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 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


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.