Green’s Dictionary of Slang

rattler n.

1. as a vehicle.

(a) (UK Und., also ratler) a coach.

[UK]J. Taylor in Nares Glossary (1822) II 723/2: And I my necke unto the rope would pawne / That if our hackney rattlers were so drawne / With cords, or rope, or halters.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Rattler c. a Coach.
[UK]Hell Upon Earth 6: Ratler, a Coach.
[UK]C. Hitchin Regulator 22: In August last, Ob. Lemmon and Will. Matthews bit a Lob from a Ratler, alias took a Deal-Box from behind a Coach.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 30: They take all, and pike directly into the first Rattler; that is, into the first Coach.
[UK](con. 1710–25) Tyburn Chronicle II in Groom (1999) xxix: A Rattler A Coach.
[UK]J. Fielding Thieving Detected 39: Touching the Rattler [...] This method of robbing is chiefly followed by those who go upon the Drag Lay.
[UK] ‘The Dog and Duck Rig’ in Holloway & Black I (1975) 80: And O! my sweet blowing, that you / In a rattler will go to the scaffold.
London Sharper 80: In a rattler, sat two blowings.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Apr. XVI 26/2: Within a rattler stands Moll Flash, / To see the kiddies die.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 8: And long before daylight, gigs, rattlers, and prads, / Were in motion for Mousley, brimful of the Lads.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 197: Let us proceed directly to Dolly’s, take our chop, then a rattler, and hey for the Spell.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 8: His rattler was sure to be full, both inside and out [...] with Cantabs, young sprigs of nobility.
[UK]W.J. Neale Paul Periwinkle 131: Since we are to have a solitary drive, we’ll have a rattler.
[US] ‘Scene in a London Flash-Panny’ Matsell Vocabulum 98: Oh! I’m fly. You [...] talked of padding the hoof. Why, sure, Jack had a rattler and a prad?
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[US]Trumble Sl. Dict. n.p.: Jack had a rattler and a prad [F&H].

(b) a cab.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 311: At length a move was made, but not a rattler was to be had.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 80: RATTLER, a cab, coach, cart.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 469: The squeak is out. A split is gone for the flatties. Nip the first rattler.

(c) (also rattle) a passenger train or carriage of the train, esp. in phr. the rattlers.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 81: RATTLERS, a railway; ‘on the rattlers to the stretchers,’ i.e. going to the races by railway.
[UK]Worcs. Chron. 12 Nov. 4/1: When we touched for it, we had to get on the finger and thum [sic] a few miles. We durst not get on the rattles.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 5/2: At Selby we took the ‘rattler’ for Leeds.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. XL 501: I will go to London Bridge rattler (railway) and take a deaner ride and go wedge-hunting (stealing plate).
[UK]‘Dagonet’ ‘A Plank Bed Ballad’ in Referee 12 Feb. n.p.: By the rattler I ride when I’ve taken my brief, / And I sling on my back an old kipsey.
[UK]P.H. Emerson Signor Lippo 11: Did you frog it or come by the rattler?
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 62: We take in the through rattlers on the Pennsy or the Central.
[Aus]‘Dryblower’ ‘His Quest’ in Sun. Times (Perth) 3 Apr. 4/7: You’ve done the rattler in today, you ain’t got Buckley’s ’ope.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 11 Aug. 4/8: The Rattler roars on the curving track / Like a monster swift and snaky.
[US]W.C. Handy ‘Yellow Dog Rag’ [lyrics] Dear Sue, your Easy Rider struck this burg today, On a south-boun’ rattler.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 2 Dec. 18/2: Well, we got on the rattler all right [...] I ‘touched’ a parson in the corridor but it was a dead ‘blue’.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 75: All we have to do is tell the truth, say we rode this rattler out of Cheyenne and never left the yards at Rock Springs.
[Aus]Dly Mercury (Mackay, Qld) 22 June 11/4: Blow in to any swaggies’ camp in a railway town, ask the campers how the rattler is for a jump, and if they trust you, you will learn all about the movements of trains.
[US]Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 30 July 11/1: The trek here was a drag because we latched onto one of those [...] rattlers that stopped at every shack on the line.
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 212: They’ll never think of us taking a cross-country journey on a rattler.
[US]F. Brown Fabulous Clipjoint (1949) 190: Kid, we’re going back by rattler.
[Aus]D. Niland Call Me When the Cross Turns Over (1958) 67: Got off the rattler, did you?
[UK](con. 1920s) J. Sparks Burglar to the Nobility 40: Me with no galoshes and having to come 200 miles on the rattler from London.
[NZ]J.A. Lee Shiner Slattery 27: I’ll shoulder bluey once again and by rattler I’ll go back.
[Aus]D. Ireland Burn 47: One hitched rides and jumped the rattlers all the way.
[UK]J. Healy Grass Arena (1990) 153: Woke up an hour later, thawed out, jumped the next rattler to Euston.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 268: You can be back on the rattler back to Liverpool at about half-past.
[UK]Guardian 13 Jan. [Internet] [I]f I’m on business in Manchester and need to get back to London in good time I’d probably choose to take the rattler.

(d) (Aus./US) a freight train or carriage of a train.

[US]G.F. Ruxton Life in the Far West (1849) 26: They arn’t agoin’ to pack them animals after ’em, and have crawled like ‘rattlers’ along this bottom to câche ’em till they come back.
Bolton Chron. 26 Sept. 8/3: ‘I have nailed a “souper” from a “rattler” (railway carriage) and got “hot beef”’.
[US]Salt Lake Herald (UT) 24 Dec. 10/6: Just then Red heard the whistle of our freight [...] ‘Hustle, Cigarette, there’s our rattler’.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 258: Busting the tag on a rattler. Breaking the seal on a freight car.
[US]Wash. Post 11 Nov. Misc. 3/6: Yeggs call a freight train a ‘rattler’ and a passenger train or car the ‘cushions.’.
[US]‘Digit’ Confessions of a Twentieth Century Hobo 12: Rattler...A freight train. [Ibid.] 60: We went out again to attempt to ride a rattler.
[US]AS IX:II Apr. 74/1: There was a hundred and thirty rattlers and a crummy on that thing and you should have heard the old hog wheeze as we went down to the station.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 324: Rattler, A freight train.
[Aus](con. 1930s) F. Huelin ‘Keep Moving’ 25: No train jockey, with nothing on his conscience except ‘riding that rattler’ would think of escaping from a few days of free meals and the opportunity of a good clean-up.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 95: hooking a rattler or hopping a rattler was to illegally catch a train, usually up the country, where it was hoped [...] to find work.
[UK]Sun. Times Mag. 6 Feb. 24: Now you can see why I call these trains rattlers [rattlesnakes].

(e) (US) the Manhattan elevated railway; any urban cable car or streetcar.

[US]A. Pinkerton Thirty Years a Detective 44: This kind of robbery is generally practiced on the cars – (called ‘rattlers’) [...] and if upon the cars it is performed on the platforms or in the doorways of these crowded vehicles.
[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 141: ’[D]e only t’ing I see to do is to go over an’ grab a rattler fer downtown’.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 260: The tool picked his mark and the stalls crushed him against the tail of the rattler.
[US]‘Lord Ballyrot in Slangland’ in Tacoma Times (WA) 3 July 4/4: This Cholly guy wants to do a Brodie off the rattler!
[US](con. 1940s–60s) Décharné Straight from the Fridge Dad.

(f) (US) a police van.

[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] Say, I thought dey’d need a rattler to move him. Rattler. You gilly, what do they cart a chaw off in when a collar gets tru beltin’ him, generally? A rattler is a patrol; dat’s what.

(g) (US Und.) a tramp who rides on freight cars.

[US]H.G. Van Campen ‘Life on Broadway’ in McClure’s Mag. Mar. 38/2: He bought [...] a red-trimmed sixty h. p. for a skinny brunette in a musical show, an’ it seems like I’m always meetin’ her drivin’ by in it just as I’m climbin’ on the Seventh Avenue rattler.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ Snare of the Road 31: In accordance with the method of travel they prefer when hoboing over the country, tramps are classed in three grand divisions: ‘Pikers’ they are called who walk; ‘Rattlers,’ who ride freight cars, and ‘Ramblers,’ who hobo passenger trains.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 463: skin a rattler, To rob hoboes riding on a freight.

(h) any tram.

[US]Ade Knocking the Neighbors 178: All the Bookies, Barkeeps, Bruisers, and the Boys sitting on the Moonlight Rattlers knew him by his First Name.
Indianapolis Sun. Star 15 June 4/7: Why do you call an electric tram a rattler?
[US]W.R. Morse ‘Stanford Expressions’ in AS II:6 276: hop a rattler—board a trolley car.

(i) (US) an automobile.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 24: Listening to an egg with one way pockets as he tries to trade in his old rock crusher for a new rattler.

(j) a bicycle.

D.H. Lawrence ‘Monkey Nuts’ England, my England (2006) 56: Miss Stokes had a puncture. ‘Let me wheel the rattler,’ said Albert.

(k) the New York or London underground railway.

[Aus]Townsville Daily Bulletin (Aus.) 14 June 13: ‘The rattler’ is [...] the underground railway.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 25: We’ll work the subway rattlers [...] and we’ll make all kinds of dough.
[UK]J. Curtis There Ain’t No Justice 163: She’s just come out of the Holland Park rattler and she’s turned up Lansdowne Road to go home like.
[US]J. Archibald ‘Bird Cagey’ in Popular Detective Jan. [Internet] Soon thereafter he hopped a subterranean rattler uptown.
[US]J. Archibald ‘State Penmanship’ Popular Detective Jan. [Internet] He hiked for the nearest underground rattler.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 198: Rattler [...] the underground railway.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak 121: Rattler – the underground railway.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 217: I get to have a proper read [...] on the rattler to Liverpool Street.

2. in fig. uses.

(a) a blow.

[UK]Sporting Mag. XL 66: Receiving a rattler in the neck.
Saunders’s News Letter 15 Dec. 2/4: Scroggins planted a rattler on the side of Martin’s head.
[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 19 May 2/5: Our readers are not used to such scientific expressions as — ‘close-enough-in’ — ‘giving a rattler on the chest’ — ‘hit well left and right, and one of his peepers queered’ — ‘giving a hit which crimsoned well,’ &c. &c.
[US]N.Y. Eve. Post 10 July 2/4: Spring gave him a right hand rattler upon the smeller.
[UK]‘Nocturnal Sports’ in Universal Songster II 180/1: Floored him vith a rattler on the lug.
[UK]Era (London) 21 Jan. 11/3: Charley put in a rattler on the chest.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 18 Mar. 1/4: Johnny caught him a rattler on the left ear.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 14 Feb. 1/2: In went Trainer a rattler and Spider retreated.
[UK]Dickens Our Mutual Friend (1994) 90: And once, when he did this in a manner that amounted to personal, I should have given him a rattler for himself.

(b) something serious or impressive.

[US]‘Mark Twain’ Californian 18 Mar. n.p.: He used to worry along well enough, though, till he’d flush one of them rattlers with a clatter of syllables as long as a string of sluice-boxes, and then he’d lose his grip.
[UK] ‘’Arry on the Rail’ in Punch 13 Sept. 109/1: I’m jest back from a journey, a regular rattler by Rail!
[UK]J. Greenwood Tag, Rag & Co. 81: I took a stronger oath than the last one, and a rattler it was this time, I can tell you, that I’d never touch a card again, in the way of play, as long as I lived.

(c) an admirable person.

[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 76: Well, damme, but you are a rattler.
[UK] ‘’Arry on Ochre’ in Punch 15 Oct. 169/1: That Loo / Was a rattler to keep up the pace while a bloke ’ad a brown left to blue.
[UK]W. Pett Ridge Minor Dialogues 282: ‘Nice girls?’ ‘My boy! Were there any nice girls? Why, I never saw such a lot of rattlers in all my born days.’.

3. an amorous man; a promiscuous woman.

[UK]Egan Finish to the Adventures of Tom and Jerry (1889) 71: Jerry, you are a bit of a rattler, a gay sort of chap, and rather a general lover among the girls.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 198: Rattler [...] a promiscuous young woman.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.

In compounds

rattler grab (n.)

(US Und.) a thief specializing in freight wagons.

[US]C.S. Montanye ‘Perfect Crime’ in Penzler Pulp Fiction (2007) 352: I’ll put you down as a river rat, a rattler grab, which means you’re a freight car crook.

In phrases

battle the rattler (v.)

(Aus.) to travel on the railways without paying.

[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 230/1: battle the rattler – to ride the rails.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 57/1: since ca. 1920.
jump the rattler (v.) (also jump a rattler, hop a rattler, jump the train)

(orig. Aus.) to travel on the railway without paying.

[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.].
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 202: After that I jumps the rattlers and makes for town.
[US]C.S. Montanye ‘The Bounding Violet’ in Top Notch 15 Aug. [Internet] Lightning failed to do any striking that night with his fists, and, fearing my displeasure, hopped a rattler.
[US]‘Digit’ Confessions of a Twentieth Century Hobo 46: Being told by some other hobos that P—— was ‘a tough joint,’ we decided to jump a rattler out of town.
[Aus]Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) 30 May 2/8: We were just on our way to ‘jump the rattler’.
[Aus]K. Tennant Battlers 222: I’m talking for the bagmen, men that have tramped hundreds of miles, jumped the rattler and risked a broken neck to get here.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 100: We hopped a rattler to New Hampshire and did a little look-see.
(con. early 20C) World’s News (Sydney) 14 Nov. 31/3: Still another band [i.e. of swagmen], despised by those who tramped along the highways, were the Steel Jockeys, who ‘jumped the rattler’ whenever they got the opportunity .
[Aus]F.J. Hardy Yarns of Billy Borker 49: Seeing as we hadn’t paid a train fare since 1930, we jumped the rattler out of Brisbane by force of habit.
[Aus](con. 1930s) F. Huelin ‘Keep Moving’ 18: ‘Jumpin’ th’ train?’ he asked conversationally. ‘I’d do th’ same if i was travellin’.’.
[UK]J. Healy Grass Arena (1990) 106: Got slung out. Jumped the rattler for London.
[US](con. 1975–6) E. Little Steel Toes 20: That train that goes screaming by every night at eleven-fifty [...] Gonna jump the motherfucker.
mace the rattler (v.)

to defraud the railway, to travel for free.

[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 3 Apr. 1/1: The limited staff [...] is totally inadequate to out-manoeuvre all who ‘mace the rattler’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 11 Aug. 4s/8: Damning and blasting Creation’s eyes / Are the Mob who Maced the Rattler.
[UK]C.G. Gordon Crooks of the Und. 226: How do these people [i.e. confidence tricksters] overcopme the difficulties of travelling / By ‘macing it,’ or ‘jimming it.’.
W. Buchanan-Taylor One More Shake 43: The unfortunate ones, who wait and hope without success at the stations, ‘mace the rattler’. They use out-of-date or slightly obliterated short-distance tickets in order to get by the ticket inspectors.