Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sponge n.

also spunge
[their absorption, whether of alcohol, knowledge or another’s favours]

1. a heavy drinker; thus spongy adj.

[UK]Shakespeare Merchant of Venice I ii: I will be anything, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a sponge.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Spunge, A thirsty fellow, a great drinker.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[UK]London Mag. Feb. 26: No sponges we, brave boys, shall be.
[Aus]G.C. Mundy Our Antipodes I 211: Grangosier himself could hardly outdo the bibulous capabilities of some of these spongy revellers.
[Aus]Mercury (Hobart) 23 Apr. 2/5: [from the Stranraer Free Press] [...] a regular sponge.
[SA]B. Mitford Fire Trumpet III 181: The sleek, well-fed, benevolent old ‘sponge’.
[US]Morn. Call (San Francisco) 28 Dec. 8/1: I could have pulled his leg for a broad-gauge jag, but I’m no sponge if I am poor.
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 63: sponge, n. A person with a large capacity for eating and drinking.
[US]H.G. van Campen ‘Our Theatrical Boarding House’ in L.A. Herald 26 Nov. 6/5: ‘I s’pose I’m the human sponge, ain’t I? A guy doin’ the work I am on the wlre’d do well bein’ a lusher’.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl.
[US](con. 1914–18) L. Nason Three Lights from a Match 200: Eye-wash means only one thing to him. That old sponge! [...] They’ve wrecked my car and come all the way up here with a hot-water bottle full of whiskey!
[US]J.A. Shidler ‘More Stanford Expressions’ in AS VII:6436: A drunkard is a ‘funnel,’ ‘tank,’ ‘blotter,’ or ‘sponge’.
[US]M. Prenner ‘Drunk in Sl.’ in AS XVI:1 Jan. 70/2: drunken person [...] sponge.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Oct.
[US]P. Munro Sl. U. 179: sponge person who drinks a lot.
[US]J. Stahl I, Fatty 236: [He] boasted the complexion of a rum-soaked sponge.

2. someone who lives through cadging off others, thus spongy, cadging.

[UK]Shakespeare Hamlet IV ii: ros.: Take you me for a sponge, my lord? ham.: Aye, sir, that soaks up the king’s countenance, his rewards, his authoritites.
[UK]Milton Ref. in England ii n.p.: Better a penurious kingdom than where excessive wealth flowes into the gracelesse and injurious hands of comon sponges to the impoverishing of good and loyal men [F&H].
[UK]Sporting Mag. Nov. XI 71/1: Pray, Mr. Spunge, how long is it since you paid for a dinner?
[UK]W. Perry London Guide 208: Should you ask for a song [...] the Sponge will turn round sharply and ask you for the loan of a few shillings.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 91: Tom indignantly declared that such a contemptible Sponge ought always to be well squeezed in every company.
[US]Southern Literary Messenger Apr. 215: He was not a sponge. He would as soon treat as be treated.
[UK]Paul Pry (London 15 Aug. n.p.: George Hy, of Charlotte-street, alias the Sneak, alias the Spongy Cove, alias the Tit, and several others.
[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 3: Spunge, I say, would make a violent irruption into a friend’s room, and if he did not turn him out of his bed, would at least take possession of his sofa.
[UK]R. Nicholson Rogue’s Progress (1966) 146: There were at least three sponges to one tippet, in fact it might have been truly called the city of the sponges.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 306: Spunge a mean, paltry fellow, sometimes called a spunger.
[Ire]Joyce ‘Counterparts’ Dubliners (1956) 93: If there was one thing he hated it was a sponge.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 418: Sponge. One who lives on other crooks.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl. 14: deadbeat. A sponge, parasite, one who lives on others.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 234: Nick off, you old sponge.
[US]College Sl. Research Project (Cal. State Poly. Uni., Pomona) [Internet] Sponge (noun) Someone who is always living off others’ money.

3. (UK Und.) a fool, a naïve countryman.

[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.

4. (US Und.) a miser.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum.

5. (US Und.) a prohibition officer.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

In phrases

chuck up the sponge (v.) (also chuck in the sponge, fling up..., throw in..., throw up…, toss in..., chuck the sponge in, throw the sponge in) [boxing imagery]

1. to give in, to surrender.

[UK]Era (London) 26 Jan. 10/4: The sponge was thrown up in token of submission [...] which ended in the defeat of the Londoner and the triumph of Birmingham.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 7 Apr. 4/2: His seconds [...] instantly threw up the sponge, and Dan was proclaimed winner.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 224: sponge ‘to throw up the sponge,’ to submit, to give over the struggle, ― from the practice of throwing up the sponge used to cleanse the combatants’ faces at a prize-fight, as a signal that the ‘mill’ is concluded.
[US]‘Artemus Ward’ Artemus Ward, His Book 137: She karries the Belt. Thar’s no draw fite about it. Other primy donnys may as well throw up the spunge first as last.
[Aus]Golden Age (Queanbeyan, NSW) 4 Sept. 3/2: Tom’s fistic slang is like so much Hebrew to us, we being in a most pastoral state of ignorance as to the meanings of [...] ‘flinging up the sponge,’ and the various other terms with which he garnishes his narrative.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 312: But their adopted banner could not save them from throwing up the sponge before the green shamrock.
[UK]Cheshire Obs. 18 Nov. 7/6: No, no, no! [...] I chuck up the sponge. You’ve bested me.
[US](con. c.1840) ‘Mark Twain’ Huckleberry Finn 256: Says I to myself, Now he’ll throw up the sponge — there ain’t no more use.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 20 Oct. 6: Mike McCool [...] flung up the sponge in the battle of life.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 258: If Jim had got his letter before we made up matters [...] he’d have chucked up the sponge and cleared out for good and all.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 22 July 1/4: The rebellious Adm’ral di Gama, / [...] / Having failed in his plunge, / Says he’ll throw up the sponge.
[UK]C.J.C. Hyne Further Adventures of Captain Kettle 144: Don’t throw up the sponge until someone else does it for you.
[UK]Marvel 12 Nov. 16: Never think of throwing up the sponge till after we get the final knock-out.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 10 Jan. 2/3: He possesses a wonderful amount of ‘toe’ yet I imagine that he would quickly throw up the sponge if anything raced him from the flagfall.
[UK]R. Tressell Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1955) 871: We can’t go on much longer as we’re doing at present. For my part, I think the best thing to do is to chuck up the sponge at once.
[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 154: Our hero was about to toss in the sponge, but Cicero was there with the convincer.
[UK]J. Buchan Greenmantle (1930) 371: I’m hanged if I’ll chuck up the sponge.
[US]Rising Sun 25 Dec. 3/2: Yet yer wouldn’t chuck the sponge in so yer had to lose yer lives.
B. Fisher ‘Mutt & Jeff’ [comic strip] As soon as Fritz heard we were at the front he threw up the sponge and quit.
[US]R. Lardner Big Town 164: Finally she cut it out and give him the old oil and by the time we got to the clubhouse he’d tossed in the sponge.
[Ire]B. Duffy Rocky Road 174: She might be gettin’ tired of all the disappointments, and [...] be glad to throw up the sponge.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 615: There’s no use throwing up the sponge.
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1962) 252: What had he done? Chucked up the sponge! Broken all his oaths!
[UK]G. Greene Brighton Rock (1943) 212: I haven’t thrown the sponge in yet.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 267: Then I decided to throw in the sponge.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 239: throw up the sponge To acknowledge defeat.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 109: They’ll start sliding fast if you throw in the sponge here.
[US]L. McMurtry Horseman, Pass By (1997) 136: Right now I just feel like throwing in the sponge.
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 140: How do you think he’d feel if he knew his old man chucked the sponge in?
A. Beechen ‘Mad Mod’ at [Internet] Mad Mod: (twirling his cane) You may as well chuck in the sponge, laddie! You can’t catch the likes of me!

2. to die.

[US]L. Pound ‘Amer. Euphemisms for Dying’ in AS XI:3 200: Threw in the sponge.