Green’s Dictionary of Slang

tumble n.

1. in senses of understanding, apprehension.

(a) (UK Und.) an act of discovery.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 15/1: There was some noise made by the falling glass, but not sufficient to awaken those above. However, we stood perfectly quiet for about ten minutes, to see whether there was any ‘tumble.’ [Ibid.] 33/2: After finishing our wine [we] listened to Joe and Jack’s adventures since the ‘tumble’ in the Custom House.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 130: The train get-away would be impossible if we got a tumble while we were working.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 54: We stood there for a matter of seconds before going in, listening and keeping our eyes open to see if we had got a ‘tumble’ from any of the other houses.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 227/2: Tumble, n. 1. An interruption by police or others during the commission of a crime; pursuit following a crime; outcry or complaint to police during or immediately after a crime; the newspaper and radio alarm and publicity following a crime. 2. Suspicious notice or attention, especially by police.

(b) (US) a sign of recognition, a response.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Dec. 30/4: [I]f he is charged be a mob ivery time he shows his nose out av his room, he’ll take a tumble.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 144: We couldn’t get into Janissary’s house with a crowbar. [...] We’d get a tumble as sure as you’re born.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 146: If there’s a ‘tumble’ after you get the tray [...] hang on to it and get into one of the spots you have picked out.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Breach of Promise’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 28: I do not give Mr. Jamez any tumble whatever.
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 149: Handy things signposts. Saved a bloke from asking his way and so walking straight into a tumble.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Men, Big World 71: ‘Hello, ball of fire,’ said Arky. Robbie smiled slightly. ‘Hello, country boy.’ ‘Oh, a tumble.’ ‘Yeah. I didn’t realize what an important guy you were before.’.

(c) (US Und.) an arrest.

[US]J. Flynt World of Graft 9: They have come to grief in some of their undertakings, the ‘tumble’ hurt.
[Aus]Camperdown Chron. (Vic.) 28 Apr. 6/3: He stands a chance of avoiding a ’tumble’, which naturally means going to prison.
[US]C.W. Willemse Cop Remembers 285: Send for their parents. No rough stuff. Just young punks on their first tumble.
[UK]I, Mobster 22: I’m seventeen years old when I take a tumble.
[UK]F. Norman Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper 16: Now, Maltese Tony’s on the Williams’ firm from over the water. So if ’e’s come a tumble it’s down to the bruvvers to sort out.

2. an act of sexual intercourse.

[UK]Farmer Vocabula Amatoria (1966) 48: Brecolfrétiller. To copulate; ‘to do a tumble in.’.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 69: The one who [...] spends her off-time lookin’ through the keyhole inta the kitchen to see if the cook is takin’ a tumble with the ice-man.
[US]J. Thompson Swell-Looking Babe 5: If you could actually get a tumble from her, what of it?
[Ire]T. Murphy Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant (1978) Scene v: You have to keep knocking the odd old tumble out of them.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Start in Life (1979) 89: I’d had one or two girls on the tumble, but nothing as grown up as this.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 154: Keith launched into a squalid decameron of recent gallops and tumbles.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 145: Don’t be a wiseacre [...] You don’t know a damn about broads, except for a tumble in the sheets now and then.

3. (US Und.) a chance, an opportunity.

[US]Phila. Eve. Bulletin 5 Oct. 40/5: Here are a few more terms and definitions from the ‘Racket’ vocabulary: [...] ‘tumble,’ a chance.

In phrases

give someone a tumble (v.)

1. to have sexual intercourse.

[US]‘J.M. Hall’ Anecdota Americana I 170: When I get old and none of my friends will want to give me a tumble I’ll still have these knives.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Looking ’Em Over’ in Short Stories (1937) 45: Once they go, they go plenty far. Hot! [...] Gee, if only a rich broad would come along and give him a tumble.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 141: Would you like to give her a tumble?
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 62: She wasn’t a bad looking piece. He would park on that grass verge about a mile up the road and give her a tumble.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 20: I never met a guy [...] who didn’t think that every dame who took a look at him was all steamed up just in case he wouldn’t give her a tumble.
[US]E.S. Gardner Case of the Crooked Candle (1958) 190: She’d given him a tumble just as a casual flirtation.
[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 192: You ain’t never gave no dark-skinned boy a tumble.
[US]C. Clausen I Love You Honey, But the Season’s Over 144: An’ Lucky won’t give any girl a tumble since.
[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 188: There’s a rich prince would give anything to get Queenie [...] But she won’t give him a tumble [...] she wouldn’t even go out on a date with him.
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 92: Making a play for the boss, but so far he hasn’t given her a tumble.

2. in fig. use of sense 1, to do someone a favour, to give a present.

[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 157: When [a thief] gets money he immediately makes tracks for some hangout where he throws a few dollars on the bar just to ‘give the house a tumble’ and let them guess where he ‘scored’ and how much he got.

3. (US) to recognize, to acknowledge.

[US]T.A. Dorgan Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit 28 Dec. [synd. cartoon strip] ‘But who has to pay the crew?’ ‘Ow!!! I never gave that a tumble’.
[US]J. Lait ‘If a Party Meet a Party’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 97: This goof made a play for me in the rest’rant. I never gave him a tumble.
[US]H.C. Witwer Fighting Blood 248: So I don’t give Roma a tumble when she comes around to see me train.
[US]D. Hammett ‘Assistant Murderer’ in Nightmare Town (2001) 142: This second party gives me a tumble.
[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 46: A blondish, square-shouldered kid — did you give him a tumble? [...] Do you by any chance know who he was?
[US]D. Runyon ‘Broadway Financier’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 208: He is daffy about her, even though Silk never gives him a tumble.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Social Error’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 454: He is sored up more than somewhat when he finds Miss Harriet Mackyle does not give him much of a tumble.
[US]J.H. O’Hara Pal Joey 43: There wasn’t an agent in the U.S. that would give me a tumble.
[US]H. McCoy Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in Four Novels (1983) 165: I knew why she was belligerent; nobody had given her a tumble.
[US]Murtagh & Harris Cast the First Stone 15: Tricks who never gave me a tumble before think I’m something special now.
[US]H.C. Woodbridge ‘Miscellany’ in AS XXXVI:3 228: tumble, give a, v.phr. To recognize, notice.
[US]San Diego Sailor 72: Now I’ve acquired a new friend [...] The bastard’s never given me a tumble before, and you saw how he acted back there.
smack a tumble (v.)

to recognise.

[Aus]Williamstown Chron. (Vic.) 12 Nov–3 May 6/2: If yer don’t ‘smack a tumble’ to who they are I’ll give you the ‘drum’.
take a tumble (v.)

1. to come to a realization, to work something out; thus take a tumble to oneself v., to become aware of one’s own character (usu. its negatives).

[US]Chicago Street Gazette 20 Oct. 1/2: May Willard, why don’t you take a tumble to yourself and not be trying to put on so much style around the St. Marks Hotel.
[US]Bismarck (ND) Trib. 26 Jan. 8/1: The minister preached how vulgar it was to use slang [...] I resolved then and there to take a tumble to myself that instant and cheese the vulgar habit.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 181: You’d think them papers might take a tumble to themselves once in a while.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 6 Feb. 1/2: It is nearly time the dunderheaded stewards [...] took a tumble to the game, as the public have long since tumbled.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 39: Only for the sake of your job, take a tumble to yourself.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 7 June 1/1: Several local citizens have taken a tumble to themselves since Annie Besant arrived.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 26 June 2nd sect. 12/7: Take a tumble, therefore, criminal and crook, / Don’t kid yourself that ’Arry doesn't know.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 304: For God’s sake, wake up! Don’t let him bull you any more! Don’t! Take a tumble to yourself!
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘The Push’ in Moods of Ginger Mick 41: Strike! I thort I knoo ’ard yakker, w’ich I’ve tackled many ways, / But uv late I’ve took a tumble I bin dozin’ orl me days.
[US]D. Hammett ‘Corkscrew’ Story Omnibus (1966) 229: You boys want to take a tumble to yourselves, Buck. The wild and woolly days are over.
[Aus]K.S. Prichard Coonardoo 258: Hugh was delighted that she was ‘taking a tumble’ [...] and would stand no nonsense from the young man.
[Aus]K. Tennant Foveaux 309: You ought to chuck Tommy, Neicie. He’s no good to you, the money he’s raising. Pity you don’t take a tumble to yourself.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 218/2: Take a tumble. 1. (P; Northeastern industrial area) To become aware; to take notice.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 133: I was with my girl about a year, / that’s when some talk got started, the kind that I couldn’t help but hear. / I never took a tumble till I begin to feel blue and lost.
[UK](con. mid-1960s) J. Patrick Glasgow Gang Observed 79: Ma wee brother will learn sense; he’ll take a tumble tae hissel’ an’ leave school.

2. to be sexually attracted towards.

[UK]L. Dunne Goodbye to The Hill (1966) 173: A man-eating American divorcee [...] took a real tumble for him.

SE in slang uses

In phrases

give it a tumble (v.)

to try out, to experiment.

[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 30: He wanted to try being really honest, something he had never known since he started running away with customers’ change when he was a newsboy at the age of eight. ‘I’ll give it a tumble.’.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 205: Tumble, give it a Try it; experiment with it.
take a tumble (v.)

1. (US Und.) to ‘fall for’ a confidence trick.

[US](con. 1900s) J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 39: She told me that the ‘old John’ had ‘taken the tumble.’.

2. (US Und.) to be arrested and jailed.

[US]C. Himes ‘Prison Mass’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 161: A sucker takes a tumble and gets a long sentence in the penitentiary.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 218/2: Take a tumble. [...] 2. To be arrested.