Green’s Dictionary of Slang

pepper n.

1. hard blows, e.g. in a prizefight or fig. from a volley of bullets (see cit. 1889); thus pepperer n., a fighter or boxer, in Pepper Alley, suffering a ssuccession of blows.

[UK] ‘Battle’ in Fancy I XVII 407: The combatants now got into a desperate rally, and Josh, receiving the most pepper, till he put in a Gaslighter in the middle of his opponents mug.
[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 2 Jan. 389/2: Samson made one or two excellent stops, but nevertheless he got into Pepper Alley, and was made a member of the Turf Club, by a flooring hit .
[UK]Bell’s Life in London 29 Apr. 3/1: ‘Blow my dickey,’ exclaimed Tom, ‘We’ll give him pepper’.
[UK]Times 23 Aug. 4/3: Chairman.– What did they mean by giving you ‘pepper,’ as you call it? Prosecutor.– It is their slang for beating.
[UK]A. Thornton Don Juan in London II 221: The friends of the chanceried gentleman then cried ‘Enough’; but the pepperer did not seem to think so.
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 1 Jan. n.p.: Dick exhibited the most punishment; that is to say, the face of Curtis had napt lots of pepper.
[UK]Era (London) 26 Jan. 10/4: Lane, after administering a tidy dose of pepper, gave his man the crook, and threw him a burster.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 15 July 2/2: Ruggy napped pepper and went down.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 16 Aug. 2/5: His antagonist napped pepper on the frontispiece.
[UK](con. 1823) Fights for the Championship 70: Some heavy exchanges followed, in which both received pepper.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 7 Apr. 4/1: Both received pepper on the nasal protruberance.
[SA]B. Mitford Fire Trumpet III 79: Now then, you six, blaze a volley into that low bush [...] That’s it boys! Hurrah! We’ll give them pepper! They won’t come to close quarters, not they!
[UK](con. 1835–40) P. Herring Bold Bendigo 60: Blow me dickey! He’s a-giving him pepper.

2. serious trouble, usu. as give (someone) pepper.

[UK]‘Paul Pry’ Oddities of London Life I 207: ‘I’ll appeal to the sessions,’ said the boy, ‘and, maybe, I vont give you “pepper” neither’.
C.M. Smith Little World of London 3: [A] war-steamer is to be launched; she is pierced for 120 guns, and ‘Won’t she give the Rooshins pepper?’.
[UK] ‘’Arry to the Front!’ in Punch 9 Mar. 100/2: Old Beakey’s a brick, and means pepper, — there’s hopes it’ll end in a fight.
[UK]Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday 7 June 44/1: ‘There’s an old act of George II that will meet the case [...] We’ll give him pepper’.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 113: By Jove! we shall get pepper from Sir Ferdinand when we go in.
[Aus]W.S. Walker Zealandia’s Guerdon 239: They got pepper for this, an’ later were sent back to Pungarehu.

3. (Aus.) in gambling, a heavy bet against.

[Aus]Bell’s Life in Victoria (Melbourne) 30 May 2/4: [Y]ou should give Crockford ‘pepper’ [...] ‘Give, what-is-it pepper? what is that?’ ‘Oh you know, lay all you can against him’.

4. zest, vitality; thus peppery adj [note mid-19C gambling pepper, heavy betting].

[[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 1 Sept. n.p.: The particulars of a most diabolical piece of villiany [sic] [...] which we shall serve up with pepper-sauce in our next].
[Aus]‘Miles Franklin’ My Brilliant Career 71: Gertie, the boys, and myself had to perform our morning ablutions in a leaky tin dish on a stool outside the kitchen door, which on cold frosty mornings was a pretty peppery performance.
[US]Van Loan ‘Little Sunset’ in Ten-Thousand-Dollar Arm 128: For Heaven’s sake, a little pepper today! Heads up, everybody!
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 84: That damn’ orchestra playing that damn’ peppery music.
[US]N. Fleischer in Ring Nov. 10: full of pepper or pep – Full of action.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1995) 34: She is full uh pepper.
[US]R. Brister ‘Rock-a-Bye Booby’ in Ten Detective Aces Sept. 🌐 One thing you had to hand the old boy—he had pepper.
[US]K. Vonnegut ‘Souvenir’ in Bagombo Snuff Box (1999) 96: Got a little pepper left in him, at that.
[US]A. Hine Unsinkable Molly Brown 27: I like a doxie with a bit of pepper to her.

5. (US black/teen) an attractive young woman.

[US]P. Crump Burn, Killer, Burn! 98: Wait until you see this pepper I’m meeting tonight. Hummmmmmmmm!

6. (UK drugs) heroin [the powdered drug is often light bown].

86 ‘Mostman’ 🎵 I got run a white for the kiddies, that means i got pepper and salt.

In compounds

pepper alley (n.) [sense 1 above; but note Pepper Alley, a landing place on the Southwark side of the Thames, equated with crime, violence and debauchery]

a state of being beaten up.

[UK]Carlisle Patriot 9 Dec. 2: The hitherto genteel apperance of the swell had left him, and his mug had paid a visit to Pepper Alley.
[UK] ‘Battle’ in Fancy I XVII 406: No one could deny that they were bang-up in Pepper-alley.
pepper-box (n.)

1. a sharp, hard blow.

[UK]Carlisle Patriot 9 Dec. 2: The pepper-box was again administered and Williams went down quite distressed.
[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 20 Feb. 29/1: Young Gas and Don’t-know-who used the pepper-box towards each other most unmercifully.

2. (US) an ill-tempered individual, a grumbler.

[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 11 Oct. n.p.: That old pepper box [...] had best keep quet and not have too much to say about the Life.

3. see also SE compounds below.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

pepper belly (n.) (also hot pepper belly, pepper gut) [the stereotyped Mexican love of hot food]

(US) a derog. term for a Mexican or Mexican-American; thus pepper-bellied adj.

[US]N. Algren Somebody in Boots 202: It just goes to show how tricky them spiks can be. You took twenty-five lashes fer that pepper-bellied lascar.
[US] in Current Sl. IV:3–4 (1970).
[US]D. Jenkins Baja Oklahoma 19: ‘[P]epperbelly food [...] Beans and cheese and cornmeal is all it is. [...] Pepperbellies eat pepperbelly food but they don’t know any better’.
[US]Maledicta VII 24: By about 1920, the name pepper was fairly common [for Mexican-Americans] and soon variegated to pepper gut, pepper belly, and hot pepper belly.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 229: pepperbelly, a Mexican.
[US]L.A. Times 24 Jan. 22/1: The nationwide reputation of Mexican food languished in the real of slur — ‘pepper belly,’ ‘taco bender’.
[US]D. Winslow Border [ebook] [of a Guatemalan] ‘What are you doing here, pepperbelly?’.
pepper-box (n.) [resemblance]

1. (US) the head.

[US](con. 1843) Melville White-Jacket (1990) 190: Of dark nights they had dropped shot down the hatchways, destined ‘to damage his pepper-box’, as they phrased it.

2. a pistol.

[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 57: One big duffer, with rings in his ears and a fine assortment of second-hand pepper-boxes in his sash.

3. see also sl. compounds above.

pepper-castor (n.) (also pepper-caster) [? resemblance]

1. the head.

[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 477: Down he tumbl’d plump, / By which unfortunate disaster, / He so much bruised his pepper-castor.

2. (US) a revolver.

[US]J. Jefferson in Century Illus. Mthly Mag. (1890) 39 190: Badger and I would trudge to our room arm in arm, carrying our money in a shot-bag between us, and each armed with a Colt’s patent ‘pepper-caster’ .
pepper-fly (n.) [dial. pepper-fly, a sand-fly, which can give a painful sting]

(W.I.) an irascible, quick-tempered person.

[WI]cited in Cassidy & LePage Dict. Jam. Eng. (1980).
pepperhead (n.)

(US) a show-off.

H. Ellson ‘Pretty Boy’ in Tell Them Nothing (1956) 123: ‘If it wasn’t for the women [...] I wouldn’t have got that poke,’ I said. ‘Yeah, they’re all pepperheads.’.

In phrases

upset the pepper pot (v.)

(UK juv.) to lose one’s temper, to become emotional.

[UK]A. Brazil Luckiest Girl in School 9: ‘Indeed I shan’t!’ flared Winona indignantly [...] ‘That’s right! Upset the pepper-pot! I was only trying to comfort you!’ teased Percy.