Green’s Dictionary of Slang

snake n.1

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

1. (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’].

[UK]Sam Sly 12 May 3/3: Old snake, do you give credit to the parties for all the rents you collect, and does it include your own two rooms? Sam thinks not.
[UK]Wild Boys of London I 116/2: He’s an old snake, I know.
[US]Appleton’s Journal (N.Y.) 9 Dec. 671: A learned naturalist says that all the snakes of new England are harmless except rattlesnakes. He probably does not include snakes in boots.
[UK]Gem 16 Mar. 6: He’s heeled the snake! [...] see that revolver sticking out of his pocket.
[US]M.G. Hayden ‘Terms Of Disparagement’ in DN IV:iii 198: snake, [...] a term of contempt.
[UK]Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves 156: The hound Steggles is [...] one of our leading snakes.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 414: She wept, cursed, flung things about, snatched up the automatic pistol, threatened to do murder, called him a snake and a dingo and a yeller barsted.
[UK]Wodehouse Mating Season 167: Would you call him a slinking snake?
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 60: Not that I’ve any time for that sneaking little snake.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 19: He was the pin-striped snake who would poison the core of our lives.
[US]D. Goines Street Players 130: When those snakes come down on you like that, you just go back upstairs.
[Aus]N. Keesing Lily on the Dustbin 80: Other words recorded for this group are: [...] snako (a crawler, or crawling to an adult).
[US]R. Price Clockers 184: You’re a lyin’, no-good, spic, motherfucker snake.
[UK]Guardian G2 17 Feb. 7: Have you heard about that snake then?
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 254: The guy’s a snake.
[UK]Skepta ‘2+2x2’ [lyrics] So many Snakes, so many fakes, you better mind out who you roll with / [...] / You can’t trust nobody in Showbiz. ‘Roadman Slang 4 Jun. [Internet] Snake - an untrustworthy person who gossips.

2. (US gang) a spy.

[US]H. Salisbury Shook-Up Generation (1961) 33: Blood wanted to send two or three snakes (spies or intelligence agents) to check the location and strength of the Rovers.
[US]E. De Roo Big Rumble 94: ‘Claw Talos, right?’ Larry nodded. ‘See, that’s us! WE got the best snakes in the zoo.’.

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

[US]Baker et al. CUSS 200: Snake An ugly person, female.
[US]Current Sl. IV:1 14: Snake, n. A promiscuous girl [...] An ugly girl. [Ibid.] Snakepit, n. A gathering of ugly girls.

4. (US black) a homosexual, whether male or female.

[US]C. Major Juba to Jive.

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

[US]Current Sl. V:3 19: Snake, n. One who will cut-in at dances (US Military Academy).
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Fall 6: snake – [...] That Caroline is such a snake.
[US]Eble Sl. and Sociability 69: A snake is ‘a person who steals something, particularly another’s date’.

6. see little snakesman under little adj.

7. see snake charmer

In phrases

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

1. to prepare a victim (including oneself) for exploitation by a criminal or trickster; thus to encourage lazy or criminal individuals.

[US]Alexandria Gaz. (VA) 31 Jan. 2/2: Parr said he was decidedly against fattening frogs to feed snakes.
[US]Wkly Era (Raleigh, NC) 5 July 4/4: I am one that will not fatten frogs for snakes [...] I never intend to vote for men that had tried so hard to cheat me.
[US]Richmond Planet (VA) 12 Jan. 4/3: ‘Watch and pray, old boy, as fattening frogs for snakes won’t do it’.
[US]Leavenworth Post (KS) 22 July 5/6: ‘I told him [...] that I wouldn’t fatten a frog for another snake to eat’.
[US]Kansas City Sun (MO) 30 Oct. 4/4: We do not fatten frogs for snakes.
[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 67: I ain’t gonna let [...] nobody else make a chump out of me. I ain’t gonna fatten no frogs for snakes.
[US]Cincinnati Enquirer (OH) 22 Apr. 34/1: ‘If a person listens, I don’t mind telling them what I know [...] but I don’t want to fatten frogs for snakes’.
[US]Austin African-American Statesman (TX) 19 Dec. 69/3: ‘You are doing us all a disservice. Our idea has not been to fatten the frogs for the snakes’.
[US]L.A. Times 1 Sept. A18/1: Sam used to always say to me, ‘We don’t fatten no frogs for no smakes,’ meaning he didn’t want undeserving individuals in the corporate [world] to benefit from our hard work.
Hartford Courant (CT) 7 Feb. B2/5: For the sake of New Britain taxpayers, they should refuse to fatten frogs for snakes.

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

Hartford Courant (CT) 28 June 26/3: To the question ‘What are you doing?’ he may answer, ‘fattenin’ frogs for snames’.

SE in slang uses

In compounds


see separate entries.

snake charmer (n.)

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

[Aus]Western Mail (Perth) 14 Mar. 43/5: The lengthsmen whose constant duty it was to verify this state of affairs [i.e. bent rails] thus earned the soubriquet of ‘snake charmers’.
[Aus]Northern Standard (Darwin, NT) 9 Feb. 8/4: The worthless copuntry folks along the line were given a few weeks work with the ‘snake charmers’ mowing the hay from the line.
[Aus]Worker (Brisbane) 7 Nov. 2/2: We were the fettling gang, ‘snake charmers’, (snakes for short) and as often called ‘woolley noses’. We did not build railways but kept them in order.
[Aus](ref. to 1893) Western Mail (Perth) 11 May 11/3: During 1893 [...] I landed in Kalgoorlie to commence work in the railway with the gang commonly known as ‘snake charmers’.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 249: There are terms like [...] snake-charmers, snakes or lizards, railway platelayers.
[Aus]Argus (Melbourne) 18 Apr. 3s/5: ‘Snake charmers’ [...] are plate-layers on railroad construction.

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

Indiana Gaz. (PA) 6 Aug. 5: Snake charmer — oboe. Horse teeth — piano.
[US]Charleston (WV) Daily Mail 27 June 8/8: I knew a ‘snake charmer’ is an oboe, a ‘wood pile’ a xylophone, ‘phone booth’ a bass fiddle and ‘African harp’ a banjo.
snake eyes (n.)

see separate entries.

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

(Aus.) an imaginary place that is a byword for backwardness and remoteness; also attrib.

[Aus]Canberra Times 25 Mar. 2/4: Mr. Bailey mentioned that he had received a letter from ‘Mum’ who had written from the farm at Snake Gully, and it indicated that the war would not last much longer.
[Aus]Tropic Spread: Mag. 18th Aus. Advanced Ordnance Depot July 7: Report from our Snake-Gully correspondent [AND].
[Aus]Kings Cross Whisper (Sydney) viii 2: It was called a gas party, probably because so many of them were ‘on the bugle’, as we say back in Snake Gully.
[Aus]A. Chipper Aussie Swearers Guide 66: The same cocky will get even more snaky (angry) if you name his place of orighin as one of these very rural outposts: The Never-Never, Woop Woop, Back of Bourke, Snake Gully or Beyond the Black Stump.
[Aus]B. Hornadge Aus. Slanguage 101: The outback has an identical geographical twin in the never never, and to reinforce the myth of the actual existence of such places the old timers invented equally mythical place names such as Bullabakanha (there are several alternate spellings), Snake Gully and Woop Woop.
snake-headed (adj.) [the negative image of the reptile]

1. (UK Und.) quickwitted.

[UK] ‘Battle’ in Fancy I XVII 405: He was a good nobbed one – snake headed – had the length of his adversary, and looked like a dangerous customer.

2. (Aus.) testy, irritated.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 28 Apr. 32/2: He owed Milligan a big score in bar and store, and Pat was turning ‘snake-headed.’.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘War’ in Moods of Ginger Mick 23: An’ wot’s ole England got snake-’eaded for? / An’ wot’s the strength uv callin’ out our chaps?
[UK]B. Cronin Timber Wolves 137: Anyhow, they’s no need to get snake-headed about it.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 68: Snake-headed, angry, vindictive.
snake juice (n.) (also snaik-juice) [juice n.1 (3d)]

(orig. Aus.) any form of liquor, esp. when cheap and potent; thus snake-juicer, a drinker of such liquor.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 3 Jan. 10/2: But the whiskey-soaked joker inside couldn’t see a hole in a ladder at the time, and so he peacefully slumbered until the effects of the snake-juice wore off [...]. [Ibid.] 31 Jan. 14/3: In company with that vague, mysterious, and ever-thirsty caravan called the ‘Boys,’ [he] had not only damped, but had fairly drowned the enemy in foaming billows of Cooktown snaik-juice.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 9 Aug. 15/1: [T]he teamsters flung their dollars about in galore – (carriage to Beechworth was £185 per ton in those balmy days) – intoxicating themselves equally with smiles bestowed on them [...] as with the snake-juice shaken from the shilling-a-nobbler bottle.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 11 Feb. 1/8: The snakejuice of Sydney is now so superior / As soon as it perfume’s a fellow’s interior / [...] / He finds it imperative, just as a feeler, / To rage round the footpaths and knock down a peeler .
[Aus]J. Furphy Such is Life 87: Illicit snake-juice for them, and golden top for the other fellow.
[US]Wash. Herald (DC) 11 Sept. 19/5: Name your snake-juice, you-all — the winner pays.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘War’ in Moods of Ginger Mick 24: I’ve ’arf a mind to give cold tea a go – / It’s no game, pourin’ snake-juice in yer face.
[Aus]Eve. News (Sydney) 23 Feb. 4/4: Three bottles of K.B., please, and four bottles of Dirty Annie. [...] Four glasses, one with snakejuice and one Tommy Dodd.
[Aus]Sun (Sydney) 4 Nov. 9/6: Sydney's "plonk" has been known under many aliases. ‘Pinkie,’ ‘Red Ned,’ ‘Biddy,’ ‘Snake Juice,’' and ‘Bottled Dynamite’ are only a few of them.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 68: snake-juice: Bad liquor. snake-juicer. An addict to bad alcohol.
[US]Kerouac On the Road (The Orig. Scroll) (2007) 257: Great big black fellas [...] drinking snakejuice and makin’ signs at us.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 239/1: snake juicer – a person who drinks bad liquor.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Cop This Lot 60: You get full on yer snake juice if ut’ll make yer feel better.
[Aus] B. Wannan Folklore of the Aus. Pub.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 362: Snake juice, snake medicine, and snake poison are bywords for whiskey.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 133: The problems associated with over-proof and downright dangerous concoctions are also numerous in colloquial speech: [...] snake-juice; plonk; red ned; bombo; chateau cardboard (all terms for poor quality wine).
snake poison (n.) (also snake medicine) [var. on snake juice ]

(Aus./US) whisky; also attrib.

[US]Harper’s Mag. Aug. 276/2: A fine spring of water, aided by a little snake-medicine, set us all right [DA].
[US]L.C. D’Oyle in Cornhill Mag. Jan. 51: It was variously called for as tangle-foot, snake-poison, [...] chain-lightning, or other fancy name, but it was never called for as whisky [DA].
[US]S. Crane Monster 199: [You] got up agin some snake-medicine licker [DA].
[US]R.F. Adams Cowboy Lingo 236: He proceeds to guzzle snake pizen an’ hell ’round town.
[US]S.J. Simonsen Among the Sourdoughs 21: He never got seasick, especially if he had a little ‘snake medicine’ around to set his stomach tight.
[US]Fond Du Lac (WI) Reporter 13 Oct. 8/3: Saloon keepers called the stuff they pushed across the bars to cowboys whisky. What the cowboys called it, however, was ‘bug juice,’ ‘gut warmer,’ ‘nose paint,’ ‘red eye,’ ‘rotgut,’ ‘scamper juice,’ ‘snake poison’ or ‘tonsil varnish.’.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 362: Snake juice, snake medicine, and snake poison are bywords for whiskey.
snake room (n.) (also snake ranch)

1. (US) a bar, esp. when full of drunkards.

[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Young Manhood in Studs Lonigan (1936) 311: He had to smile, remembering [...] that snake room full of drunks.
[US]‘Bill O. Lading’ You Chirped a Chinful!! n.p.: Snake Ranch: Bar.
[US]O. Ferguson ‘Vocab. for Lakes, [etc.]’ AS XIX:2 110: A snakeranch also probably has girls, but can be any sort of down-at-the-heel place of assemblage where there are cigarette butts all over the floor, and sailors too, most of the time, and where the level of conversation and morals is not high.

2. (US) a room hired for a party.

H.B. Darrach Jr. ‘Sticktown Nocturne’ in Baltimore Sun (MD) 12 Aug. A-1/1: He and three other barnacles had ‘shekeled in’ recently to get a ‘snake ranch’ (which he explained was a room hired for a party).
snake’s house (n.)

see separate entry.

snakesman (n.)

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.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ Mysteries and Miseries of N.Y. I 36: I want a youngster for a snakesman, one as can get in through a hole in the back winder.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 416: It ended by my doin’ little snakesman for my nibs and back-jumpin’ the carsey.
snake tart (n.) [joc. resemblance]

eel pie.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 1100/1: mid-C.19–early 20.
snake yarn (n.) [lit. or fig. involving snakes]

(Aus.) a fantastical tale, a ‘tall story’.

[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 23 Nov. 7/2: ‘What do you think of that [anecdote] now?’ A knowing urchin responded, ‘I reckon that’s a snake yarn’.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 29 Mar. 6/2: Mr F. C. Keys, R N. R (purple degree in snake yarns) .
[Aus]S. Gore Holy Smoke 50: She seems a bit of a snake yarn to me.

In phrases

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

1. tall.

E. Stuart-Wortley Travels in US 154: Look at those two tall Kentuckians [...] somewhere about seven feet ‘above snakes.’.

2. above the ground.

[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (4th edn) 2: Above snakes, Exaggerated cant for ‘from the ground,’ or more than above the ground.
could crawl under a snake’s belly

(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; note extrapolation in cit. 1960.

[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 24 July [synd. col.] Two vaudeville actors were quarreling [...] Said one to the other: ‘You’re so low you could walk under a snake wearing a silk hat.’.
[US](con. WWII) R. Leckie Marines! 134: You ain’t gonna be high enough to kiss a snake’s belly.
letter in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows Times (Canada) 16 Oct. n.p.: If Mayor Don MacLean and council get away with their attempt to kill off the referendum bylaw then they can crawl under a snake whilst wearing a top hat.
[US]Union News (Union U., Jackson, Tenn.) 12 Feb. n.p.: A freshman, sir, is so low, sir, that he can crawl under a snake, sir, with a high silk hat on, sir, without touching the snake, sir.
kill a snake (v.) [the act of urinating in the bush; note also snake n.3 ]

to absent oneself from a group, e.g. to urinate.

[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 91: KILL A SNAKE: Humorous, akin to the excuse of ’tween acts drinkers going out to see a man. Man with a private bottle of a picnic adjourning to have a drink, or lovers going off into the bush to spoon, are said to be going to kill a snake.
[Aus]R. Raven-Hart Canoe in Aus. 41: He has heard ‘to see a man about a dog’, but preferred the Australian ‘to go and kill a snake’.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 62: Come on, Charlie, let’s rock it in — I gotta go kill a snake.
[Aus]J. O’Grady Aussie Eng. (1966) 36: Dyke – A toilet. [...] A place in which to [...] ‘kill a snake’.
snake off (v.) (also snake out) [the reptile’s characteristic movement]

(orig. Aus.) to slip off, to depart stealthily.

[UK]Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves 190: I eluded his vigilance [...] and snaked off in a taxi.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 200/1: Snake out. [...] 3. To escape from surveillance or from the scene of a crime by guile rather than by headlong flight.
snake out (v.) [the hunting of deadly snakes]

(US) to hunt down, to pursue.

[UK] proclamation, in Boston, against the English Abolitionist, Mr George Thompson, then visiting America in Ware (1909) 227/2: The present is a fair opportunity to snake Thompson out.
[US]Ade Artie (1963) 83: When you see them fallin’ into coal-holes and bein’ snaked out by fake hotel-runners you think they’re purty new, do n’t you?
[US]‘Old Sleuth’ Dock Rats of N.Y. (2006) 103: ‘How did you snake us out down at the island?’ ‘I’ve been picking up facts for some time.’.
snakes in one’s/the boots (n.)

see snakes n.

wake snakes (v.)

(US) to drive to utmost fury, to start moving; also as adj., fast, intense.

[US]J.K. Paulding Westward Ho! I 122: Ha! ha! whoop! wake snakes – go ahead, go ahead, and don’t be so rantankerous.
[US]A.B. Longstreet Georgia Scenes (1848) 10: Oh, wake snakes, and walk your chalks!
[US]D. Corcoran Pickings from N.O. Picayune (1847) 143: I went on a regular wake snakes sort of spree.
[US]J.R. Lowell Biglow Papers (1880) 21: And, if it warn’t for wakin’ snakes, I’d be home agin short metre.
[US]T. Haliburton Nature and Human Nature I 371: ‘Come,’ sais I, ‘wake snakes, and push off with the Captain.’.
[US]T. Haliburton Season Ticket 295: I’ll teach you how to wake snakes and walk chalks.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.

In exclamations

snakes alive!

see separate entry.

snakes and sawdust!

see separate entry.