Green’s Dictionary of Slang

fag end n.

[SE fag, to droop, to decline, to flag]

1. (also butt-end) the last part or remnant of anything.

[UK]Weakest goeth to the Wall line 420: I am the fag end of a Tayler; in plaine English a Botcher.
[UK]A Knight’s Conjuring Ch. III E2: Hee wold signify to their fathers how course the threed of life fell out to be nowe towards the Fagge ende.
[UK]R. Taylor Hog Hath Lost His Pearl I i: Yes there’s the fagg end of a leg of mutton.
[UK]Massinger Virgin-Martyr II iii: The a----, as it were, or fag-end of the world.
[UK]J. Taylor Drinke and Welcome 9: I shall abruptly conclude [...] with the fagge-end of an old man’s old will.
[UK] ‘The Re-resurrection of the Rump’ Rump Poems and Songs (1662) II 4: A Rump’s a Fag-end, like the baulk of a Furrow, / And is to the whole like the Jail to the Burrough.
[UK]Head Art of Wheedling 206: This felllow is the fag-end or Pug of a Conjurer.
[UK]Scourge for Poor Robin 6: You shall infallibly finde him and his Tribe about the Fag-end of the day at the Rendezvouze.
[UK]Buckingham Chances Epilogue: Perhaps you Gentlemen, expect to day The Author of this Fag-end of a Play.
[UK]N. Ward ‘A Trip to Jamaica’ Writings (1704) 165: If I compare the Best of their Streets in Port-Royal to the Fag end of Kent-Street, where the Broom-men Live, I do them more than Justice.
[UK]True Characters of A Deceitful Petty-Fogger et al. 3: Writing Bills, Bonds, and Acquittances from Presidents at the Fag-end of an Almanack.
[UK]J. Gay Wife of Bath I i: I hope, the Rogue hath not begun at the fag end of the Ceremony.
[UK]J. Gay Wife of Bath (rev. edn) I iv: I came just in the nick! [...] unless they have begun at the fag-end of the ceremony.
[UK]Sterne Tristram Shandy (1949) 562: The account of this is worth more, than to be wove into the fag end of the eighth volume of such a work as this.
[UK]Smollett Humphrey Clinker (1925) II 25: To effect a conjunction with an old maid, who, in all probability, had fortune enough to keep him easy and comfortable in the fag-end of his days.
[UK]H. Cowley Belle’s Stratagem IV i: Adieu! then I’m come in at the fag end!
[UK]Sporting Mag. Aug. VIII 283/2: Then humm’d to myself the fag end of a song.
[UK]‘C. Caustic’ Petition Against Tractorising Trumpery 66: Perkinism [...] had its birth and education Quite at the fag-end of Creation!
[UK]W. Perry London Guide 45: The fag-end of a song is a good signal.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 41: Our game-laws [...] the very fag-end of the old feudal system.
[US]D. Crockett in Meine Crockett Almanacks (1955) 52: I jumped up and snapped my fingers in his face, and telled him that I didn’t care the fag end of a johnny cake for him.
[US]G.G. Foster N.Y. in Slices 33: Our wife buys a new frock [...] which she is assured is the real French chintz, warranted fast colors, and which, after the first washing, looks like the fag-end of a consumptive rainbow.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ G’hals of N.Y. 9: That large an hapless class who can boast of inheriting and possessing the fag-ends only of this world’s goods.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 117: The fag end of the season, when the gay idlers of London had gone to the sea-side.
[UK]J. Hollingshead Ragged London 110: Where the links of new buildings have not yet joined each other you can see fag-ends of courts.
[UK]L. Oliphant Piccadilly 127: Only the fag-end of the diplomatic corps had responded.
[Aus]M. Clarke Term of His Natural Life (1897) 12: It was the fag end of the two hours’ exercise graciously permitted [...] by His Majesty King George the Fourth.
[US]J.W. Davis Gawktown Revival Club 3: The fag end of some remnant of a ‘higher civilization’.
[UK]R. Whiteing No. 5 John Street 33: A ridiculous fag-end of the shirt, itself a shred, sticks tailwise out behind.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 24 Mar. 24/1: Dr. Neild broke into the fag-end of the musical programme with a few sweet remarks concerning the buxom identity and her determination to see what Dear Old England is made of.
[US]G.D. Chase ‘Cape Cod Dialect’ in DN II:v 301: tag end, n. Fag end.
[UK]Gem 16 Mar. 1: It was the fag-end of a drowsy, oppressive summer’s afternoon.
[Can]R. Service ‘The Wood-Cutter’ Ballads of a Cheechako 97: I’m holding it down on God’s scrap-pile, up on the fag-end of earth.
[UK]E. Pound letter 12 Sept. in Read Letters to James Joyce (1968) 56: Again you will get the fag ends of my mind. But I have spent the morning doing 2000 words on you and your play.
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 91: There was fag-end of sunset still functioning.
[Ire]‘Flann O’Brien’ At Swim-Two-Birds 116: At the butt-end of a year’s wandering in the company of each other.
[UK]P. Larkin letter 8 Oct. in Thwaite Sel. Letters (1992) 93: Christ, the blasted wireless is loud. The fag end of the bloody news.
[UK]A. Sillitoe ‘The Fishing-Boat Picture’ Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1960) 74: I was at home, smoking my pipe in the backyard at the fag-end of an autumn day.
[Aus]P. White Solid Mandala (1976) 156: With the fag-end of her intelligence Dulcie could have sensed this.
[US]S. King It (1987) 276: All that was left now was the butt end of autumn.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 25 June 8: One of the many riotous parties which marked the glowing fag-end of the 60s.

2. a fragmentary part of a speech or conversation that one might overhear, just as it tails off.

[UK]‘Bill Truck’ Man o’ War’s Man (1843) 41: I’ll tip you the fag-end of a Common-Garden ditty.
[UK]C.M. Westmacott Eng. Spy I 274: Will Stewart, the poacher, was just humming himself to sleep with the fag end of an old ballad.
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 225: He was always introducin’ neck-and-crop some fag-end of a Latin line or another.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd series) 30: Catching the fag end of a laugh accompanied by the loud cries of ‘Silence!’.
[UK] ‘Case of Circumstantial Evidence’ Town Talk 7 Nov. 413: I’ll just reel off my yarn, and whip the fag-end of it in half a minute.
[UK]J. Greenwood Little Ragamuffin 339: There was nothing much to trouble me in the fag-end of the conversation I had heard.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Bogg of Geebung’ in Roderick (1972) 21: The drunkard [...] broke out into something like the fag-end of a song.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 594: That worthy, picking up the scent of the fagend of the song or words, growled in wouldbe music, but with great vim, some kind of chanty or other in seconds and thirds.
[US]W.M. Raine Cool Customer 115: I got in at the fag end, just in time to hear the other man say that they had waited long enough for Haskell to act.

3. (also fag) the butt of a cigarette or cigar.

[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (1982) I 39: The Kidderminster carpet [...] had been charred and burnt into holes with the fag-ends of cigars.
[UK]W. Archer Pauper, Thief and Convict 123: A man wearing a billycock hat, and with the fag end of a cigar in his mouth [...].
[UK]Illus. Police News 29 May 3/5: [He] went down to Rochester from London with a large parcel of ‘fags,’ the slang term for cigar ends.
[UK]J. Masefield Everlasting Mercy 73: She took my tumbler from the bar [...] And poured it out upon the floor dust, / Among the fag-ends, spit and sawdust.
[UK]J. Hargrave At Suvla Bay Ch. xiii: The other seven men came crawling out of the bushes to light up their ‘woodbines’ and fag-ends.
[UK]J.B. Booth London Town 302: He has with his own hands removed the paper from the fag ends of the cigarettes he has collected.
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Down and Out in Complete Works I (1986) 202: ‘I owe you some fag-ends’ [...] And he put four, sodden, debauched, loathly cigarette ends into my hand.
A. Lewis Last Inspection 144: The washbasins were still littered with rusty blades and fag-ends.
[UK]S. Jackson An Indiscreet Guide to Soho 42: They trudge along with eyes lowered but usually the only dividend is a few fag-ends.
[UK]J. Phelan Tramp at Anchor 185: Trains a jackdaw to fetch in fag-ends.
[UK]J.R. Ackerley We Think The World Of You (1971) 22: I ’ad a dog once what ate up all the fag-ends in the street.
[Aus]B. Humphries Barry McKenzie [comic strip] in Complete Barry McKenzie (1988) 87: I’ll be after him soon as I’ve washed that fag-end down the plughole.
[UK]B.S. Johnson All Bull 150: The affluent threw their fag-ends to the rabble.
[UK]P. Theroux London Embassy 151: Picking up fag-ends – can’t take him anywhere.
[Aus]R. Beckett Dinkum Aussie Dict. 12: Bumper: A cigarette butt. However, a bumper harvest is not one of fag ends.
[Ire]P. McCabe Breakfast on Pluto 35: A Dublin fishwife in tattered nylons, holding up a doorway with a fagend on her lip.
[UK]Guardian Weekend 28 Aug. 3: Dropping fag ends out of moving car windows.

In compounds

fag-end man (n.)

a man who collects cigarette ends from the pavement.

[UK]A.N. Lyons Arthur’s 46: Old Flashlight, the fag-end man, ’as broke ’is collar bone.

In phrases

pick up fag-ends (v.) [sense 2 above, but pun on sense 3]

to listen in to other people’s conversations and attempt to comment upon them or join in; esp. as don’t pick up fag-ends.

[S. Smith Clives of Burcot 126: The old mischief-maker [...] He’s always picking up fag-ends of gossip].
N. Bawden Little Love, little Learning 213: ‘Who’s alone?’ Joanna asked, coming in [...] ‘Don’t pick up fag ends,’ I said.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 877: [...] from ca. 1910.
Y. West Dolphin Pool 14: ‘Duke?’ queried a girl from the other end of the table. ‘Don’t pick up fag ends, Moira,’ Colette said.
[UK]R. Taylor ‘Not very toothsome: Politics Blog’ Guardian 17 Jan. [Internet] The best moment – clearly scripted – is Ruddle’s deadpan introduction to Pierce’s Westminster Whispers segment. ‘Andrew Pierce does his favourite thing – trawling around quite a rainy Westminster picking up fag ends,’ he says, deadpan.