Green’s Dictionary of Slang

dab n.1

also dabby
[gaming jargon dab, a top-flight gamester; ? orig. schoolboy sl., the likely ety. is rooted in SE adept or dapper, but there is no positive proof of either; ‘Sl. Terms & the Gypsy Tongue’ in Baily’s Mag. Nov. 1871 suggests link to Hindi/Rom. dhab, dexterity]

a skilful person, an expert.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Dab, expert, exquisite in Roguery [...] He is a Dab at it, He is well vers’d in it.
[UK]Vindication of H. Sacheverell 83: The Dr. is charg’d with being a great Dab, as the Boys say.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
Lord Chesterfield Letter 17 Aug. Suffolk Correspondence (1824) II 64: A faithful copy of it was to be transmitted to others of not inferior abilities, and known dabs at finding out mysteries .
[UK]Dyche & Pardon New General Eng. Dict. (5th edn).
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 32: You are a Dab, I will not lay you any more.
[UK]O. Goldsmith Life of Richard Nash in Coll. Works (1966) III 349: You are a dab, I will not lay with you.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 151: He understood the art of fighting, / But was a greater dab at biting / His neighbour’s head off in a bargain.
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Lyric Odes’ Works (1794) I 73: At calling names I never was a dab.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK] ‘Physical Snob’ in Jovial Songster 9: There’s no greater dab at the job, Sirs.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 1: The dab’s in quod; the rogue is in prison.
[UK]‘Peter Corcoran’ Fancy 5: Montgomery is no dab at a bull-bait.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 19: The accountant-general, who was a dab in figures.
[UK]T. Hood ‘Masonic Secret’ Works (1862) VII 27: To be sure we mayn’t be quite such dabs at chiselling and levelling.
[UK]Dickens Bleak House (1991) 342: I have had French women come before now and show themselves dabs at pistol-shooting.
[NZ]T. Moser Mahoe Leaves 88: Smith, who had been some time in China [...] was a ‘dab’ at ‘Canton English’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]M.E. Braddon Strangers and Pilgrims II 269: I’m not a dab – I mean I’m a poor hand at penmanship.
[UK]Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday 14 June 50/149: Everybody almost, on his own showing, is a dab at something or other.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 7 Mar. 16/1: They are all Australian natives, young fellows in the prime of health and spirit, and Mr. Shipway has been known for several years past as the crack amateur walker of the colony and a ‘dab’ at athletics generally.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 10 Mar. 1/5: Just hand me the Book, / I’m a dab at the Service.
[UK]E. Pugh Man of Straw 93: I’m no dab at talk like you, Miss Eva.
[UK]Boys Of The Empire 11 Dec. 151: Are you a dab at batting?
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Nov. 13/2: Young Jone’s capacity for soaking up knowledge is something to marvel at. He is a dab at English; he attends the law courts to pick up shorthand, and his mathematical accuracy is an object-lesson.
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 24 July 4/2: A,W. kids he is getting a dabby at dancing now .
[NZ]‘Anzac’ On the Anzac Trail 47: The newspaper sellers were real dabs at learning English.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 272: Molly great dab at seeing anyone looking.
M. Marples Public School Slang 56: dab, (1) a clever boy (Christ’s Hospital, 1908 +), an expert; also dab-hand, dabster.