Green’s Dictionary of Slang

snakes n.

[from the snakes one supposedly sees, i.e. see snakes under see v.]

alcoholic hallucinations, delirium tremens.

[US]Harper’s Mag. Nov. 701/1: He is only taking a parting smile at the snakes [DA].
[UK]Sporting Times 19 Jan. 1/2: ‘Mention the names of some of the best known snakes’ [...] ‘Boa constrictors [...] sea serpents, jim-jams’.
Herald (Los Angeles) 28 Oct. 9/1: Say, you talk about being leary when you got the snakes. Why [etc].
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Boozers’ Home’ in Roderick (1972) 318: If a patient [...] got up to hunt the snakes out of his room, he wouldn’t be sworn at, or laughed at, or held down.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ Down the Line 72: Eat all our booze you want to, but go elsewhere and select your snakes.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 4 Jan. 4/7: If your tongue is like a brick, / If the snakes are round you thick / [...] / Swear off!
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[US]Omaha Dly Bee (NE) 14 Sept. 13/5: The growler [...] suffered all the symptoms of a man with the ‘snakes’.
[US](con. 1914–18) L. Nason Three Lights from a Match 194: Christ [...] when did I have my last drink? I must have the snakes!
[US]Phila. Eve. Bulletin 5 Oct. 40/1: Whaddaya mean! Are yuh getting th’ snakes? Th’ bulls are taking it, ain’t they?
[UK]‘William Juniper’ True Drunkard’s Delight.
[Aus]R. Park Poor Man’s Orange 106: The Kidger was an alcoholic who nightly slept with the snakes.
[US]H. Ellison Web of the City (1983) 184: He bit his tongue, for the snakes had come . . . in a moment, the screams, if he didn’t get a pop.
[US]C. Cook Robbers (2001) 114: Jesus, you act like you got snakes in your head.

In phrases

have snakes in one’s boots (v.)

to be suffering from delirium tremens; in weaker use, to be very drunk.

Amer. Temperance Mag. 158: But in less than one week, poor C. died, ‘with snakes in his boots,’ a raving victim of Delirium Tremens!
[UK]Once a Week 5 Sept. 286/1: If it happens to be remarked that So-and-So is drinking very hard, some one will probably say — ‘O yes, he takes more than is good for him, I guess; but he hasn’t had snakes in his boots yet’.
[US]St Louis Globe-Democrat 19 Jan. n.p.: The belief of the party is that he has ‘snakes in his boots’ and by way of getting rid of them he is told to ‘set ’em up’ or ‘whoop ’er up again’.
J. Yeames Chronicles Cannelby Chase 114: Even those who had been his companions in folly and sin [...] said that ‘Jack had been going it heavy,’ and looked as if he were going to have ‘snakes in his boots’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 3 Jan. 10/4: Y’see, I’ve never had a razor since Yaller Jimmy cut his throat with my old ’un one day he had snakes in his boots bad, an’ thin the perleese collared it for everdense, an’ I never saw it since.
[US]Sacramento Dly Record (CA) 29 Dec. 3/4: ‘The Cowboy Preacher’ dropped into that town [...] heavily laden with the genuine razzle-dazzle bug juice. He is reported to have ‘snakes in his boots.
[US]Eve. Times-Republican (Marshalltown, IA) 6 Aug. 5/4: The engineers [...] while not exactly having snakes in their boots, have [etc].
Audubon Co. Jrnl (Exira, IA) 20 Apr. 7/3: We have often heard of one hacing snakes in his boots.
[US]Berrey & Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Sl. §130.27: have delerium tremens, see snakes, have snakes in the boots.
put snakes in someone’s boots (v.)

(Aus.) to disconcert.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 9 Apr. 8/4: The question of assisted immigration is apt to shortly put ‘snakes in the boots’ of our protected friend across the border.