Green’s Dictionary of Slang

chew the rag v.

also chaw the rag
[rag n.1 (3a); orig. use held overtones of grumbling and complaining, but this vanished by the 1920s]
(US)

1. to gossip, to chatter; thus rag chewing n.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Feb. 9/1: Hanlan’s backers flowed steadily to the public-houses, while those who planked their money on Clifford stayed at home to ‘chaw the rag’.
[US]Courier (Lincoln, NE) 13 July 14/2: They are quiet and gentlemanly, there being none of the wrangling and rag chewing.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 145: Wall, then, I’m goin’ to chew the rag wid y’u fer a little while.
[US]Salt Lake Trib. (UT) 3 Sept. 28/5: There has been a lot of rag-chewing over what these two boys will do.
[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 94: Forty minutes rapid exercise in rag chewing.
[US]Seattle Repub. (WA) 12 May 1/3: Perhaps they would advocate more work and less rag chewing in the print shops.
[UK]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 280: A Deputy Sheriff came into the jail one day and got to chewing the rag with me.
[US]Cayton’s Wkly (Seattle, WA) 24 Jan. n.p.: If officials generally would act quickly in such cases a lot of wrangling and rag chewing would be obviated.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘The Knight’s Return’ in Chisholm (1951) 86: The nearer ’ome I get the worse I feel; / The worse I feel, the more I chew the rag.
[UK](con. WW1) P. MacDonald Patrol 39: ‘Shert up! [...] We’ve chewed the bleedin’ rag abaht it all the bleedin’ day’.
[UK]J. Franklyn This Gutter Life 178: Go on! Go on! p**s off! Don’t stand ’ere chewin’ the rag! hustle, you bloody bitches, will you?
[UK]S. Jackson An Indiscreet Guide to Soho 101: Those who want to relax can play billiards or cards but [...] the most popular game is ‘chewing the rag’.
[US]J.D. Salinger Catcher in the Rye (1958) 31: I went down to the can and chewed the rag with him while he was shaving.
[UK]R. Hauser Homosexual Society 49: I still come in here to meet old friends who want to chew the rag with me.
[UK]C. Stead Cotters’ England (1980) 234: Don’t stay up all night every night chewing the rag.
[US]S. Stallone Paradise Alley (1978) 40: I’m just chewin’ a friendly rag with Nickels here.
[NZ]J. Charles Black Billy Tea 29: Says Billy the Dog to Jimmy the Rat, / ‘Let’s squat and chew the rag’.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak 37: Chew the fat or rag – to discuss and reminisce.
[US]N. Stephenson Cryptonomicon 605: Ah figgered you ’n’ ah’ud have plenny a tahm to chew the rag.

2. to grumble, to complain.

[UK]B. Patterson Life in the Ranks 77: Some trivial violation of regimental discipline, such as persisting to argue the point, or ‘chew the rag’.
[US]J.L. Williams Princeton Stories 65: Do not chew a rag because your little poler did not develop as you wanted him to.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘Hamilton Finnerty’s Heart’ in Sandburrs 66: He did naught but chew the rag.
[Aus]J. Furphy Buln-Buln and the Brolga (1948) [Internet] Seems like as if he’d been standin’ in my light ever since I been workin’ for him. I been chewin’ the rag over it for years.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis Songs of a Sentimental Bloke gloss. [Internet] Chew, to chew it over; to chew the rag – To sulk; to nurse a grievance.
[US]S. Lewis Main Street (1921) 416: Next time you hear some zob from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling and trying to get your goat tell him that no two-fisted enterprising Westerner would have New York for a gift!
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 20 Aug. 11/1: Slanguage [...] Parse and analyse the following: [...] ‘S’pose ’e’s chewin’ the rag at the old pot anbd pan’s now’.
[US]J.T. Farrell World I Never Made 168: She was going to [...] start chewing the rag at him.
[US]W. Guthrie Bound for Glory (1969) 277: She acted crabby and fussy, chewing the rag.
[Aus](con. 1936–46) K.S. Prichard Winged Seeds (1984) 275: All the reactionaries in the town are chewin’ the rag [...] But they’ve got to admit the Red Army’s ‘saved Britain in her hour of gravest peril’.
[Aus]F.J. Hardy Yarns of Billy Borker 130: The waterfront D’s are standing at the gate chewing the rag about not being able to catch Honest Hambone.

3. to argue, to speak irresponsibly.

[UK]A. Binstead More Gal’s Gossip 71: All this chewing of the rag provokes Ben, who sets about his man.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 180: Aw, what’s the use of old pals like us chawin’ the rag?
[US]Burlington Wkly Free Press (VT) 11 Apr. n.p.: The old lady was so soured on me [...] There was lots o’ rag-chewin’ between her and me.
[US]C. McKay Home to Harlem 83: Why don’t you wait till you see something before you staht in chewing the rag?
[Aus](con. 1940s) T.A.G. Hungerford Sowers of the Wind 146: Why chew the rag about it?
[UK]P. Wright Cockney Dialect and Sl. 92: Chew the rag ‘have an argument’.