Green’s Dictionary of Slang

three adj.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

three balls (n.)

see separate entry.

three Bs (n.)

1. as used by churchmen, bright, brief and brotherly, three precepts for a good service, in all of which the younger clergy felt that the very conservative contemporary church was distinctly lacking.

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 244/2: Three B’s, The (Clerical). Bright, brief, and brotherly – the modern protest against the sleepy nature of a majority of the 19th century church services.

2. (Aus.) burn, bash and bury, what should be done with rubbish that accumulates in the outback.

J.R. Weber Wilderness Chef 10: Campers practiced the three Bs of wilderness cleanup: Burn, Bash and Bury.

3. (US gay) blow job, bed and breakfast; also attrib. [blow job n.1 (1)].

[US]J. Rechy Numbers (1968) 64: Lots of the guys here, they go for the three-B’s scene — you know, blow-job, bed, breakfast.
[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 196: three B’s 1. the limits of the gay ghetto: bars, baths and beaches 2. (hustler sl) blow job, bed and breakfast.
three-bulb plant (n.)

(US) a pawnbroker.

[US]C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 75: Various sums which a three-bulb plant in San Francisco had dished out to me for my sundry and diverse De Beers shiners.
[US]C.L. Cullen More Ex-Tank Tales 32: I’d always have half a dozen or so of the blankets scattered around at the three-bulb plants.
three-bullet Joey (n.) [their being armed + generic use of proper name Joey]

(US black) the police.

[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 66: The vehicles and flashing lights that identify their continuous presence in the lives of blacks (black and white, salt and pepper, three eyes, three-bullet-Joey).
three-card monte (n.)

see separate entry.

three-center (n.)

(US) a drink costing three cents.

[US]N.Y. Arena 27 May 1/6: Hitched up this morning, stepped into Cronly’s and got a three center, mounted my box, no sooner got well seated than I was hailed by an old customer.
three-chinned dame (n.) [the three chins that come with age and loss of looks]

a procuress, a bawd.

[UK] ‘The Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo’ in Farmer Merry Songs and Ballads (1897) I 15: With that, stept forth a foggy three-chinde dame, / that usd to take younge wenches for to tame.
three-cornered (adj.)

1. (Aus.) of a quadruped, usu. a horse, awkwardly shaped, scraggy, weak.

[Aus]Cornwall Chron. (Launceston, Tas.) 15 Jan. 2/6: ‘Promised Land’ [...] is now a leggy, three-cornered sort of a horse.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 28 July 2/6: I see a mob of such colts or horses [...] not as the get of any thoroughbred horse, but as belonging to the family of some three-cornered wretch.
[UK]Sporting Times 27 Sept. 2/5: [of a young man] He was the most three-cornered brute he’d ever encountered.
[Aus]Brisbane Courier 13 Aug. 3/2: Now come the horses [...] He is followed by the three-cornered beggar.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Colonial Reformer III 109: Sell every three-cornered wretch of ’em – a set of upright-shouldered, useless mongrels – directly you get a chance.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Dec. 12/4: The sordid part of the transaction is that the pampered tyke was chawed to death by a three-cornered mongrel belonging to a livery-stable man.
Northern Miner (Qld) 3 Apr. 5/4: Russell’s Horse Sale [...] the great majority of which were of no class, aged, three-cornered, or too dear.
[Aus]Mail (Adelaide) 29 Oct. 11/6: We may attain the ideal by using only stock that will improve those three-cornered cattle and scrubby horses.

2. of anything, misshapen, ill-fitting; fig. use naive, stupid.

[US]N. Nye Breed of the Chaparral (1949) 24: A kid in three-cornered pants would know better’n let this guy git in gunshot of ’im!
three-cornered tree (n.) (also tree with three corners)

the gallows, esp. the great ‘triple tree’ at Tyburn.

[UK] in Witts Recreations n.p.: And from the fruit of the three corner’d tree, Vertue and goodness still deliver me [F&H].
[UK](con. late 18C) C. Hindley Old Bk Collector’s Misc. 13: A TREE WITH THREE CORNERS.— The gallows at Tyburn.
three Cs (n.)

(UK public school) Christianity, Cold bath and Cricket.

[UK](con. 1912) B. Marshall George Brown’s Schooldays 106: No bullying and no unhealthy affections. At other schools perhaps, but not at Dunmere where we practise the three C’s.
three-dollar bill (n.) [no such currency exists]

(US) anyone or anything eccentric or odd; also used as a comparative denoting eccentricity (see cit. 1965).

[US]Lavender Lex. n.p.: three dollar bill:– A queer, a phony.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 155: In the first interview the nut doctors knew / she was as freakish as a three-dollar bill.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Oct. 6: three-dollar-bill – a strange person.
[US]N. Heard House of Slammers 89: Sixty-nine Lil with Three-dollar Bill.
[US]A. Vachss Hard Candy (1990) 14: She knew a three-dollar bill when she saw one.
[US]Eble Sl. and Sociability 59: Derogatory epithets abound, for example [...] tang, three dollar bill, tool, twerp, twink.
three-inch fool (n.)

one who has a short penis.

[UK]Shakespeare Taming of the Shrew IV i: curt.: Away, you three-inch fool! I am no beast. gru.: Am I but three inches? why, thy horn is a foot; and so long am I at the least.
three-legged bride (n.)

the gallows.

[UK]New Brawle 3: If there be a destiny in Marriage and hanging, would I had wedded the three-legg’d bride at Hidepark corner.
three-legged instrument (n.)

the gallows.

[UK]J. Taylor ‘An Armado’ in Works (1869) I 77: The three legged instrument near Paddington.
three-legged mare (n.) (also three-legged stool)

the gallows, esp. the ‘triple tree’ at Tyburn.

[UK] ‘The Reading Skirmish’ in Ebsworth Bagford Ballads (1878) I 375: They call a thing a Three-Legged Mare; / where they will fit each Neck with a Noose.
[UK]Motteux (trans.) Gargantua and Pantagruel (1927) II Bk V 514: Your gaol-birds, who, having done some rogue’s trick or other heinous villainy, and being sought up and down to be [...] made to ride the two or three-legged mare that groans for them.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: three legg’d stool, or three-legg’d Mare Tyburn.
[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 23: They are likely to stop there, till they appear before their twelve God-fathers, and are from thence remov’d to the three legged Mare, on which they must all ride to old Charon’s Ferry-Boat.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Three-legged mare, or stool. The gallows, formerly consisting of three posts, over which were laid three transverse beams.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn) n.p.: Acorn. You will ride a horse foaled by an acorn, i.e. the gallows, called also the Wooden and Three-legged Mare. You will be hanged.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 183: ‘Here’s to the three-legged mare,’ cried Peter.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 318/2: three legged mare, [...] le gibet, qui se composait autrefois de trois poteaux plantés en triangle et réunis par des traverses.
[Scot]Glasgow Herald 17 Dec. 2/2: The dread ‘Tyburn tree’ [...] was for a long time, a fixed gallows of triangular form, and was called in derision, the ‘three-legged mare,’ or the ‘three-footed stool’.
[UK]Essex Newsman 1 Feb. 3/5: He was on a lay that is likely to endin a ride on the three-legged mare that was foaled by an acorn.
[UK](ref. to 1783)Cornishman 3 Nov. 6/4: On the Friday of the next month [...] Tyburn’s ‘triple tree’ or ’three-legged mare’ ceased its dread work.
three-letter man (n.) [note O. Henry An Unfinished Story (1906): ‘The words-of-three-letters lesson in the old blue spelling book begins with Piggy’s biography. He was fat; he had the soul of a rat, the habits of a bat, and the magnanimity of a cat’]

(orig. US campus) euph. for a homosexual [the letters were orig. f-a-g, now g-a-y].

[[US]‘Digg Mee’ ‘Observation Post’ in N.Y. Age 14 Dec. 10/5: I referred to him as the ‘fay’ [...] He thought it was synonymous with another three-letter word beginning with ‘f’ and ending with ‘g’].
[US]J.G. Rothenberg ‘Peanuts! The Pickle Dealers’ in AS XVI:3 Oct. 190: Three-letter man — F-A-G.
[US]Trimble 5000 Adult Sex Words and Phrases.
[US]Maledicta 1 (Summer) 16: The disliked person is accused of being a fag (or Three-Letter Man), a faggot, a fairy, a pansy, a queer, a fruit .
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 140: To call someone a three-letter man is another way of saying he is a f-a-g.
three Ms (n.) [Mulga Madness Mixture]

(Aus.) rough liquor, drunk in the Australian outback.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Oct. 21/3: The liquor that is swallowed round about Behind-Beyond-Back-o’-Out-Back is locally known as ‘Three-M’s.’ Mulga Mat explained to me that this name is an apt abbreviation of Mulga Madness Mixture.

see separate entries.

three penn’orth (n.)

(UK und.) a three-month sentence.

[UK]‘Paul Pry’ Oddities of London Life I 204: The boy [...] whispered to the gaoler ‘they arn’t a going to “fully” me, are they?’ ‘You are knocked down for three pennerth at the mill, and no mistake,’ answered the gaoler.
three-piece suite (n.) (also three-piece set, ...suit) [furnishing/tailoring imagery]

1. the male genitals.

[US]‘Mae West in “The Hip Flipper”’ [comic strip] in B. Adelman Tijuana Bibles (1997) 97: His Nibs is ready to surrender the family jewels to our Lotta, especially that three piece set he’s got up Lotta’s flue right now.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/1: [...] later C.20. 19 Nov. 🌐 When you had grown-ups’ trousers altered, the legs were very wide so you had to be careful not show your three piece when wearing them.

2. thus a term of abuse.

[US](con. 1920s) ‘Harry Grey’ Hoods (1953) 133: Them bastards are a real three-piece set.
three planks (n.)

a coffin.

[UK]North-Eastern Dly Gaz. 5 Sept. 4/4: Deceased said [...] he wished he had his three planks (coffin). He fell to the ground in a fit.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[Courier-Post (Camden, NJ) 17 Dec. 2/7: He [...] told his mother to buy three planks for his coffin, as he would die the following day].
three-point (adj.)

pertaining to the street-corner.

[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 126: Now I was standing up on the corner of Hollywood and Grand, / leaning up against the lamp-post in a three-point stand.
three-point drinker (n.) [the three additives]

one who drinks sixpennyworth of gin, with bitters, a shot of lime juice and soda.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/1: three-or-four-point drinker [...] since ca. 1925; by end of 1945, ob.
three-pointer (n.)

(US black) an urban street corner; thus three-pointer of the ace trill in the twirling top, any corner of 7th Avenue in Harlem.

[US]D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive 12: I nixes my pad, drops the twister on the keep, and collars a light broom down the cruncher to the lushpad on the three pointer. [Ibid.] 18: Two cats [...] were stashed on the flag spot on the three pointer of the ace trill in the twirling top.
three-ring circus (n.) [the three rings = the anus, mouth, vagina]

(US gay) a heterosexual woman.

[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 81: a straight woman; any woman [...] three-ring circus.
three-rounder (n.) [junior or amateur boxing matches are restricted to three rounds, professional bouts run to 12 or (formerly) 15]

a petty criminal.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/1: [...] since ca. 1950: c. >, by 1965, low s.
three sheet...

see separate entries.

three squares (n.) (also three square) [abbr.]

three square meals, regular eating.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 63: ‘Chances are he’s sidestepped two out o' three roll calls at the feed trough all summer [...] but do you think you could drag him out o’ that hand-book joint an’ show him where he can gather three squares’.
[US]J. London Valley of the Moon (1914) 418: It’d mean work all day, three squares, an’ movie’ pictures for recreation.
Eve. News (Harrisburg, PA) 3 Sept. 8/6: I’m a slave of a tyrant called Three-Square A-Day.
[US]L.A. Times Sun. Mag. 13 June 24/1: The style for three ‘squares’ a day [...] has clung in our customs and habits.
Spokane Chron. (WA) 11 May 4/2: I like m y three squares a day as well as the next man.
[US]M. Shulman Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) 169: Three squares and a flop, nothing to do, free medical care [etc.].
[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 181: If Morrie took me on I’d be sure of three squares a day.
[US]D. Ponicsan Last Detail 32: I love the goddam navy. I get three squares, a pad to lie down on.
[US](con. 1949) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 146: Terminal drunks and dopers looking for a permanent three-square, bedwetters crying for attention.
[US]B. Wiprud Sleep with the Fishes 22: He [...] could land enough [fish] for three squares.
[US]F. Bill ‘Coon Hunter’s Noir’ in Crimes in Southern Indiana [ebook] Hed get three squares a day.
three-stripe (n.)

(US black) an Adidas trainer.

Lil Wayne ‘Look at Me’ 🎵 T-shirt white, three stripes with all ice.
Reks ‘Grey Hairs’ 🎵 I wanted to rock them three stripes, Timbs, and Nikes.
threeswins (n.) (also threswins, treewins, treswins) [SE three + win n.]

(UK Und., threepence; US) three cents.

[UK]Dekker ‘Canters Dict.’ Eng. Villainies (9th edn) n.p.: Tree-wins, Three pence.
[Ire]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn).
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Treewins, c. Threepence.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 89: threswins Three cents or pence.
[US]Baltimore Sun (MD) 20 Sept. 17/5: ‘Threeswins’ are puzzling.
three threads (n.) (also three thread)

‘half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer’ (Grose).

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn) n.p.: Three Threads. Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK] (ref. to c.1700) G.A. Sala Twice Round the Clock 208: Burnt brandy and flowing ‘Winchesters’ [...] of ‘powerful three thread’ — our modern porter.
[UK]Belfast News-Letter 15 June 6: Some old names for [...] beer are curious [...] ‘Three threads’ was a drink consisting of half of ale, half of stout.
three-time loser (n.) [loser n. (2)]

1. (orig. US Und.) a prisoner who has been convicted of three crimes worthy of a prison sentence and faces a life sentence or execution if convicted a fourth time (cf. two-time loser n.).

[US]J. Kelley Thirteen Years in Oregon Penitentiary 81: Pat came back again; he was a three-time loser.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 56: loser [...] current amongst prison habitues. An ex-convict. [...] Examples: ‘Three-time losers cop life in some states.’.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Dead Don’t Dream’ in Hollywood Detective July 🌐 He was doing a life stretch; he was a three-time loser.
Amer. Record Guide 295: I’m A Three-time Loser and For You; Capitol 40055. ... I’m A Three-time Loser is best musically because it is a good blues, but it lacks the Negroid style.
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 43: George was a three-time loser. The next time meant life as an habitual criminal.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 437: I never saw Rock again after that. He got busted again, and he was a three-time loser.
Newcastle Eve. Crhon. 18 June 16/2: [headline] ‘Frenzy’ and the three-time loser.
[UK]A-Team Storybook 47: You don’t want to be a three time loser.
[US]T. Willocks Green River Rising 132: Myers was a weary three-time loser from Brownsville. Armed robbery and assault.
[US]E. Little Another Day in Paradise 258: Gonna take a big bounce on this one. Three-time loser.
[US]D. Winslow ‘Paradise’ in Broken 241: Tim Kearney [...] was a three-time loser, a B&E artist whose greatest skill was getting caught.

2. a failure, a social inadequate [fig. use of sense 1 + ext. of loser n. (1)].

[US]R. Campbell Alice in La-La Land (1999) 38: Jen, gimme a break. Your old dad’s gonna be a three-time loser.
[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 67: He’s a three time loser from Willesden who came to Camden like it was Miami.
[Ire]Kerryman 25 Feb. 22/2: It was to be Mrs Horan’s day. No way did she want to be a three-time loser.
three-time winner (n.) [gambling imagery]

(US) a lucky person or thing.

[US]Wash. Post 4 Sept. 12/6: Never doubting but that he had, in his pure white kite [...] a ‘three-time winner.’.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 286: Blamed ef you ain’t a three-time winner, kiddoo!
three trees (n.) [the early gallows was made of three vertical posts joined by a long horizontal bar]

the gallows.

[UK]Trial of Treasure Biii: That thou are not erected in faith it is pittie, As hie as three trees, and a halter will reache.
N. Breton Toyes of an Idle Head 28: For commonly such knaves as these Doe end their lyves vpon three trees .
three-up (n.)

(Aus.) a (fraudulent) gambling game based on the tossing of three coins.

[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 11: Three-up - A low gambling game by tossing up three pennies or other coins and crying to them.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 28 Dec. 5/2: [He] was wheeled to the station by a three-up player, who entered a charge against him [...] of stealing his joint.

see separate entries.

three weeks (n.) [the title of the then ‘sexy’ novel by Elinor Glyn, Three Weeks (1907)]

an intense but brief sexual relationship.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/2: [...] ca. 1907–14.
three-year-old (n.) [the three-pound weight]

(Anglo-Irish) a stone weighing approx. 36kg (3lb), used as a weapon.

[Aus]P. Cunningham New South Wales II 63: Bludgeons, brick-bats, ‘three-year olds,’ and fists, being all legalised in these turn-ups.

In phrases

three blue beans in one blue bladder (n.) [the image of a jester and his trad. bladder on a stick, made noisier by the dried beans it contains]

futile, pointless (if noisy) talk.

[UK]M. Prior Alma in Works (1959) I i 471: (They speak With small Respect of that old greek) That, putting all his Words together, ’Tis Three blew Beans in One blew Bladder.
[UK]Exeter & Plymouth Gaz. 9 Oct. 2/5: Who can be insensible to wit like this? It beats ‘three blue beans in one blue bladder’.
[UK]London Dly News 26 Aug. 3/4: The style I apprehend, sir, is what the learned Scribblerus would call ‘rigmarole’ in logic [...] and in vulgar acceptation ‘Three blue beans in a blue bladder’.
[UK]Eddowes’s Jrnl 29 Apr. 5/4: The style, I appreehend, Sir, is [...] in vulgar acception, three blue beans in a blue bladder.
(con. 1844) Scotsman 27 Jan. 4/2: One receiving this [Walter] Scott endorsed it: ‘French Eloge. Moonshine in water. Three blue beans in a blue bladder’.
three bricks shy of a load (adj.) (also a couple of bricks..., a few bricks shy of a load, three bricks shy of a barrel)

1. (US) not very intelligent, slightly eccentric, odd. One of a number of phrs. meaning stupid or eccentric.

[US]R. Blount About Three Bricks Shy of a Load [title].
Bakersfield Californian (CA) 21 Nov. 21/4: ‘He’s three bricks shy of barrel.’ This means he doesn’t have all his marbles or ‘he’s three bricks shy of a load’ or that ‘his traces ain’t hooked up right’.
Dly Trib. (Waisconsin Rapids, WI) 16 Nov. 6/1: If you want to call someone dumb [...] the thesaurus offers [...] ‘three bricks shy of a load’.
Pittsburgh Post-Gaz. (PA) 12 Nov. 32/5: ‘Bran’s about three bricks shy of a load,’ Gelzheiser offered.
[US]Austin Chronicle 10 Nov. 🌐 He’s still half-submerged in his childhood, haunted and strangely nurtured by memories of his abusive, sexually freaky, three-bricks-shy-of-a-load mama.
[US]D.R. Pollock ‘Lard’ in Knockemstiff 87: Lard was a couple of bricks shy of a load.
[US]S.A. Cosby ‘Grandpa’s Place’ in ThugLit Sept. [ebook] Tony’s mom, who was already a few bricks shy of a load, went completely bonkers.

2. (US) inadequate.

Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY) 11 May 21/2: The Whalers gave it everything they had. They simply came up three bricks shy of a load against a New Brunswick team with the right touch.
three draws and a spit (n.) (also two draws and a spit) [SE draw, a puff]

a cigarette.

[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[UK]Wkly Standard (Blackburn) 29 July 5/4: When they are not singing and dancing, its three draws, three puffs and a spit.
[US]Democrat & Chron. (Rochester, NY) 29 Sept. 10/4: The now familiar cigarette was dignified on occasion of its first intrudctrion into Enland by the appellation ‘three draws and a spit’.
[UK]‘Bartimeus’ ‘A Gunroom Smoking Circle’ in Naval Occasions 40: Cigarettes were all very well in their way: ‘two draws and a spit’ snatched during stand-easy in the forenoon.
three-ed up (adv.)

(UK prison) living three to a cell.

[UK]G.F. Newman Villain’s Tale 136: The cells were more crowded, everyone was threed up, some even four to a cell.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/2: [...] C.20.
three feet of tin (n.)

a coach-horn.

H.E. Malet Annals of the Road 34: The coach-horn, ' the three feet of tin,' was placed in a loop on the offside of the coach.
three hots and a cot (n.)

see under hot n.

three links of the Atlantic cable (n.)

(US) sausage.

[US] (ref. to 1880s) L.A. Times 9 Apr. 5: ‘This slang runs from “three links of the Atlantic cable” (meaning sausage,) to “San Francisco bay, one small boat half sunk” (cocktail,) and back again,’ said a ‘traveling hash,’ who has been in the business about twelve years.
three of the best (n.)

(Aus.) a packet of condoms, usu. containing three.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224/1: since ca. 1925.

(US black) 21, i.e. legally adult in USA.

Blind Lemon Jefferson ‘Corinna Blues’ 🎵 I done told you woman, I’ve been tellin’ your partner too / You’re three times seven, and you know what you wanna do.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1995) 7: Ahm three times seben and uh button.
[US]G. Cain Blueschild Baby 95: ‘I’m three times seven and don’t need anybody telling me how to live this one, you ain’t my father’.