Green’s Dictionary of Slang

joker n.1

[they make a joke of the situation ]

1. (orig. Aus., also jocker) a man, a person, sometimes with implications of incompetence.

[UK]Sporting Mag. XXXVIII 50: Six jokers on horse-back were standing stock still.
[UK]‘Bill Truck’ Man o’ War’s Man (1843) 252: Such a fine, spirited, clean-heeled sort of a joker.
[UK]Marryat Peter Simple (1911) 10: That’s what you’ll learn to do, my joker, before you have been two cruises to sea.
[US]N.Y. Aurora 7 Sept. n.p.: [I]n the nightly habit of meeting several moral, steady, and pious old jokers.
[UK]Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit (1995) 638: You were another sort of joker in those days, you were.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxford (1880) 442: I’ll keep the road, and take off this joker behind, who is the only dangerous customer.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. 10/1: Where’s all the talent, Betsy? Where’s our jokers? [...] Where’s all the company, Betsy ? Where are our fancy men?
[UK]Sporting Times 8 Nov. 1/4: Q. Where do we get tobacco from? A. Phil Norris, and all those jokers with the awful names Ithat can never remember.
[Aus]‘John Miller’ Workingman’s Paradise 190: First one joker in, then another.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 4 Feb. 3/8: The joker handcuffed to him [...] is to be tried for killing his own wife.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 4 Sept. 2/6: An I suppose a country joker / Loses of his pocket book.
[UK]A. Binstead Pitcher in Paradise 42: These two jokers have got the foreign waiter to put this game up.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 26 Jan. 6/4: The same jocker got an artilleryman sacked.
[UK]D. Stewart Devil of Dartmoor in Illus. Police News 17 Sept. 12/2: ‘Whistle away, my joker, I’ll stop that pipe presently’.
[Ire]Joyce ‘Ivy Day at the Committee Room’ Dubliners (1956) 122: Do you know what my private and candid opinion is about some of those little jokers? I believe half of them are in the pay of the Castle.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 2 Dec. 18/2: ‘Blime,’ says ‘Brum’, ‘if we only had that joker here who ran away from the copper at the station — he’d win this handicap’.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Black Gang 299: If those jokers try that game on with Mr. Latter they won’t catch me a second time.
[UK]R. Westerby Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 109: I’ll fix this joker.
[Aus]K. Tennant Foveaux 309: You’re pretty, you can kid some of these old jokers into payin’ the rent.
[NZ]F. Sargeson ‘A Great Day’ in A Man And His Wife (1944) 30: It’s tough work, he said. You can see what a weak joker I am.
[US]W. Fisher Waiters 209: I know damn good an’ well you didn’t invite them jokers.
[NZ]B. Crump Hang On a Minute, Mate (1963) 19: Proper ratbag of a joker he is, too.
[NZ]P. Wilson N.Z. Jack 123: Why do you get all gooey about a joker like Koko?
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 63: ’Ere, wait on, you jokers! ’Ang on.
[Aus]C. Bowles G’DAY 20: DAVO: Oo’s this joker, Les? LES: God Botherer by the looks of it.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 136: Neither of these jokers wanted to see his own face on prime-time TV.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 1 June 2: The fun of digging your knees into the back of the poor joker in front.
thelondonpaper 4 Sept. 32: Our original joker looked as though his parade had been well and truly golden-showered on.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 68: I’ve got some joker on the other line.
[Aus] F. McCarthy ‘Some Protection’ in Crime Factory: Hard Labour [ebook] These too smart-too dumb jokers from ASIO talk the talk.
[US]N. Walker Cherry 51: ‘I have a joker here says he wants to be a ninety-one whiskey, says he’s tryin to go ASAP’.

2. (US) any thing or situation that poses a problem, a hidden catch, a surprise [card imagery].

[US] in Saint Louis (MO) Reveille in Oehlschlaeger (1990) 207: The Major discovered the little joker [i.e. a lost coin] in his pocket.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 23 May 12/1: The Evening News suggests that […] Lord Augustus Loftus should ‘stand at the head of his troops at Moore Park, Sydney, and there hold a real levee – a levee en masse of the people.’ ‘At the head of his troops’ is good, but a ‘levee en masse of the people’ is the ‘joker.’.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 30 Mar. 404: What’s this little joker over here?
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks 65/1: Joker (nigger in the wood pile), laws, investigations, vice abatements, controversies, political appointments, newspaper articles, speeches or contracts arranged for […] so that the looters in on the in will be financially benefited.
[US]I. Shulman Amboy Dukes 93: So long as Kenny was safe. That was a joker.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 158: Some geniuses discovered a joker in the statutes.
[US](con. 1916) G. Swarthout Tin Lizzie Troop (1978) 145: And now the joker in the deck, Dinkle.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 286: To find a joker in the deck.
[UK]Indep. Mag. 17 July 34: The 20th century dealt them the joker in the pack – their ‘home’ retirement became another series of nomadic nightmares.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skinny Dip 191: I been shot by a joker once.

3. (W.I.) anyone who is given authority but performs their work with irritating incompetence, thus ‘a disgrace to one’s profession’.

[WI]Allsopp Dict. Carib. Eng. Usage.

4. a black person.

[US]R. Fisher Walls Of Jericho 297: Synonyms of Negro [...] : jigwalker, joker, kack.

5. (US gay) a masculine homosexual.

[US]D.W. Cory Homosexual in America 112: A strong distinction between the active and passive pederast; for former, such words as daddy, joker, and wolf are used.

In phrases