Green’s Dictionary of Slang

snake n.1

[fig. use of SE snake, f. its perceived characteristics]

1. [mid-19C+] (also snako) an unreliable, deceptive person [note Urqhart (trans. of Gargantua & Pantagruel, 1653): ‘Cursed snakes, dissembling varlets, seeming sancts / Slipshop caffards, beggars pretending wants’; Nares, Glossary (1822), defines it as ‘a term of reproach, equivalent to a wretch, a poor creature’].

2. [1950s+] (US gang) a spy.

3. [1960s] (US campus) a promiscuous or ugly young woman; thus snakepit, a gathering of such women.

4. [1970s] (US black) a homosexual, whether male or female.

5. [1970s+] (US campus) someone who steals something, particularly someone else’s date.

6. see little snakesman under little adj.

7. see snake charmer

In phrases

fatten frogs for snakes (v.) (also ...to feed snakes)

1. [mid-19C-1950s] to prepare a victim (including oneself) for exploitation by a criminal or trickster; thus to encourage lazy or criminal individuals.

2. [1950s] (US) used as a non-commital answer to an unwanted question.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

snakebit/bite/bitten

see separate entries.

snake charmer (n.) [late 19C+]

1. (Aus., Western, also snake) a railway plate-layer [the supposed similarity of twisted rails to snakes].

2. (US) an oboe [the image of a snake-charmer luring a snake by playing a flute-like instrument].

snake eyes (n.)

see separate entries.

snake gully (n.) [Snake Gully was the location of the long-running radio serial Dad and Dave]

[1940s+] (Aus.) an imaginary place that is a byword for backwardness and remoteness; also attrib.

snake-headed (adj.) [the negative image of the reptile]

1. [early 19C] (UK Und.) quickwitted.

2. [1900s–40s] (Aus.) testy, irritated.

snake juice (n.) (also snaik-juice) [juice n.1 (3d)]

[late 19C+] (orig. Aus.) any form of liquor, esp. when cheap and potent; thus snake-juicer, a drinker of such liquor.

snake poison (n.) (also snake medicine) [var. on snake juice ]

[late 19C–1940s] (Aus./US) whisky; also attrib.

snake room (n.) (also snake ranch)

1. [1920s–30s] (US) a bar, esp. when full of drunkards.

2. [1940s] (US) a room hired for a party.

snake’s house (n.)

see separate entry.

snakesman (n.)

[late 18C–19C] a member of a gang of thieves who is sufficiently small and lithe to enter buildings through any narrow entrance that would otherwise be impassable; once within they unlock a main door through which all can pass.

snake’s piss (n.)

[1960s–70s] (Aus.) beer.

snake tart (n.) [joc. resemblance]

[mid-19C–1900s] eel pie.

snake yarn (n.) [lit. or fig. involving snakes]

[late 19C+] (Aus.) a fantastical tale, a ‘tall story’.

In phrases

above snakes (adj.) [‘a snake’s eye view’ of life above ground] [mid-19C] (US)

1. tall.

2. above the ground.

could crawl under a snake’s belly

[1920s+] (orig. Aus.) acting immorally and without the least ethics; usu. with ext., e.g. could crawl under a snake’s belly with a top hat on/whilst wearing a top hat/with stilts on/could crawl under a snake with a high silk hat on/could walk under a snake wearing a silk hat.

give someone a snake (v.)

[late 19C–1920s] to annoy, to irritate.

kill a snake (v.) [the act of urinating in the bush; note also snake n.3 ]

[20C+] to absent oneself from a group, e.g. to urinate.

snake off (v.) (also snake out) [the reptile’s characteristic movement]

[1910s+] (orig. Aus.) to slip off, to depart stealthily.

snake out (v.) [the hunting of deadly snakes]

[early–mid-19C] (US) to hunt down, to pursue.

snakes in one’s/the boots (n.)

see snakes n.

wake snakes (v.)

[mid–late 19C] (US) to drive to utmost fury, to start moving; also as adj., fast, intense.

In exclamations

snakes alive!

see separate entry.

snakes and sawdust!

see separate entry.