Green’s Dictionary of Slang

yellow adj.

1. [early 17C+] jealous; thus yellows n., jealousy.

2. pertaining to skin tone.

(a) [late 18C+] (US) of a black person, light-skinned.

(b) [late 18C+] of a person, of mixed race, half-white, half-black.

(c) [mid-19C+] pertaining to East Asia, e.g. Japan or China.

3. [mid-19C–1930s] gold, golden.

4. [mid-19C+] cowardly; thus yellowness n., cowardice [the negative image of the colour; ? reinforced, even subconsciously, by the widespread use of some form of identification, usu. yellow, forced on European Jews by the Catholic Church; the stereotypical Jew is not a hero].

5. [late 19C–1970s] (orig. US) unsatisfactory, second-rate, of dubious quality.

6. [mid-19C–1920s ] pertaining to money.

Pertaining to race, usu. East Asian or mixed-race

In compounds

yellow agony (n.) [generic use of SE yellow for Chinese; the agony was that of Aus. workers, esp. sailors, who saw their jobs threatened by such immigrants] [late 19C–1910s] (Aus.)

1. (also agony) a generic term for Chinese immigrants to Australia.

2. a single immigrant.

yellow and black (n.)

[late 19C] (Aus.) an Aboriginal.

yellow-ass (n.) [-ass sfx]

[1930s–60s] (US) a light-coloured black woman.

yellow-black (n.)

[1940s] (US Und.) a mixed-race person.

yellow boy (n.)

[mid-19C–1900s] (US) a mixed-race person.

yellow face (n.)

[late 19C–1900s] a Chinese person, usu. derog.

yellow fellow (n.) (also yeller feller)

[mid-19C+] (US/Aus.) a mixed-race, a half-white, half-Aborigine man.

yellow fever (n.)

[1950s–60s] (orig. US gay) an obsession, either hetero- or homosexual, with having East Asian lovers.

yellow fish (n.)

[20C+] (US) an illegal Chinese immigrant.

yellow girl (n.) (also yaller gal)

[mid-19C+] a mixed-race, a half-white, half-black or Aborigine woman.

yellow goods (n.)

[1940s] (US Und.) smuggled Chinese immigrants.

yellow head (n.) [-head sfx (2)]

[1960s] (US) a Viet Cong soldier.

yellow nigger (n.) [nigger n.1 (1)]

1. [mid-19C–1940s] (US) a derog. term for a person of mixed race.

2. [1960s+] an Asian.

yellow snake (n.)

[late 18C] (W.I.) a person of mixed race.

yellow tail (n.) [tail n. (1)]

1. [1920s] (US) a Japanese person.

2. [1970s] (Aus.) a person from New South Wales.

Pertaining to the colour gold or coins

yellow bird (n.) [the eagle engraved upon these coins]

[mid-19C] (US) a dollar.

yellow boy (n.) (also yaller-boy)

1. [mid-17C–19C] a sovereign; a guinea (£1.05) or a golden guinea.

2. [1910s–30s] (US) money [note yellow back ].

yellow dust (n.)

[late 18C] gold, money.

yellow jacket (n.)

1. [mid-19C] (US) a gold piece.

2. see also SE compounds below.

yellow kelter (n.) [kelter n.]

[20C+] (Irish) a gold coin.

yellow one (n.)

1. [mid-19C] a gold coin.

2. [late 19C–1920s] a gold watch.

yellow stuff (n.)

[early 19C–1910s] gold; thus money, wealth.

Pertaining to cowardice

yellow back (n.)

1. [1920s] a coward; thus yellow-backed adj., cowardly.

2. see also SE compounds below.

yellow-bellied (adj.) (also yellow-ass, -assed, -belly, -bowelled)

[1910s+] cowardly.

yellow fever (n.)


yellow gutted (adj.) (also white gutted) [gut n. (1a)]

[1920s+] cowardly.

yellow leg (n.)

1. [1900s–10s] (US) a strikebreaker [pattern of SE blackleg].

2. see also SE compounds below.

yellow route (n.)

[1970s] (S.Afr.) the departure of white South Africans in the face of the imminent take-over by a multiracial government.

Other uses

yellow gloak (n.) [gloak n.]

[early–mid-19C] a jealous man, esp. a jealous husband.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

yellow back (n.) (also yellow paper)

1. as a banknote [the former printing of certain denominations of US dollar bills in yellow rather than the usual green].

(a) [1900s] a $10 note.

(b) [1900s–10s] a $500 dollar note.

(c) [1900s–40s] (US) a $20 note; also as adj.

(d) [1920s] a $1,000 note.

2. [1940s+] (Aus.) a gob of phlegm.

3. see also sl. compounds above.

yellowbelly (n.)

[late 19C] a (golden) sovereign.

yellow box (n.)

[2010s] (US drugs) Arm and Hammer baking soda, as used in the manufacture of crack cocaine.

yellow can (n.)

[2000s+] (Aus.) a can of Castlemaine XXX beer.

yellow dimples (n.)

[1970s] (drugs) LSD, esp. when combined with another drug.

yellow eye (n.)

[1940s] (US black) an egg.

yellow fancy (n.)

[mid–late 19C] a costermonger’s handkerchief, yellow with white spots.

yellow jack (n.) (also yellow johnnies)

[mid-19C+] yellow fever.

yellow jacket (n.)

1. [mid-19C] (Aus.) a convict [the yellow uniform].

2. [1950s+] (orig. US black, also jacket, yellow jack) usu. in pl., Nembutal, a proprietary brand of pentobarbital sodium [the packaging].

3. see also sl. compounds above.

yellow Jesus (n.) [its light-brown colour]

[1990s+] (Aus. drugs) home-manufactured heroin.

yellow leg (n.)

1. [mid-19C] (US) an East Tennessean.

2. pertaining to a uniform, i.e. the yellow stripe running down the trousers.

(a) [late 19C] (US) a US cavalryman; also attrib.

(b) [1940s+] (Can.) a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

3. see also sl. compounds above.

yellow man (n.)

1. [early–mid-19C] a costermonger’s handkerchief, coloured plain yellow.

2. [mid-19C] (Scot.) lemonade.

yellow pack (n.) [the yellow packaging of the ‘own-brand’ goods sold by the Quinnsworth chain of supermarkets]

[1990s+] (Irish) the lowpaid employment of young people and the concomitant dismissal of more expensive senior employees; often attrib.

yellow packet (adj.) [in 1980s Fine Fare supermarkets offered a range of ‘Yellow Packet’ goods, generally seen as second-rate and good only for the very poor]

[1980s+] (UK juv.) cheap, indicative of poverty.

yellow sheet (n.) [sheet n. (5)]

[1950s+] (US Und.) a criminal’s record of arrests.

In phrases

yellow brick road (n.) [ref. to the Yellow Brick Road of the book/movie The Wizard of Oz]

[2000s] (US prison) yellow lines on the ground that indicate areas beyond which prisoners are forbidden to step.