was weighing in,’ said Coke, ‘he says to me, “How de do, Mr. Mason. How you feeling?” [...] And then he shows them ivories of his.’.
[UK]Thieves Slang ms list from District Police Training Centre, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwicks 5: Ivories: Teeth.
[US]D. Burley N.Y. Amsterdam News 27 July 17: [They] vcan’t get [...] the show of ivory from around their chops when a grey pops on the scene.
[Aus]I.L. Idriess One Wet Season 166: ‘No one would take your teeth. Sure you haven’t swallowed them?’ ‘Swallered ’em! Do you think a man could swallow two sets of ivories?’.
[US]E. Brown Trespass 186: The upright piano, whose keyboard was like some monster’s mouth bared in a toothy grin. That’s right, old ivories he was thinking.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 99: The guy in the next crib, a loud teeth gnasher, woke me up [...] Between the curses and the clashes of his ivories, my room was no place for a sky pilot.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 192: Oh, that’s where the madness of nags is to be found, in those jaw-smashing ivories!

3. a piano; in pl., piano keys; also attrib.

Orchestra 20 Oct. n.p.: Mr. Buckstone might let us off with what Bell’s Life would designate a rattling of the ivories [F&H].
[US]W. De Vere ‘Jim Marshall’s New Pianner’ Tramp Poems 9: He hit them ivories.
[UK]Sporting Times 28 Feb. 7/4: After the banging of the mittens, the merry joanna will resound [and] several skilled folks will smite the ivories.
[US]W.J. Kountz Billy Baxter’s Letters 73: The Professor wore no coat, but he certainly knew his way around the ivories.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 251: The piano-player strikes the ivories.
Guilelmensian (Williams Coll.) 289: One of the Fellows asked him if he Played the Piano. [...] He was quite a Pounder and had Clawed the Ivory on the Church Organ at home.
[US]AS Dec. 146: ‘Ivories’ may mean [...] piano keys.
[US]Cab Calloway ‘Black Rhythm’ 🎵 They hear him syncopate his mournful song. / A’ humming like the breeze, / A’ strumming lightly on those ivories.
[US]A.E. Duckett ‘Truckin ’round Brooklyn’ in N.Y. Age 22 Feb. 7/1: Henry Johnson will swing out on the ivory.
[UK]Tamworth Herald 3 Oct. 7/6: The evening was taken up with community singing, and how those ‘ivories rattled’.
[US]A. Lomax Mister Jelly Roll (1952) 239: He recreated the piano styles of ivory wizards a generation dead.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 143: That was how we got Joe Sullivan on the ivories.
[UK]P. Terson Night to Make the Angels Weep (1967) I ix: They’re tinkling the ivories now. Professional pianist in there you know.
[SA](con. 1950s) G. Moloi My Life 99: John Dlamini, who was our pianist [...] was very good at the ivories.
[NZ]A. Duff One Night Out Stealing 66: He had the cheek [...] to plonk himself down at the magnificent piece of musical furniture and run his tattooed hands over the ivories.
[UK]Guardian Guide 2–8 Oct. 34: The chaps tinkling the ivories in 2 Pianos 4 Hands.
T.P. McCauley ‘Lady Madeline’s Dive’ in ThugLit Sept./Oct. [ebook] Otis was back at his piano, pawing out an old Jolson number on the ivories.

4. (US) poker chips.

[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.

5. billiard balls.

[UK] in Sporting Life 28 Nov. n.p.: On new premises [...] where erstwhile the click of ivories was heard.
[Scot]Dundee Courier 25 Jan. n.p.: Gray, getting the ivories in his favourite position, rattled up 232.
[Scot]Dundee Courier 6 Dec. 6/7: Newman’s Wizardry with Ivories [...] In the match at Piccadilly Saloon yesterday afternoon.
[US]F. Walter Pollock ‘The Current Expansion of Sl.’ in AS II:3 146: ‘Ivories’ may mean teeth, or piano keys, or billiard balls, or dice, and, in the singular, skull.
[UK]Hully Dly Mail 15 Nov. 11/5: [advt] The game progresses and the ‘ivories’ click merrily over the green cloth.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

6. (US) the skull, the head.

[US]A.N. Depew Gunner Depew 281: [F]inally the thought seeped through the ivory and he began to laugh .

Pertaining to a piano

In compounds

ivory-hammerer (n.) (also ivory-spanker)

a pianist.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 605: [...] from ca. 1860.
ivory-pounder (n.)

(US) a piano player.

Arizona Weekly Jrnl-Miner (Prescott, AZ) 13 July 3/3: Chas. Willoughby, the celebrated epicure and ivory-pounder is a Guaymas.
[US]Eve. World (N.Y.) 22 Oct. 5/2: Endurance Piano-Playing. Novel match now in progress between two ‘ivory-pounders’.
[US]Salt Lake Herald (UT) 30 May 3/6: Kittie Hick’s gang of painted larks and ivory pounders.
[US]L.A. Herald 24 Dec. 4/4: Bruno [...] started to rattle off a popular air with all the gusto of a professional ivory pounder.
[US]Sun (N.Y.) 21 Oct. 2/6: Dear Gertie and Mama hear from their soldier boy, the ex-ivory pounder.
[US]Mt Sterling Advocate (KY) 24 Oct. 6/6: We would prefer to see the ivory pounder win the race.
[Scot]W.A. White Autobiog. 154: What we ivory-pounders and catgut squeezers used to scorn as classical music [HDAS].
[US]Life 27 Oct. 26: He was a real down ivory-pounder and blues-shouter named Roy Bird.
ivory-thumper (n.)

(US) a piano player.

[US]S.F. Call 15 Apr. 5/2: Expostulations from the thumpers of the ivories were received with ribald jeers.
[US]L.A. Herald 3 Dec. 4/2: Pianos will be autographed by all the great singers and ivory thumpers.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 4 Nov. 27/2: The song writers [...] and ivory thumpers of the street yclept ‘Tin Pan Alley’ are going into training.
Goodwin’s Weekly (UT) 8 Feb. 10/2: Good ivory thumpers are at a premium in all sheet music shops.
F. Shay More Pious Friends 111: The Chief bartender is concert-meister and when the Board of Examination and Eligibility is completely and properly oiled he will give the word to the First Ivory Thumper [HDAS].
[US]J.M. Cain Mildred Pierce (1985) 440: She takes lessons from some cheap little ivory thumper over in Glendale, and she has a squawk.
ivory-tickler (n.) [tickle the ivories under tickle v.; note also the later tickler n. (17)]

(US) a piano player.

[US]Wash. Times 12 Mar. 8/2: ‘What is the best time to practice on the piano?’ ivory tickler.
[US]L.A. Herald 16 Dec. 7/6: Jack went in search of another ivory tickler.
[US]H.S. Truman letter in Ferrell Dear Bess (1983) 23: A pretty good piano player, Ivory tickler, as Shorty Short says.
[US]Wash. Times 23 Oct. 28/5: Speaking of good muscians [...] Clarkson is some ivory tickler.
[US]A.E. Duckett ‘Truckin ’round Brooklyn’ in N.Y. Age 18 Jan. 7/1: [T]he ivory tickler if you must know.
[UK]Gloucester Citizen 9 May 8/2: The Ivory Tickler — A Western [US] Drama [...] Mary paused [...] listening to the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ played by a master-hand.
R. Palmer Deep Blues 1154: Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, Lee Green, and Sunnyland Slim, all accomplished ivory-ticklers.
[UK]Guardian G2 15 Sept. 17: The pompadour-sporting ivory tickler.

General uses

In compounds

ivory-box (n.) (also ivory case)

the mouth.

[UK]D. Carey Life in Paris 200: I’ll let him see how an Englishman can rattle his ivory-box.
[UK]Annals of Sporting 1 Mar. 200/1: [He] went in search of his ivory-box, which he found, and beat the devil’s tattoo on it.
True Flash (NY) 4 Dec. n.p.: Adams [...] touched his man on the ivory box.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 27 Sept. 3/1: York again planting the bunch of fives on his ivory-box.
[UK](con. 1852) Fights for the Championship 250: Brome [...] caught Orme sharply on the ivory-box with his left.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 11 Feb. 4/2: The combatants ‘planted stingers on the ivory case’.
[UK]Cheshire Obs. 18 Aug. 8/3: Harry [...] was systematically stopped by Grasshopper, who gib him a rib-snorter right on his ivory box.
[UK]Sportsman 28 Nov. 5/6: Harris countered heavily on Josephs’ ivory-box. compliment which he at once returned.
[US]Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA) 9 July 3/6: Prize Ring Slang [...] ‘kisser,’ ‘grubber,’ ‘trap,’ ‘whistler,’ ‘ivory-box,’ the mouth.
[Aus] (ref. to 1810s–50s) Bulletin (Sydney) 23 July 21/4: The mouth was variously known as ‘potato trap,’ ‘kisser,’ ‘kissing organ,’ ‘ivory box,’ ‘oration trap,’ ‘whistler,’ ‘sucker’ – all are expressive terms.
ivory-carpenter (n.) (also ivory merchant, ivory-snatcher)

(US) a dentist.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 25 Mar. 2/1: M R. KEIL Y of New York took laughing gas [...] and has been frowning ever since. The ivory merchant pulled a big tooth and dropped it down the patient’s throat.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues IV 18/2: Ivory-carpenter [...] a dentist.
G.B. Shaw You Never Can Tell Act I 🌐 That wretched bankrupt ivory snatcher makes a compliment of allowing us to stand him a lunch.
ivory dome (n.) [dome n. (1)]

(US) a fool; a fool’s empty head.

[US]El Paso Herald (TX) 6 May 7/4: If that ain’t too much of a figure of speech to trickle through your ivory dome.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 18 Nov. 3/1: Let’s have a song of the ivory dome / And the head where there’s nobody home.
[US]V DN 62: Ivory-dome, a dull, stupid fellow.
[US]St Louis Star (MO) 22 Feb. 8/4: ‘We’re not through with you — you little cheese-head [...] Just think it over [...] and get the blubber out of that ivory dome of yours’.
ivory-domed (adj.)

(US) stupid.

[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 81: You can clean up any of the punks around here, even ivory-domed Andy Le Gare.
ivory ornament (n.)

a tooth.

[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 19 Sept. 269/2: Ned [...] placed a most rattling chatterer on the ‘tobacco shop,’ which put into motion no small number of the ivory ornaments.
ivory snatcher (n.) (also ivory hunter, ivory lifter)

(US) a talent scout.

[US]D. Runyon ‘The Mornin’s Mornin’ 25 Jan. [synd. col.] An order [‘for a good southpaw’] is said to have been placed with the fresh-laid ivory snatcher by William Donovan, the manager of the Yanks.
[US]D. Runyon ‘The Mornin’s Mornin’ 25 Jan. [synd. col.] It would not be the first time that back yard scouting had been practiced by a major league ivory lifter.
[US]D. Halberstam Powers That Be 522: He was a great ivory hunter in a city where up to then only Scotty Reston and to a lesser degree Bob Donovan had been great talent scouts, and he was very quietly picking up some of the best young reporters around.
ivory-turner (n.)

a skilful dice-player.

[UK]C.M. Westmacott Eng. Spy I 240: ‘A nibble,’ said Transit, ‘from an ivory turner’ [note] A tats man, a proficient with the bones.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 605/2: ca. 1820–40.

In phrases

clean one’s ivories (v.)

to have a drink.

[UK]Annals of Sporting 1 May 362/1: Go clean your ivories and wash your throttles, for I’m sure you must need it.
flash one’s ivory (v.) (also flash one’s ivories)

to smile, to grin.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Don’t flash your ivory but shut your potatoe trap and keep your guts warm, the devil loves hot tripes.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn) n.p.: Ivories. Teeth. How the swell flashed his ivories; how the gentleman shewed his teeth.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 22: Bets ran a hundred to ten / The Adonis would ne’er flash his ivory again.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford I 34: ‘I wants to make him [...] an ixciption to my family!’ ‘Who all flashed their ivories at Surgeons’ Hall!’ added the metaphorical Dummie.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 107: Flash his ivory, showing off his teeth.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 314/2: to flash one’s ivory, [...] son ivoire, montrer ses dents.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 29: Flash your Ivory, laugh.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Dec. 12/4: She rolls her brown eyes, flashes her ivories, and heaves her undraped upper chest till her pearl necklets tinkle again.
[UK](con. 1835–40) P. Herring Bold Bendigo 184: The nigger had ceased to flash his ivories as he did at the beginning of the fight.
roll in someone’s ivory/ivories (v.) [sing. use until mid-19C]

to kiss.

[UK]R. Tomlinson Sl. Pastoral 9: To roll in her ivory, to pleasure her eye / To be tipt by her tongue, on her stomach to lie.
spank the ivories (v.)

(US Black) to play the piano.

[US]Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 18 Sept. 19/1: Eddie Dudley who used to spank the ivories in hot spots around Chi.
sport one’s ivory (v.)

to grin.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: To Sport or Flash ones Ivory, to show ones Teeth.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[US]R. Waln Hermit in America on Visit to Phila. 2nd ser. 27: ‘Dick’s off too!’ — ‘Half seas over, I fancy’ — ‘Looks as if he had been fed with a fire shovel; always sporting his ivory’.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
wash one’s ivories (v.) (also sluice the ivories, wash the ivory)

to drink.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 60: Washing the ivory with a prime screw under the spikes in Saint George’s Fields.
[UK]W.T. Moncrieff Tom and Jerry II vi: mr. j.: Vy, then vash your ivories. green: I’ve got no hiveries to vash. mr. j.: Drink vill you? don’t you understand Hinglish?
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: To sluice the ivories; to drink.
[Scot]Caledonian Mercury 13 June 3/4: Now-and-then stopping to grub the prads or sluice the ivories with some Adam’s ale.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 159: Ivories teeth [...] ‘wash your ivories,’ i.e., ‘drink.’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict.