Green’s Dictionary of Slang

button n.1

[all f. shape and/or size of SE button]

1. fig., as a part of the body.

(a) [late 17C] the penis.

(b) [19C+] a baby’s penis.

(c) [late 19C+] (also bell) the clitoris.

(d) [1910s+] the chin; esp. in phr. on the button, a blow square on the chin.

(e) [1920s–70s] (US) a man’s or woman’s nipple; occas. an animal’s, e.g. a pig.

(f) [1930s] a pimple.

2. from the circular shape.

(a) [late 18C–mid-19C] a counterfeit shilling.

(b) [19C] a shilling (5p).

(c) [mid-19C] any coin; thus shiny buttons n., money.

(d) [1920s] [US] a dollar.

(e) (Aus.) an accelerator.

(f) [1940s] (US Und.) a form of confidence-trick in which a criminal posing as a detective accuses the victim of passing counterfeit money and confiscates it for ‘examination’.

(g) [1940s-50s] (US Und.) in pl., derisively small amounts, e.g. of money, stolen goods.

3. [1950s] (US street gang) a switchblade knife, which is activated by a button on the handle.

4. in drugs uses.

(a) [1960s] (drugs) a capsule containing heroin or opium.

(b) [1960s] peyote.

(c) [1960s+] (S.Afr. drugs) a Mandrax (methaqualone) tablet; thus button-kop n., a regular Mandrax user (lit. button-head).

In compounds

button finger (n.) [sense 1c above + SE finger; pun on butterfingers under butter n.1 ]

[1990s+] the finger used by a woman to masturbate herself or her partner.

buttonhole (n.)

see separate entry.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

button B (adj.) [the old payphones, where one could push button B in the hope of redeeming some other caller’s forgotten change]

[1930s–50s] penniless.

button boy (n.) [his button-adorned uniform]

[late 19C+] a (hotel) page.

button-buster (n.)

[1940s–60s] (orig. US black) a braggart or boaster, a loudmouth.

button-down (adj.)

see separate entry.

button jock (n.) [jock n.2 (5)]

[1980s+] anyone who operates a console.

button lurk (n.) [lurk n. (3)]

[1910s] (Aus.) a trick played on a naïve woman by a man, bent on intercourse, who removes a button from his coat and promises that it will serve adequately as a contraceptive pessary.

button mob (n.) [the butons on a uniform]

[1920s–70s] (UK Und.) the police.

button music (n.) [it is played on machines, with buttons, rather than live instruments]

[2000s] house music.

button park (n.) [a fig. country house; sense 2c + park v. (1)]

[late 19C] a state of solvency or profit.

In phrases

button short, a (adj.) (also a button loose, …missing, a few buttons missing, half a button short) [var. on not all there adj.]

[mid-19C+] eccentric, one of many phrs. implying the subject is ‘not all there’.

get off the button (v.)

[1930s] (US) to experience orgasm, to relieve sexual tension.

have all one’s buttons (on) (v.) (also have all one’s buttons done up, know one’s buttons, know the buttons on one’s coat)

[late 19C–1960s] to be ‘sharp’, to know what is going on, to be impervious to hoaxers.

hit the button (v.)

[20C+] to be pertinent or relevant or precisely what is required.

loose a button (v.) [fly buttons]

[1940s] (Irish) to urinate.

lose a button (v.)

[late 19C+] to be eccentric, crazy.

not have all one’s buttons (v.) (also be missing a few buttons)

[mid-19C+] to lack intelligence, to be slightly eccentric or odd.

not worth a button (adj.)

[mid-17C–19C] worthless, useless.

one’s arse makes buttons (v.) (also one’s breech makes buttons, one’s buttocks..., one’s tail…, one makes buttons) [SE buttons, dung (usu. of animals); the image is of one’s involuntarily soiling one’s trousers through fear/arse n. (1)/tail n. (1)]

[mid-16C–early 19C; 1980s] one is terrified, or jittery.

on the button

1. [20C+] right on target, usu. of a blow.

2. [20C+] up to the minute, fully aware.

3. [1920s+] exactly on time, as required.

press someone’s button(s) (v.) (also push someone’s button(s), press/push (all) the right buttons)

1. [1960s+] to make someone feel special, turned on, loved etc.

2. [1930s+] to manipulate someone emotionally, usu. to annoy, to irritate.

press the button (v.)

1. [1910s+] to set an event or a chain of circumstances in motion.

2. [1920s] to shoot.

press the panic button (v.) (also push the panic button)

[1940s+] (orig. US) to panic.

push the button on (v.)

[1950s] (US) to murder.

want one’s hip buttons (v.)

[20C+] (Ulster) to be less than wholly intelligent.

In exclamations

bless my buttons! (also blow my buttons! drat my buttons!)

[mid-19C+] a mild excl. of amusement.