Green’s Dictionary of Slang

work v.

1. to have sexual intercourse.

[UK]Shakespeare Othello II i: You rise to play and go to bed to work.
[UK] ‘The Tinker’ in Farmer Merry Songs and Ballads (1897) I 145: He cast his Budget from his back, / And frankly fell to work.
[Ire] ‘Darby o’Gallagher’ Luke Caffrey’s Gost 2: He works the fair maids like a dose of jallip.
[UK] ‘The Reels o’ Bogie’ Burns Merry Muses of Caledonia (1965) 154: When on my back I work like steel, / And bar the door with my left heel.
[UK]‘Chapter of Maids’ in Rake’s Budget in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) III 78: Your cross old maid may roll her eyes and rail at matrimony, / But she’ll in secret keep a man, who’ll work well for her money.
[UK] ‘My Frisky Old Wife’ Icky-Wickey Songster 47: She works me twelve times every night.
Man of Pleasure’s Illus. Pocket-book n.p.: A tidy lot of men-tailors work here on a new principle, as the men work all the eyelet-holes, and do all the punching and pressing.
[US]Kerouac On The Road (1972) 124: Finally he came out with it: he wanted me to work Marylou.
[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 170: I’d like to get workin’ with her like real fast.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 89: anal intercourse [...] work somebody.
[US]P. Munro Sl. U. 207: work [...] to have vigorous sex with.

2. to do, to perform, to carry through a plan of action; usu. in combs. such as work the bulls , work the oracle etc.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 55: When you have stood this rig, he begins to work you upon another.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 68: One of her mots brought home a swell well blunted, and they worked the hocus dodge on him; vell, the dose vos too multa, and the swell croaked.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 137: The stud of donkeys then exposed for hire by the ten or eleven proprietors who ‘worked’ Hampstead formed a most various and eccentric collection.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 214/2: ‘Working,’ that is to say, in getting rid of what are technically termed ‘cocks.’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 68/2: When he saw me [...] enter the apartment set apart for those who had paid, he imagined I only meant ‘working the push’ around the bell.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 14 Sept. n.p.: One or two of a ‘mob’ ‘working’ New York and Philadelphia have just been ‘copped to rights’.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 254: Well, you worked that little fakement in a blooming quiet way, I’m blowed if you havn’t.
[UK]J. Greenwood Tag, Rag & Co. 26: To work the ‘sours’ successfully, and so as to earn a living at it, a man must have experience.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 79: Jim and me could see how Starlight had been working the thing to rights.
[UK]C. Rook Hooligan Nights 34: I said I’d tell you ’ow we worked the biz.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 4 Aug. 4/8: I’ve rorted in railway camps / [...] / I’ve worked sweet racing ramps.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Man Higher Up’ in Gentle Grafter (1915) 154: He couldn’t have worked a scheme to beat a little girl out of a penny slate-pencil.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 13 Mar. 2nd sect. 9/1: They Say [...] That an aristocratically-named bounder attempted to work the press ticket racket last week.
[UK]Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves 220: We worked the Rosie M. Banks wheeze.
[US](con. 1900s) C.W. Willemse Behind The Green Lights 91: May worked a fast one on me.
[UK]R. Westerby Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 180: After a time Bill began working the horses.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Social Error’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 460: The chances are Red Henry works a quick change on you.
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 156: Trammel told me before he died of how he lied about me — about everything. Even how he worked his resurrection.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 53: They’re working the lost gold-mine pitch.
[UK]P. Willmott Adolescent Boys of East London (1969) 147: I work a fiddle if ever I get the chance.
[US]J. Wambaugh Secrets of Harry Bright (1986) 7: The only mansion in town had been built by a pimp who ran thirteen girls into Palm Springs during the height of the season to work the hotels.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 51: ‘We are indeed’ – Loew working his courtroom voice.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 106: Probably worked that together. Probably out there now, snorting all your drugs.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 208: They work it so James thought he’d brought off a coup de grâce.

3. to exploit .

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 56: You give him a shilling to buy a comb, for which he gives sixpence, so works you for another sye-buck.
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 51: As you would work a moneyed client, if you got him into Chancery, Mister Attorney.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Young Tom Hall (1926) 200: ‘Now I’ll pin you,’ mused Hall, looking at his wife ith a sparkle in his eye that as good as said, ‘See how I’ll work him’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 198/2: After I’d worked London pretty well, I sometimes would start off a few miles out to the towns and villages.
[US]G.P. Burnham Memoirs of the US Secret Service 73: The new Detectives can’t be ‘worked’ like the old ones – that’s a fact.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 13 Nov. 7/1: What are known as ‘square games’ are few and far between. The ‘skin racket’ is predominant and the ‘guys are worked for all they are worth’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 3 Jan. 14/2: The Yankees are, no doubt, smart in their way, but, judging from the manner they are worked by the ‘sports,’ they must be, in sporting matters, the greatest ‘softies’ under the sun.
[UK]A. Morrison Child of the Jago (1982) 150: [He] straightway left the crowd. He had ‘worked’ it as much as he judged safe.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 264: Every panhandler north of Madison Square knows he can work me for a beer check any time he can run me down.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘Babes in the Jungle’ in Strictly Business (1915) 37: New Yorkers can be worked easier that a blue rose on a tidy.
[US]N. Anderson Hobo 41: It includes working at odd jobs, peddling small articles, street faking, ‘putting over’ old and new forms of grafts, ‘working’ the folks at home, ‘white collar’ begging, stealing, and ‘jack rolling.’.
[UK]Portsmouth Eve. News 25 Aug. 4/3: St Albans and district appear to be the chief area to be ‘worked’ [by shoplifters].
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Down and Out in Complete Works I (1986) 172: He and his mate ‘worked’ the coffee-shops and public-houses round Whitechapel.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 299: The gamblers working the suckers right up to the opening gong.
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 25: The docks where the livin’ was easy if you just worked one or two little angles.
[US]N. Heard Howard Street 66: They’d been working Howard Street much too regularly.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 4: Cape had worked the crowd like a snake-oil salesman.
[UK]Observer 11 July 17: Watching Paul work the beach was both awful and brilliant.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 237: Maybe Arnos workin me so as he really can be free, so as he can die holdin his own dick.
[US] M. McBride Frank Sinatra in a Blender [ebook] She worked that stud like a pro, pushing her plastic tits [...] in his face.

4. to practise one’s occupation as a criminal, e.g. a thief, confidence trickster or beggar; thus working n.

[UK]H. Simms Life of Henry Simms/Alias Young Gentleman Harry 23: I determined to Work at my old Trade, and in Broad St. Giles’s [...] I stopt a Coach, which contain’d a single Gentleman, from whom I took about 17s.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 140: We dors’d some time together upon the queer-roost, but now we come to the rum-snooze at once — how do you work now?
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 279: work: To work upon any particular game, is to practise generally, that species of fraud or depredation, as, He works upon the crack, he follows housebreaking, &c. An offender having been detected in the very fact, particularly in cases of coining, colouring base-metal, &c., is emphatically said to have been grab’d at work, meaning to imply, that the proof against him being so plain, he has no ground of defence to set up.
[UK]Duncombe Dens of London 46: ‘Harry,’ said the tar, ‘have you not been at work to-day, that you look so devilish blue?’ [...] ‘Work! Aye,’ replied Harry. ‘I went out this morning with Williams. We worked all the way to Piccadilly.’.
[UK]H. Brandon Poverty, Mendicity and Crime; Report 107: He worked in company with two men.
[UK]Sinks of London Laid Open 42: Working, by the bye, is the honest word used by these honest people for begging.
[UK]W. Phillips Wild Tribes of London 83: I’ve worked the streets, man an’ boy, for nigh thirty year. The poor wictims don’t know wot’s a coming, so I shall work this dodge off and on and off through the spring.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 5/2: It being market day, we concluded to give hull a ‘dressing’ but we had not ‘worked’ it long before the ‘fly-cops’ were out in quest of us.
Leinster Indep. 30 Sept. 4/3: ‘I was one night working with a mag’s-man,’ said the light-fingered gentleman.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. 10/2: We went to the gaff that night and tried to work, but spied a keen-eyed cop marking, and we guyed.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 414: A reg’lar ’igh-flyin’ shickster come up and told me ’s how she’d spotted me workin’ in the Strand.
[US]J. Flynt World of Graft 18: They have ‘worked’ so long in Chicago that the city has become notorious as one of their main ‘hang-outs.’.
[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine 1917 169: He couldn’t work the soft spots in the open where the loot was good.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 26: We dove into the subway ‘to work.’.
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 220: ‘How’s about us tying up together?’ ‘Whatchew mean? Tallying along? Going case and working the knock-off two-handed?’ ‘Garn. [...] I’m arsting you to marry me and you do no more you turn round and start talking about the crook.’.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 75: Ferguson was working the boats on the big lakes in the U.S.
[US]T. Runyon In For Life 38: We three split up after each robbery, never associating except when we were ‘working.’.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 25: ‘I was with the girl and the man came in an shook me down. Held a knife on me.’ ‘That’s badger [...] Any fool with a broad can work that.’.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 112: Working the fags (robbing the clients through violence or blackmail).
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Apr. 45: The Limp was lucky he wasn’t gathered because those Goulburn jacks are bad bits of furniture and we didn’t have a fix to work the place.
[UK] in R. Graef Living Dangerously 177: No one can go to college at my age, if they’ve been ‘working’ (stealing).
[US]T. Dorsey Florida Roadkill 70: Serge worked behind them, silently stealing two briefcases and a laptop.
[UK]N. Barlay Crumple Zone 74: See if some nonce’d been up here workin’.
[UK]N. ‘Razor’ Smith Raiders 1: Tony loved to rob and [...] he told me many stories about the things that happened while he was ‘working.’.
[UK]Eve. Standard 28 June 5/2: The man sat in a MacDonalds to watcn the teenagers as they ‘worked’.

5. to trade in.

[UK]Morn. Chron. (London) 27 Nov. 5/5: The costermongers [...] do not like dealing either in greens or turnips. They would sooner ‘work’ green peas and new potatoes.

6. (US) to charm or enthral, esp. an audience.

[US]Daily Trib. (Bismarck, ND) 3 Nov. 1/5: You say I can go and I’ll work him for the money.
[US]Ade More Fables in Sl. (1960) 144: Although he was being Worked like Creamy Butter, he never Suspected.
O.R. Cohen ‘All That Glitters’ in Polished Ebony 36: ‘Vishtar Goins wukked me for that di’min’ an’ then double-crossed me!’.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 73: She’s hot stuff and the two of us are working on her at once.
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972) 199: work (someone) v. Manipulate, take advantage of.
[US]Source Nov. 161: I spot Bizzy Bone shaking hands and working the set . . . like a casting call.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 525: You bit fast. I thought I’d have to work you.

7. to get or to get rid of, esp. by artifice.

[US]‘Mark Twain’ Tom Sawyer, Detective 4: You lemme alone; I reckon I know how to work her.
[UK]J. Franklyn This Gutter Life 285: Bobby did a rare big business changing stolen notes. He’d give spot cash and work ’em off slow on the course.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 45: You haven’t got the good sense to provide your own supper, let alone working me one [Ibid.] 107: I’ll even try to get him to give me more money so that I can work some to you.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 197: He’s an IRA man [...] and he worked me some snout.

8. of an object, to be in active use, e.g. here’s a dollar that’s not working.

[US]Ade Fables in Sl. (1902) 44: He went out to the Alley and found a Tomato Can that was not working, and he waited.
[US]T.A. Dorgan Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit 2 Dec. [synd. cartoon strip] Have you got an old bone around [...] that isn’t working. I’m starved.

9. (US und.) to blackmail.

[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 5 June 1/6: Ravensward was rich; he could be worked. It was plain [...] that any public connection with this murder would mean [...] public ruin.

10. to work as a street prostitute.

[US] ‘Hotel Sl.’ in AS XIV:3 Oct. 240/2: to work the joint To try to make a pick-up (said of a prostitute).
[UK]S. Jackson An Indiscreet Guide to Soho 65: The professional tarts [...] ‘work’ the many drinking clubs of the district.
[US]A. Maupin Tales of the City (1984) 140: Won’t it get a little chilly, working the corner of Powell and Geary?
[UK]P. Bailey An Eng. Madam 72: They was working the streets in those days.
[Ire]P. McCabe Breakfast on Pluto 76: Swinging her hips while working Piccadilly, to the tune of ‘Sugar Me!’.
[US]E. Bunker Mr Blue 80: A friend of mine’s got a girl who wants to work.

11. (orig. US black) to exchange sexual favours for money; thus to work as a call-girl, ‘escort’ or prostitute; thus working n.

implied in work a door
[US]C. Fleming High Concept 91: She’d ask if they were interested in working.

12. (US) to place under pressure; to interrogate; to cause strong feelings.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Mar. 9: work – intentionally aggravate [...] ‘She works her grandparents by talking about her live-in boyfriends.’.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Mar. 10: work – annoy, exhaust, or cause stress.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 28: Cops and Feds worked him all night. He named no names. [Ibid.] 80: They worked him. Two pros: Buddy Fritsch and Captain Bob Gilstrap.

13. to deal with in some way.

[US]P. Crump Burn, Killer, Burn! 132: Let me work this stoolin’ hop head.
[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 5: ‘Man, you got that stuff?’ ‘Yeah. Jesus, I’m burning up like with a puta’s fever.’ ‘So work, man. Here, take the tapita.’.
[US]G.V. Higgins Rat on Fire (1982) 76: He’s got the ins down there, though, which is why he’s working them.

14. (US campus) to beat up.

[US] P. Munro Sl. U.

15. to stimulate sexually.

[UK]I. Welsh Filth 227: Have you ever eaten the worm-ridden faeces of a non-uniformed police officer while he’s working you with a vibrator?

16. to work as a street seller.

[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 285: Walking away from middle school to work his uncle’s package on Lemmon Street.

In compounds

workbench (n.) [sense 1]

a bedstead.

[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]‘J.M. Hall’ Anecdota Americana I 19: There was a fire in a whore house and one of the firemen managed to bring out a bed. ‘Thank God, they saved the workbench,’ said the madam.
[US]‘Lou Rand’ Gay Detective (2003) 103: Kate ushered Tiger into a fairly large room, whose only discernible furniture was a great, low bed. [...] the ‘Madame’ said, ‘It’s a gorgeous workbench, isn’t it? Like something out of DeMille!’.
[US]Baker et al. CUSS 224: Work bench A bed.
workman (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

work a clout (v.)

to steal a handkerchief.

[UK] ‘The Dog and Duck Rig’ in Holloway & Black I (1975) 80: For fear that some gallows old scout / If you at the spell ken can hustle, / [...] Shou’d fix you in working a clout.
work a crowd (v.) (also work a room)

1. of a pickpocket, to make one’s way through a crowd, robbing opportunistically.

[US]T. Byrnes Professional Criminals of America [Internet ] When a mob of pickpockets start out to ‘work a crowd’ on a train they break into twos.

2. to ply one’s trade to an audience, begging, preaching, entertaining etc.

[US]W.R. Burnett Iron Man 34: Speed, Jeff, and Mcbeil worked the crowd without appearing to do so.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 39: Jack arrived on time and worked the crowd.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 339: He’d started off as the perfect English eccentric host, working the room, always moving, smiling, introducing, enabling, laughing, and crookedly charming the room.
work a dodge (v.)

to perform an action, with undertones of cunning, duplicity.

[UK]New Sprees of London 4: ‘But how am I to gain admittance to the places you speak of?’ ‘Leave that to me, I’ll work that dodge’.
work a game (v.) [game n. (6)]

to pursue a (usu. criminal) scheme or plan.

[US] ‘I Was a Pickpocket’ in C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 78: I used to work a game which well showed the natural grafting propensities of women.
work a point/work points (v.)

see under point n.

work a ready (v.)

(Aus.) to concoct a swindle or fraud.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 July 36/3: However, they don’t mind ‘working a ready’ to the detriment of their brethren in other States themselves.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 42: Jack Harper and I had worked a ready with photographs in the bush.
work a spot (v.)

(US black) to sell drugs or sex from a specific location.

K.F.Tucker ‘The Significance? In Texas capital punishment is only to be applied in cases of clear premeditation!’ on Lifeway Church [Internet] Then one weekend in 1981 when I was in Midland working a ‘spot,’ (a place you work for a week or two as a call girl) Shawn met Jerry Lynn Dean.
work by the book (v.) (US black)

of a pimp, to run his professional life by the recognized ‘rules and regulations’ of the pimping life, supposedly enshrined in an authoritative Book [Book, the n. (1)].

[US]F.X. Toole Pound for Pound 235: Bark be workin by the book, man [...] the pimp book.
work from a book (v.) (US black)

to conduct business through an address book, so eliminating many of the problems (esp. police interference) that are met in street prostitution [book n. (2b)].

[US]Milner & Milner Black Players 38: Working from a book means that the ho has a supply of tricks’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers written in a book, and therefore does not walk the streets in search of business. These books are gradually built up by women and come to be of value in themselves. If a girl is leaving town, for example, the pimp might sell her book to one of his colleagues for several thousand dollars.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
work it (v.)

to arrange, often by underhand or duplicitous methods.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker (1843) I 270: Well, as soon as he can work it, he marries the richest gal in all his flock, and then his bread is buttered on both sides.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 26 Feb. 1/4: Suppose before she can work it the traps should grab you.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 34/2: Boys have made from 6d. to 1s. 6d. ‘bunts.’ Many of them will [...] beg old boots or shoes, if they meet with better sort of people, and so ‘work it to rights,’ as they call it among themselves.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 180: The next thing was to settle how to work it when we got to the diggings.
[UK] ‘’Arry in ’Arrygate’ (Second Letter) in Punch 15 Oct. 169/1: I’ve worked it, my pippin, I’ve worked it.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 54: He had made his lodging and breakfast and eightpence: this had determined him to stay at Hitchin, and work it for, at least, a day.
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith in the City (1993) 46: He thinks, if he has [a hobby] he might work it to keep in with him.
[US]F. Packard Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1918) I iv: What’s the lay? How’d you work it?
[UK]Kipling ‘The Janeites’ in Debits and Credits (1926) 174: The only thing ’e stuck to was to get back to ’is old crowd. Gawd knows ’ow ’e worked it, but ’e did.
[UK]J. Curtis You’re in the Racket, Too 60: Work it so as he won’t be back here until the old girl’s safe and sound in kip.
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 356: Just let me get in [i.e. to a hospital], and I’ll work it.
[US]M. Spillane One Lonely Night 66: He worked it so that he’d give his blessing as long as the guy enlisted.
[US]M. Braly Felony Tank (1962) 47: They work it pretty good.
[US]W. Burk Thief 19: To hear Jimmy tell it he’d really kept his cool and worked it like a pro.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 455: You’re going to be gone from nine to twelve, right? I can’t imagine how you’re going to work it.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Dec. 7: work it – present a good, well put together appearance: ‘Jill was working it in her red dress at the dance.’.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 208: They work it so James thought he’d brought off a coup de grâce.
work off (v.)

1. to hang; to execute.

[UK]Dickens Barnaby Rudge (2003) 525: The gentleman, he said, had avowed in so many words that he was ready for working off; such being the case, he considered it their duty [...] to work him off.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 30 May 7/1: Several times he came before the Bench to complain that his life was in danger – in danger from gentlemen whose relatives he had ‘worked off’ in the course of his duties.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 Aug. 20/3: No, no, there are a dozen ways / Of passing in the checks: [...] / In time some scientific plan / Humanity will bless, / For working-off our fellow-man / With wonderful success.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Jan. 5/3: The Melbourne hangman [...] positively objected to hang a woman, and rather than ‘work off’ Frances Knorr he cut his own throat.

2. (UK Und.) to pass a forged bank note or other counterfeit object into general circulation; thus worker-off n.

[US]A. Pinkerton Professional Thieves and Detectives 34: I frequently ‘work off’ the stuff in paying my men Saturday nights, when travelling through the country.
[Aus]‘Price Warung’ Tales of the Old Regime 8: Josephs and his friend and ‘worker-off.’ [Ibid.] 13: Mr. Pounce lowered his voice two tones, ‘Flash ’uns. You print, I’ll work off.’.
[US]Alliance Herald (NE) 19 Aug. 4/3: The first gold brick ever sold was by a gang of Sidney pirates, who worked it off on a Hastings, Neb. banker.
work on (v.) [SE/var. work over v. (2)]

(US prison) to beat up.

[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 3: ‘Shellacking,’ ‘massaging,’ ‘breaking the news,’ ‘working on the ---,’ ‘giving him the works’ and numerous other phrases are employed by the police, throughout America and the world.
[US]W. Brown Monkey On My Back (1954) 78: There’s a war between the two mobs. The other gang comes around here looking for a Hornet to work on.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 250: I want him to know he’s been worked on. You don’t have to kill him.
work one’s nut (v.) [nut n.1 (1b)/loaf (of bread) n.]

to scheme, to plot, to use one’s brains to avoid work.

[Aus]Aussie (France) VIII Oct. 14/1: Why, if a pot worked his nut properly he could beat the Jacks at their own game, and take time off from the front line whenever he felt that another birthday had come round.
[Aus]Aussie (France) XII Mar. 5/2: He went over to Blighty on leave, and when it was finished he was able to work his nut at Headquarters and get his name included in a draft for Aussie.
work one’s points (v.)

(US) to get on with something, to do or perform.

[US]I. Shulman Amboy Dukes 47: How about [...] giving me a chance to work my points.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 239/2: Work one’s points. To calculate one’s moves well; to establish a position of confidence with the intention of betraying it ultimately; to swindle.
work on shorts (v.) [the pickpocketing team is short, i.e. composed of just one person]

(US Und.) to work as a pickpocket by oneself.

[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 76: ‘What’s Penny doing now?’ he asked. ‘Working on “shorts”,’ I replied. ‘Working on shorts’ is pickpocket slang for picking pockets alone.
work the boards (v.) [boards n.]

(UK Und.) to run the ‘three-card trick’.

[UK]O.C. Malvery Soul Market 290: Cheating at cards, as is done with the three card trick, is to ‘work the boards.’.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 182: That’s how he cottoned on to me, wunnit? Saw me workin’ the boards in Oxford Street.
work the bulls (v.) [bull n.3 (3)]

(Aus./UK Und.) to pass counterfeit crown coins.

[UK]H. Brandon Dict. of the Flash or Cant Lang. 168: Schofel pitchers work the bulls and gypsies make and plant the gammy-lowr swags.
[UK]‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue 39: [as cit. 1839].
[Aus] glossary in Occurence Book of York River Lockup in Seal (1999) 37: I last week worked the bull. I have lost my joiner. Mum now.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. 9/1: Schofel pitchers are working the bulls now. Coiners are passing off bad crown pieces now.
work the hole (v.) (also make the hole) [hole n.1 (2f)]

(US Und.) to rob drunks who have passed out in the subway.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 239/2: Work the hole. To pick pockets in the subways.
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 41: [He] worked the hole (rolling drunks on subways and in cars).
[US](con. 1940s–60s) H. Huncke ‘Bill Burroughs’ in Eve. Sun Turned Crimson (1998) 152: They informed me they were making the hole together as partners.
work the knocker (v.)

(UK Und.) to tour houses, ostensibly to buy or sell goods, but spec. to trick or bully people into selling heirlooms, antiques etc. for minimal prices.

[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 10: Working the knocker, totting, or doing the tweedle and the twirl.
work the noble (v.)

(UK tramp) to beg as an impoverished clergyman or upperclass person.

[UK]W. Newton Secrets of Tramp Life Revealed 6: This man wore a clerical suit, with black hat [...] Taking off his boots and standing in his stocking feet, he wrote on one of the boots, ‘Out of work,’ and on the other, ‘Hard up’ [...] I accosted him thus – ‘I suppose that is what you call working the “Noble”?’ ‘Aye,’ he said.
work the oracle (v.) [SE oracle, a prophet]

1. to raise money by fraud or deceit.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 131: Oracle ― (working the) Men who understand how to over-reach others, or to manage money concerns marvellously, are said to ‘work the oracle well.’.
[UK]Yokel’s Preceptor 23: Female Hell, Seamore-place [...] We now have a female pandemonium as well regulated in all details of finesse and trick as could be designed by the most expert tactitians of the other sex. Two ladies, we believe, of the name of the Miss Blackwells, contrive to work the oracle with admirable adroitness and skill.
[UK]All the Year Round 10 Oct. 168: He has a double, who [...] worked the oracle for him [F&H].
[UK]W. Hooe Sharping London 35: Oracle, Working the Oracle, obtaining by artifice.

2. to raise money.

[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London II 397–8: I am at a loss to know by what means he is now working the oracle for a subsistence.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 28 Mar. 14/1: The Melbournians appear to work the oracle properly, and bring off their weekly glove fight without fuss or bother.
[Aus](?) H. Lawson ‘An Oversight of Steelman’s’ in Roderick (1972) 220: I’ll manage to work the oracle before this night is out.

3. (US Und.) to plan a robbery.

[UK]‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue 24: ‘Working the oracle’; to plan a robbery, or any kind of deceit.

4. to plan, to manoeuvre, to succeed through cunning.

[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 175: He mistakes me for the heir apparent. What a jackass! quiet! — see me work the oracle.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 117: Work the Oracle to succeed by manœuvring, to concert a wily plan, to victimize.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 418/1: I worked the oracle – they were not up to it.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 120: The ‘pals’ or friends of a man in trouble soon [...] set about ‘working the oracle’ with some warder to ‘sling him some bacca.’.
[NZ]N.Z. Observer (Auckland) 25 Sept. 14/2: Louise Pomeroy [...] is an American actress of no particular repute. She will probably be as big a ‘frost’ as jane Coombes unless Alf. Hayman finds some way of working the oracle.
[UK]M. Davitt Leaves from a Prison Diary I 33: The ‘long firm’ [...] is so well known to the reading public that any minute description of how the ‘oracle is worked’ is unneccessary.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 82: They’ve fetched a rattling price, through Starlight’s working the oracle with those swells.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 15 Apr. 4/8: Suppose we get a thumping fine £50,000 court-house [...] erected here, and you worked the oracle so that a partticular contractor got the job for a ‘large consideration’.
[Aus]J. Furphy Such is Life 218: Working the oracle?
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘The Intro’ in Songs of a Sentimental Bloke 21: O’ course we worked the oricle; you bet!
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 365: Yeah Norm — I think I can work the horrickle for you all right.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 146: ‘What you want from me’ [...] ‘A confession. How you worked the oracle with Jennifer Carmichael.’.

5. to perform a robbery.

[UK]Dundee Courier 13 Nov. 5/6: The fancy warehouse [...] also came in for a share of the cracksmen’s attention, but there they could not work the oracle to their satisfaction, and the crib was drawn blank.

6. (Aus.) to perform a given action.

[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 12 Apr. 4/1: He undertook to teach the sisters how to work the oracle with their feet [i.e. to roller-skate].

7. (Aus.) to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

[Aus]Aussie (France) 4 Apr. 10/1: ’Corse one shrap. shell on it’s lonesum won’t do much damage any more’n one tuppence-a’pny shrap. will make an Aussie merry on French beer. Yer must ’ave duzzens an’ duzzens of ’m to work the orricle.
work the rattler(s) (v.) [rattler n. (1d)]

1. (Aus. Und.) to hang around railway stations looking for a chance to pick pockets or work a confidence trick.

[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 131: ‘Working the rattler’ – hanging about railway stations, baggage-snatching, pocket picking or looking for victims on whom to work a confidence game.
Outlook 86 28/1: The detectives assigned to a locality permit the local pickpockets, for instance, to operate, or ‘work the rattlers,’ with impunity [...] and then " shake them down " for a percentage .

2. (US Und.) to rob freight trains or the passengers on subway trains.

[US]W. Scott Seventeen Years in the Und. 69: Looking about for easy graft, we decided ‘working the rattlers’ looked promising. ‘Working the rattler’ is a term [...] to denote the robbing of freight trains.
[US](con. 1900s) J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 25: We’ll work the subway rattlers [...] and we’ll make all kinds of dough.
work the tubs (v.) (UK Und.)

1. (also ride the tubs) to commit crimes, usu. card-sharping, on board transatlantic liners; thus tub worker n., a confidence trickster who focusses on the passengers of such boats [tub n.1 (1)].

[US]G. Rector Girl from Rector’s 68: In this case, ‘tub worker’ did not mean bending over the week’s wash in the back of a Chinese laundry. This group of tourists worked the tubs. The tubs were ocean liners.
[US]Hostetter & Beesley It’s a Racket! 236: ride the tubs — Travel on ocean liners to fleece passengers by gambling, especially at cards.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 11 Nov. 15/1: To fellow confidence men and the police he is known as ‘the Mark Foy,’ rhyming slang for ‘the boy’; because when he first began to ‘work the tubs’ (card-sharp on passenger liners) he was remark ably youthful in appearance.
W.L. Gresham Limbo Tower 271: I used to work the tubs, Abdullah. I've played my way around the world. Poker can be beautiful.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 227/2: Tub-worker. A card-sharper who operates on trans-oceanic liners.

2. to pickpocket on buses or at bus-stops [tub n.1 (9)].

G. Dilnot Triumphs of Detection iv 52: Snatches of their conversation...told that they were on their way to ‘work the tubs’ — in other words, to pick pockets at omnibus stopping-places .
[UK]F.D. Sharpe Sharpe of the Flying Squad 245: Old ‘X,’ another pickpocket, was working the ‘tubs’ outside the Strand Corner House.
work the wires (v.) [SE wires, i.e. the connections]

(US) to engage in political chicanery.

[US]Lantern (N.O.) 6 Oct. 4: In working wires and fixing things / I thought that I was great, / I used to know just what to do, / To straighten out a candidate.

In exclamations

get worked!

(Aus.) a general excl. of dismissal or contempt.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 12 Dec. 27: Slum Repartee. / Ginger: ‘Why don’t youse cum and see us sumtimes?’ / Splinter: ‘Garn! Chase yerselves! Git work! Why, if we lives as close to youse as youse do ter us, wee’d corl twice a day.’.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 98: ‘Get worked!’ I yelled after him.

SE in slang uses

In phrases

he wouldn’t work in an iron lung [the purpose of an iron lung is to perform the patient’s breathing for them]

(Aus.) a phr. said of someone who is totally lazy.

[Aus]F.J. Hardy Outcasts of Foolgarah (1975) 85: The affluent society [has] the principle of he that cannot work neither shall he eat (except Silver Tails who wouldn’t work in an iron lung).
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Real Thing 54: Fraud, uttering, conspiracy [...] That’d be Fred all right. Wouldn’t work in an iron lung.
[Aus]Sun-Herald (Sydney) 5 May [Internet] He supports a Royal Family that wouldn’t work in an iron lung [...] [The Queen Mother] lived for more than a century without ever cooking a meal, or making a cup of tea, or drawing a curtain, or cleaning up after herself.
work... (v.)

see also under relevant n.

work both sides of the street (v.) (also play both ends in the middle, ...sides of the game/street, work both ends against the middle)

1. to ally oneself to both sides in a dispute or division, to behave in an opportunistic manner.

[US]Rock Is. Argus (IL) 16 Jan. 6/3: ‘Is it not ridiculous for protectionists to attempt to work both sides of the street at the same time?’.
Arizona Silver belt (Globe City, AZ) 14 May 1/7: Republicans hope to work both sides of the street in the coming campaign.
Philistine (Aurora, NY) XXXVII–VIII 15: You can’t work both ends against the middle and win out.
Labor Advocate (Cincinnati, OH) 4 Nov. 4/1: ‘You’ll find it hard to work both sides of the street, Mr Hughes’.
Lake Co. Times (Hammond, IN) 4 Aug. 4/2: Governor Cox is a foxy gentleman [...] much given to the habit of trying to work both sides of the political street.
[US]D. Hammett ‘House Dick’ in Nightmare Town (2001) 48: With these lads who play both sides of the game, it’s always a question of which side they’re playing when you think they’re playing yours.
[US]B. Appel Plunder (2005) 241: We’ll work both sides of the street.
[US](con. 1919) G. Fowler Schnozzola 39: You can’t play both ends in the middle.
[US]C. Himes Big Gold Dream 149: All right, just don’t try to play both sides of the street.
[US](con. 1946) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 70: A D.C. beat cop, workin’ the biggest gambling joint in the country. A little dangerous, playing both sides of the street like that.
J. Rasmussen New Land, New Lives 48: She was the boss and she knew how to work both ends against the middle.
[Aus]S. Maloney Big Ask 4: Works both sides of the street. A head-kicker for the union who does freelance favours for Bob Stuhl.

2. (also play both sides (of the fence), shop both sides of the street, walk both sides of the street) to be a bisexual.

[US]Lavender Lex. n.p.: ac-dc:– Ambisexual; One who engages in sexual relations with the same or the opposite sex. (Also Switch-hitter; Walks both sides of the street; Confused).
[US]Guild Dict. Homosexual Terms 36: play both sides (v.): To participate in sexual relationships with both sexes, perhaps have a family and give the appearance of a completely heterosexual life while on the side enjoying homosexual experiences.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 32: to be bisexual [...] play both sides of the fence.
[US]R. Campbell Wizard of La-La Land (1999) 209: ‘He liked men?’ Gambler shrugged. ‘He was like me.’ ‘Worked both sides of the street?’.
deviantart.com 5 Aug. [Internet] It’s true that it’s almost fashionable for younger people to be gay/lesbian/bisexual, and [...] ‘if you shop on both sides of the street you are more likely to find a bargain’ .
faceparty.com [Internet] i havnt decided which side im batting for yet, but i reckon if you shop on both sides of the street you get the best bargains!

3. (US) to work exceptionally hard.

[US]‘Master Pimp’ Pimp’s Rap 58: I was slamming on both sides of the street.
work for Street and Walker (v.) (also work for Street, Walker and Co.) [puns]

(Aus.) to be unemployed and walking the streets in search of a job.

[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] STREET, WALKER AND CO.: A man out of work says he is working for ‘Street, W, and Co.’ when he is walking about looking for a job.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 240/1: street, walker & co. – a person who is hunting a job is working for Street, Walker & Co.
work like a kaffir (v.) [kaffir n. (1)]

(S.Afr.) to work very hard.

S.P. Hyatt End of the Road 19: Eight hours at a stretch in the horrible noise, working like a Kaffir all the time.
S.G.L. Millin Three Men Die 23: ‘I have to work like a Kaffir.’ ‘You know I don’t want you to. I keep on telling you to get a servant.’.
T. Carr Universe 4 29: Unless I work like a kaffir he harangues me. It’s simply not comfortable.
A. Scholefield Stone Flower 92: I worked like a kaffir — a black man. I went round the diggings with a sack on my back selling things. [Ibid.] 120: He recalled Mr. Levinson’s phrase in the coach: working like a kaffir.
work like a nigger (v.) (also work like a black, ...Chinaman, ...nig) [nigger n.1 (1)]

(orig. US) to work very hard.

[US]C. Gilman Recollections of a Southern Matron (1838) 189: I have toiled night and day, I’ve worked like a nigger, and more than a nigger [DA].
[UK]J. Greenwood Little Ragamuffin 335: Working like a nigger for eighteenpence a week.
[US]J. Miller First Fam’lies in the Sierras 145: He worked like a Chinaman.
[UK]G.R. Sims Dagonet Ballads 77: I’m pretty well off, Mister, I am; but I’ve worked like a black all my days.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 203: Then they got a wages-man to help them, and all four used to work like niggers.
[UK] ‘’Arry on the Elections’ in Punch 27 July 39/1: I’ve worked like a nig, and no error.
[US]H. Blossom Checkers 127: I ’ve worked like a nigger airnin’ ’em money fer cloes.
[UK]‘Ian Hay’ Lighter Side of School Life 63: They will be so bored that they will work like niggers merely to pass the time.
[US]E. Caldwell Poor Fool 176: She’s [a machinegun] working like a nigger full of turpentine tonight.
[UK]J. Symons Man Called Jones (1949) 77: We both worked like niggers, and we showed a profit right from the start.
[UK]K. Amis letter 29 Oct. in Leader (2000) 546: Am actually working like what used to be called a nigger.
[US]W. Burk Thief 312: We work like five niggers getting that damn safe out of the basement.
[UK]G. Norman in Norman (1921) 126: It’s we who are working ‘like a nigger’ and that lazy monkey is doing bugger all.
work one’s arse off (v.) (also work one’s ass off, ...can off, ...fanny off, ...pants off) [arse n. (1)/ass n. (2)/can n.1 (1b)/fanny n.1 (3)]

to work extremely hard.

[US]E. Hemingway letter 9 Nov. in Baker Sel. Letters (1981) 132: I’ve been working my ass off.
[US]D. Fuchs Low Company 161: I been working my pants off behind the counter all day.
[[US]J.T. Farrell ‘A Sunday in April’ in Fellow Countrymen (1937) 430: Well, my can was worked too. Out every night].
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 201: You work your ass off, you want something for it.
[US]J. Blake ‘Day of the Alligator’ in Algren Lonesome Monsters (1963) 133: If we were on a heavy job [...] I’d be working my ass off.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 18: If I had met that man, he would still be here, chained to the floor, working his ass off every day.
[US]V.E. Smith Jones Men 93: She was at home working her ass off.
[NZ]H. Beaton Outside In I ii: Made more in a night than you fucken chicks could workin’ your arses off in a week.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 252: Out in the game room working her fanny off.
[US]R. Campbell Alice in La-La Land (1999) 119: You work your ass off to make it good for your wife and kids — what else did a man work his ass off for?
[UK]M. Collins Keepers of Truth 222: Yes, the man works his ass off.
[Aus]T. Winton ‘Big World’ in Turning (2005) 11: For five years I worked my arse off.
[UK]K. Richards Life 175: More than your dad makes in a year, schlepping and working his fucking arse off.
[US] M. McBride Frank Sinatra in a Blender [ebook] I asked him if he missed it. ‘What? Workin’ my ass off for no money?’.
[Aus]T. Spicer Good Girl Stripped Bare 146: Women work their arses off for employers who sideline or sack them when they get too old/fat/tired.
work one’s balls off (v.) (also work one’s bollocks off, ...nuts off, ...tits off) [balls n. (1)/ballocks n. (1)/nuts n.2 (1)/tit n.2 (1)]

to work extremely hard.

[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 65: Working my balls off and not even a clean shirt to wear.
[UK]L. Dunne Goodbye to The Hill (1966) 74: Even the band, who were working their nuts off, looked happy.
[US]Baker et al. CUSS 224: Work your tits off Work (study) hard and concentratedly.
[US]G. Cuomo Among Thieves 101: He’d spent four weeks trying, working his balls off [...] and he was sick of it.
[US]C. Loken Come Monday Morning 243: Christ he’d worked his balls off here in these fields.
[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 496: One hundred and twenty-four jobs down the drain, and I’ve worked me bollocks off! For what?
[UK]P. Robinson Gallows View (2002) 207: Mark my word, mate, they’ll be working their balls off.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Birthday 180: He worked his bollocks off all his life.
[UK]B. Hare Urban Grimshaw 202: They work their balls off to make their bosses rich.
work one’s butt off (v.) (also work one’s behind off, work one’s buns off) [butt n.1 (1a); var. on work one’s arse off ]

(orig. US) to work very hard; also used with other verbs.

[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 126: Down South, if one ain’t real careful, he can grow up smilin’ his ass off and showin’ pearly whites till his gums catch pneumonia or workin’ his behind off fo’ nothin’.
[US]J. Langone Life at the Bottom 193: You worked your butt off.
[US]S. King Christine 2: He had to battle his butt off to get that. [Ibid.] 268: I’m working my buns off down in the torture chamber.
[US]A. Heckerling Clueless [film script] Look, we’ve been working our butts off on this case!
[UK]Observer Mag. 5 Dec. 17: I’m acting my butt off creating a convincing grandpop.
[UK]Guardian G2 18 Jan. 6: They work their butts off!
[UK]K. Richards Life 53: We worked our butts off.
work one’s tail off (v.) (also sweat one’s tail off) [fig. use of tail n. (1)]

(orig. US) to work very hard; also used with other verbs.

[US]W.R. Burnett Iron Man 101: Get down to the training camp and work your tail off.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 533: This idea of sweating your tail off with work [...] is the undiluted crap. [Ibid.] 538: I’d think of you boys, sweating your tails off in offices.
[US]W. Guthrie Bound for Glory (1969) 249: Worked my tail off ’round this here town.
[US]K. Brasselle Cannibals 388: I’ve been working my tail off.
[US]Cab Calloway Of Minnie the Moocher and Me 143: We played our tails off that night.
[US]S. King Dolores Claiborne 15: I worked my tail off that summer.
work out

see separate entries.

work out of one’s hat (v.) [the wearing of a hat as one travels around]

(US) to freelance; to work independently of a specific organization.

[US]R. Campbell Sweet La-La Land (1999) 5: They were a loving couple, L.A. and he, she working out of her purse, he working out of his hat.
work over (v.)

see separate entry.

work someone’s ass (off) (v.) (also work someone’s balls off)

to make another person work hard.

[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 292: We’re going to work your ass till it drags.
[US]J. Breslin World of Jimmy Breslin (1968) 136: The troops are college students who came over for the summer. I worked their asses off.
[US]San Diego Sailor 10: They worked the balls off us.
[US]Cab Calloway Of Minnie the Moocher and Me 58: They worked my ass off.
D. Pendleton Friday’s Feast 91: I was on watch most of the night, and they worked my ass off yesterday.
C.S. Defever Las Vegas Illusion 138: They worked my ass off. Took it home with them, too.
R. Newell From Playing Field to Battlefield 119: They worked my ass off, but it was great training and I really loved it.
work someone’s nerves (v.) (US black/campus)

1. to annoy, to irritate.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Apr. 9: work one’s nerves – annoy.
J. Taweel Diary 4 July at Medschooldiary.com [Internet] My family has been getting on my nerves lately because they have been asking me about the details of the move; when I’ll be gone/back, etc. That itself doesn’t work my nerves, it’s the fact that when I tell them, it’s a problem with their schedules, and then they’re upset with me for not being more considerate to their timetables.
Bergan & Phylicia ‘Working My Nerves’ (poem) on Jazz in the Middle Poetry Café on SFJazz.org [Internet] There are two women who work my nerves / There are two annoying women who work my nerves / When I get in trouble they say it’s something I deserve.

2. to exert emotional pressure upon someone.

[US]G. Smitherman Black Talk.
work the tear-pump (v.)

to burst, prob. insincerely, into tears.

[[UK] ‘Bound ’Prentice to a Waterman’ in Laughing Songster 122: What sets my eye pumps a-going].
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues VII 90/2: To work the tear-pump [...] To weep.
work up (v.)

(US) of a detective, to follow a suspect.

J.H. Browne Great Metropolis: a Mirror of N.Y. (1975) 57–8: Their regular pay varies from three to eight dollars a day for ‘piping,’ ‘shadowing,’ ‘working-up,’ etc.
[US]N.Y. Times 13 May 2/3–4: These men [honest detectives] are never ‘let in’ [by the corrupt detectives] when there is a prospect of a good ‘rake.’ They are, however, assigned to ‘work up’ the most trivial cases.