Green’s Dictionary of Slang

case n.1

1. a situation.

[UK]T. Kyd Soliman and Perseda D4: Ile be so bolde As to diue into the Gentlemans pocket, for good luck sake, If he deny me not: how say you sir, are you content? A plaine case.
[UK]J. Cooke How A Man May Choose A Good Wife From A Bad Act I: iust.: Forward I pray, yet the case is plaine. old ar.. Ah sir as yet you do not know the case.
[UK]T. May Heir V i: I am in a sweet case, what should I do now? Her father thinks I have lain with her; if I deny it, he’ll have a bout with me: if I say I have, this young rogue will cut my throat.
[UK] ‘A Furious Scold’ in Ebsworth Westminster Drolleries (1875) 39: I dropt it in and nointed her face, Which brought her into a most Devilish case.
[UK]‘A. Burton’ My Cousin in the Army 21: Madam, I’m very sorry for your case.
O.W. Holmes Guardian Angel 47: It was a demonish hard case [...] that old Malachi had left his money as he did.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 110: case now means any unfortunate matter. ‘I’m afraid it’s a case with him.’.
[UK]W.S. Gilbert ‘To the Terrestrial Globe’ Fifty ‘Bab’ Ballads 133: What though I’m in a sorry case? / What though I cannot meet my bills? / What though I suffer toothache ills?
[Ire]B. Behan Scarperer (1966) 24: ‘Many a good man’s case,’ said the sergeant.

2. as personifications.

(a) (US) a doomed person.

[US]W.T. Thompson Chronicles of Pineville 150: Farewell, Peters – I’m a case.

(b) a ne’er-do-well, a dubious character.

[US]D. Crockett Sketches and Eccentricities 24: In the slang of the backwoods, one swore [...] that he would never be ‘a case’ — that is flat, without a dollar.
[US]Congressional Globe 10 Apr. Appx. 435: Mary Rogers are a case, / And so are Sally Thompson.
[US]F.M. Whitcher Widow Bedott Papers (1883) 23: Old Winkle’s a hard old case.
Southern Confederacy (Atlanta, GA) 3 May n.p.: The other prisoners are all sharp, intelligent-looking men, no hard-looking cases like yankee prisoners.
[UK]Fetter Lane to Gravesend in Darkey Drama 5 26: Bad money! oh, he’s a case!
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 25 July 14/4: Your life was full of sport, Poll Cott, / You always went the pace; / You often faced the court, Poll Cott, / You were a noted ‘case.’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 May 12/3: [H]e presented himself again as a swarthy, swearful swaggie. This time he not only passed flying, but heard himself chuckled over by the experts as ‘a tough case, good for wear,’ ‘a rough diamond,’ and ‘a real old fighting kangaroo.’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 31 Jan. 11/4: Lately they ran up against a couple of cases, and their duty to fellow man wasn’t worth a cent when they reckoned it would injure business. So they dropped godliness for the time being and let two criminals loose on society.
[US]H.L. Wilson Somewhere in Red Gap 7: That Ben Sutton, now, he’s a case.
[UK]N. Lucas Autobiog. of a Thief 22: It was already acknowledged that I was a ‘case’!
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Seventeen’ Short Stories (1937) 279: I tell you, Mike, you’re a case.
[US](con. 1860s) R. Bradford Kingdom Coming 121: Dat boy a case! A lowdown case!
[US]E. Pyle Brave Men 182: Any time his name was mentioned among higher officers, they would nod and say, ‘Yes, Sheehy is a case’.
[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Men from the Boys (1967) 57: There was a creepy-looking case sitting opposite me — looked like a junkie.
[US]J. Thompson Texas by the Tail (1994) 128: Yessir, that Lee was really a case.
[SA]J. Matthews The Park and Other Stories (1983) 21: ‘Dose whities a case,’ Sly said sourly [...] ‘Yah. Dey come looking forra black pussy.’.
[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 306: ‘Youse are fokkin’ cases,’ replies the man with the scar.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett You Wouldn’t Be Dead for Quids (1989) 70: Some girl who he had met [...] had turned out to be a mad raving case.
[Aus]T. Winton ‘Family’ in Turning (2005) 184: You’re a case, Frank.

(c) a person, irrespective of status, morals, etc, although the usage, usu. denoted by an adj., tends be dismissive.

[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 17: A few years ago the term case was applied to persons and things ‘what a case he is’ [...] ‘a rum case’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. [as cit. 1859].
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Taking Stiffner Down’ in Roderick (1972) 128: Stiffner was a rough case with a hard reputation.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Joe Wilson’s Courtship’ in Roderick (1972) 540: He seemed to reckon that I was a gone case now.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘His Unconquerable Soul’ in Roderick (1972) 810: Alfred was a bad case, if he wasn’t a bad egg. He was a hard case, too.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 60: Poor old professor Goodwin. Dreadful old case. Still he was a courteous old chap.
[UK]B. Ross Tragedy of Z 88: He was in a sweat, shaky as a new case drunk on potato water.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 106: When he got to France he would be a first-class mental case an’ no errors.
[UK]C. MacInnes Absolute Beginners 71: Behind the counter was a female case who didn’t like the appearance of the dean.
[US]J. Thompson Pop. 1280 in Four Novels (1983) 439: That Henry Clay was a real case, what we call a cotton-patch lawyer.
[Ire]T. Murphy Gigli Concert in Plays 3 (1994) Scene viii: You’re a case!
[US](con. 1949) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 146: One or two of them qualified as drool cases or rubber-room candidates.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 4: They [...] end up losing everything, become sad cases. [Ibid.] 24: We support your right to be a fuckin sex case.

(d) (orig. US) an eccentric or otherwise exceptional person.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 192: An old chief, a real salt, and as cunnin’ as a fox, for he was quite a case that feller.
[US]H.B. Stowe Uncle Tom’s Cabin 3: That chap’s a case, I’ll promise.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 17: Case A few years ago the term case was applied to persons and things; ‘what a CASE he is,’ i.e. what a curious person; ‘a rum case that,’ or ‘you are a case,’ both synonymous with the phrase ‘odd fish,’ common half-a-century ago.
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (3rd edn) 104: Case, a character, a queer one; as ‘That Sol Haddock is a case’. ‘What a hard case he is’, meaning a reckless scapegrace, mauvais sujet.
[UK]A. Binstead Houndsditch Day by Day 98: The ‘heads’ were falling over one another to lay 5 to 1 on Kilcock for the opening race, and none but a born ‘case’ for Hanwell would have tried to find anything to beat it.
[US]P.L. Dunbar Jest Of Fate (1903) 98: Mr. Thomas is a case, sho’.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 247: The other guy, Nietzsche, he was a real case, a case for the bug-house.
[UK]R. Llewellyn None But the Lonely Heart 102: Tiger’s a case, he is, boy.
[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Lead With Your Left (1958) 7: Uncle Frank, what a case.
[US]J. Webb Fields of Fire (1980) 114: You’re a case, Senator. They’re going to carry you out of here in a strait-jacket.

(e) (Aus.) a nymphomaniac.

[Aus]R. Aven-Bray Ridgey-Didge Oz Jack Lang 23: Case Nymphomaniac.

3. an infatuation, a love affair; thus an adulterous affair.

[UK]R.S. Surtees Young Tom Hall (1926) 63: [of a horse purchase] The major saw, by the self-satisfied grin on Tom’s face, as he at length returned with the slack rein of confidence, that it was a ‘case’.
[US]Harper’s Mag. V 338/2: Young America sipping cobblers, and roving about in very loose and immoral coats, voted it ‘a case’. The elderly ladies thought it a ‘shocking flirtation’ [DA].
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]M.E. Braddon To the Bitter End III 284: From the day we first met Lord Stanmore at a hunting breakfast at Stoneleigh, the business was settled. It was a ‘case,’ as you fast young people say.
[UK]H. Smart Social Sinners II 187: He saw people began to make way for him when she was concerned; in short, that they looked upon it as ‘a case’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 1 Aug. 13/1: One day the stricken Mr. Moodles met, while doing the block, disconsolate Mrs. Boodles. Their tear-bedewed eyes rested upon each other for an instant – and it was a case.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 203: I should say it was a case – eh, Mrs. Morgan?
[US]S. Ford Torchy, Private Sec. 123: Awfully bad case I had, you know. And now [...] I suppose I’d best see her mother.
[UK](con. 1913) R. Graves Goodbye to All That (1960) 50: ‘Case’ meant a romance, a formal coupling of two boys’ names, with the name of the elder boy first.
[US]W.R. Burnett Dark Hazard (1934) 218: He’s been hanging around after Marg ever since I can remember. They had an awful case in high school.
[Aus](con. 1830s–60s) ‘Miles Franklin’ All That Swagger 288: ‘Good job he’s so much younger, or there might be a case of cousins,’ remarked Uncle William, and everyone laughed.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.
[US] in T.I. Rubin Sweet Daddy 79: So I talked about her. That means [I] had a case on her or something?

4. in comb. with a n., implying an example of a given state; usu. as case of the...; see also phrs. below.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 26 Nov. 11/3: [A]s he epitomized the situiation to a friend, ‘It was a very bad case of mother-in-law’.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues II 46/1: A case of crabs, subs. phr. [colloquial]. – a failure. A case of pickles subs. phr. [colloquial]. – An incident; a bad break-down; a break up. A case of stump, subs. phr. [colloquial]. – Said of one absolutely guiltless of the possession of coin.
[US]M. Shulman Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) 156: You ain’t in love with Angela. You just got a case of the hots.
[US]Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, OH) 13 Dec. 4/3: ‘I had a hard case of the Connecticuts,’ said the man in the middle.
[US]Current Sl. I:1 4/2: Strong case of like A strong emotional attachment.

5. (US Und.) the charge or crime for which one is tried and poss. convicted.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Mar. 23/2: The man of law was so utterly flabbergasted that for a moment he forgot to run the wet person in for being ‘drunk and disorderly,’ but he recovered himself in time. It takes a very severe shock to make a Melb. policeman miss a ‘case.’.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ From Coast to Coast with Jack London 39: He saw a chance to work up against us a ‘case’ which could be made to ‘stick’ in court.
[US] ‘Sl. of Watts’ in Current Sl. III:2.
[US] Ice-T ‘Drama’ [lyrics] Under I went, caught a case and half.
[US] Snoop Doggy Dogg ‘Murder was the Case’ [lyrics] Murder was the case that they gave me / Murder was the case that they gave me.

6. (US prison/Und.) punishment for breaking prison rules; arrest and charges.

[US]L. Stavsky et al. A2Z 18/1: Homeboy caught a case when the troopers found the Uzi in his trunk.
[US]Texas Lawyer [journal] Gloss. of Texas Prison Sl. 8 Feb.: Case – Punishment for misbehavior. An inmate ‘catches a case’ when he is disciplined by an administrative hearing officer or formally charged with a crime.

In phrases

bad case of the tins (n.) [ety. unknown; ? tin-can v.] (US gay)

1. a state of fear, esp. of being raped.

[US] (ref. to 1930s) B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 24: bad case of the tins (fr pros sl, ’30s) 1. a continual dread of being raped 2. fear in general; paranoia; the jitters.
[US]R.O. Scott Gay Sl. Dict. [Internet].

2. (temporary) impotence.

[US]R.O. Scott Gay Sl. Dict. [Internet] bad case of the tins: [...] 3. unable to get or keep an erection.
case of the reds (n.)

see under red n.

get off someone’s case (v.)

(orig. US black) to stop harassing, to stop annoying; esp. as imper.

[US]W. Safire What’s the Good Word? 205: I noted the disappearance of ‘get off my back’ and the emergence of ‘get off my case’.
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972).
[US]C. McFadden Serial 61: Get off his case, okay? You don’t have to come on like such a heavy.
[Ire]R. Doyle Commitments 72: That woman is driving me fucking crazy, said Joey The Lips. – She won’t get off my case.
[US]G. Wolff ‘Waterway’ in A Day at the Beach (1992) 239: I’m a citizen! Get off my case! I’m middle-class!
[UK]B. Hare Urban Grimshaw 21: I don’t know everything. Get off my case.
get on someone’s case (v.) (also be on someone’s case, get down on someone’s case, stay on someone’s case)

(orig. US black) to pester, to harass.

[US]H.E. Roberts Third Ear n.p.: case n. […] 2. an imaginary region of the mind in which is centered one’s vulnerable points, eccentricities, and sensitivities; e.g. Don’t get on my case!
[US]E. Folb Urban Black Argot 137: Down on Someone’s Case to verbally harass someone.
[US]V.E. Smith Jones Men 94: Man, you sho is on these people’s cases.
[US]J. Wambaugh Choirboys (1976) 87: These people got on my case heavy the first day the ol man was dead.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 255: stay on (one’s) case Steadily disparage or harass.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 325: I’ve dealt with enough assholes today, so don’t get on my case.
[US]O. Hawkins Chili 36: It was kinda phoney from the git, me gettin’ down on her case so bad.
[UK]I. Welsh Trainspotting 124: Still likesay gitin oan ma case as usual.
[US]G. Sikes 8 Ball Chicks (1998) 126: He got on my case because I’m educated and I use big words and it scared him.
[NZ]A. Duff Jake’s Long Shadow 234: I’m not getting on your case, Jake. Just letting you know.
[UK](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 270: What ye oan fuckin Keezbo’s case fir, ya fuckin radge?
get on the case (v.)

to get down to work, to occupy oneself with what needs to be done.

[US]D. Goines Street Players 38: Now you get on the case and take care of my business.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 102: Get on the case, Flood, or get off the pot.
have cases on (v.)

(US) to disparage, to harass.

[US]World (N.Y.) 12 Mar. 10/4: Hearin’ ’em shoot off about cows and pigs all th’ time, I thought they were a lot o’ dummies, and that was how they got cases on me.
on someone’s case (orig. US)

1. harassing verbally, persecuting.

[UK]M. Amis London Fields 164: Wed to Kathleen, all the birds were on his case.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 457: I don’t want him on me case all night.
[UK]N. Barlay Crumple Zone 105: No way I was gonna risk ten psychos with baseball bats on my case.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 215: Yolanda on my case about how much of the fifteen thou I got left.

2. pursuing, following; sexually attracted towards.

[US]C. Stroud Close Pursuit (1988) 115: You used the glass to keep a vic in sight without being on his case too lean.
[US](con. 1968) W.E. Merritt Where the Rivers Ran Backward 49: I’d be on her case like a duck on a June bug.
[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 4: Ratter had been on this one’s case all afternoon.
[UK]A. Wheatle Dirty South 70: I maintained eye contact all the time and hoped she’d realise I was seriously on her case.
on the case

(orig. US) whether in one’s personal or professional life, working or acting efficiently, controlling a situation, ‘taking care of business’.

[[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 22: Find out who got that thimble an’ the roll on the trolley over in Jersey — the chief is hostile an’ wants to know — Ruderick MeKlowd is on the case].
[US]H.E. Roberts Third Ear n.p.: case n. 1. an important situation; a crisis meriting concentrated attention e.g. Stay on the case! […].
[US]D. Goines Dopefiend (1991) 172: I’ll be right here on the case.
[US]J. Sayles Union Dues (1978) 128: Cause they can’t stay on the fucking case that long.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 44: Shit, I don’t need no rest. I’m on the case, baby.
[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 62: He’s on the case. He says he’ll sort it.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 165: On the case now, Benny, no probs.