Green’s Dictionary of Slang

steam n.

1. (US black) beer, wine; a glass of beer [it ‘gets one’s steam up’; but note late 19C US proprietory steam beer (pump)].

[US]N. Ames Mariner’s Sketches 23: The adice of the old French piloet [...] not to drink too much water, but always qualify it with a little steam [i.e. rum].
[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 13 May n.p.: How much steam do you put aboard in one day?
[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 35: The man who attempted to palm off a telephone slug in payment for a steam. [Ibid.] 109: How would a nice steam hit you?
[US]D. Claerbaut Black Jargon in White America 81: steam n. 1. beer. [...] 2. wine.

2. (US) a temper.

[US]J. London Valley of the Moon (1914) 65: The fightin’ taught me to keep down the steam an’ not do things I’d be sorry for afterward.

3. (Aus./N.Z.) cheap wine, esp. if laced with methylated spirits; methylated spirits drunk by itself.

[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 71: Steam, cheap wine, esp. laced with methylated spirits.
[Aus]Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 21 Oct. 6/4: We had a ‘blue’ about me not drinking the ‘steam’ (methylated spirits).
[Aus]T.A.G. Hungerford Riverslake 169: I’ve got a bottle of steam in my room.
[Aus]P. Pinney Restless Men 68: Just duck behind the hedge with a couple o’ bottles of steam.
[Aus]D. Ireland Burn 49: Once I hid in a food truck on a long spell with a bottle of steam and got through a tin of biscuits.
[Aus]R. Aven-Bray Ridgey-Didge Oz Jack Lang 43: Steam Wine.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 199: steam Cheap and very nasty liquor, ANZ early C20. Originally methylated spirits on its own or mixed with a modifier such as cheap, fortified wine.

4. (US) blame, sarcasm, intense criticism.

[US]H. Searls Hero Ship 200: Most of the conversation in their kitchen was of steam and bull—English—and of slashes, who studied too hard or buckets who studied not hard enough.

5. (drugs) phencyclidine.

[US]E. Sanders Family 99: Some LSD which turned out to be p-c-p animal tranquilizers, or steam, as it is known in dope-land.
A. Goth Medical Pharmacology 321: Phencyclidine has been [...] nicknamed ‘steam’ by drug users.

6. (US) problems, difficulties, trouble.

[US]‘Red’ Rudensky Gonif 83: Grab a phony name and join the army. [...] By the time you come out a lot of the steam’s off.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 234: Cover the door [...] Aaron’s got steam.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

steam-and-cream (n.) [SE steam, i.e. of the sauna + cream v.]

(US) a brothel, masquerading/doubling as a sauna.

[US](con. c.1970) G. Hasford Phantom Blooper 30: Mr. Greenjeans caught your ass in the ville. Inside that steam-and-cream full of twelve-year-old whores that you own with that fat Gunny from Arkansas.

see separate entries.

steam engine (n.) [? the steam that emanates from the hot potatoes]

(US prison) a potato pie, a cooked potato.

[[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 246: Steam-engine potato-pie at Manchester is so termed].
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Steam engines, boiled potatoes (prison).

see separate entries.

In phrases

blow off steam (v.) (also get off steam, let off (the) steam, shoot off steam, let off wind)

1. to release one’s (pent-up) emotions, to become angry or noisy and excited.

[[Aus]N.-Y. National Advocate 28 May 2/3: By this time her voice and gestures indicated that she was getting on the ‘high pressure’].
T. Flint Recollections of the Last Ten Years 78: Much of his language is figurative and drawn from the power of a steam-boat. To get ardent and zealous, is to ‘raise the steam.’ To get angry, and give vent and scope to these feelings, is to ‘let off the steam.’.
[US]C.A. Davis Letters of Major J. Downing (1835) 169: I never know’d the Gineral blow off steam so long as he did this time.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown’s School-Days (1896) 199: Joining them in some chorus of merry voices; in fact, blowing off steam, as we should now call it.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Ask Mamma 265: They have let off the steam of their small talk, and have nothing left to fall back upon but repetition.
[Ire]Dublin Eve. Post 17 Aug. 2/5: The follies [...] of the meeting [...] were in reality no more than a blowing off of so-called ‘Protestant steam’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 30 May 16/3: Of course I know right well that some people are born with such a ridiculous amount of energy that they must let off steam in some way or become unhealthy.
[UK]Lancs. Eve. Post 11 Oct. 4/4: Our neighbours [...] are merely ‘blowing off steam’.
[Aus]‘Henry Handel Richardson’ Aus. Felix (1971) 22: The authorities, with great good sense, let it pass for what it was—a noisy blowing-off of steam.
[UK]E. Pound letter 7 June in Read Letters to James Joyce (1968) 143: Your third section is bloody inspirin’ fine. Want to let off a little steam over it.
[US]S. Lewis Main Street (1921) 371: We all get peeved sometimes and want to blow off steam.
[US]S. Lewis Babbitt (1974) 58: ‘Look here, old man, oughtn’t to talked about Zilla way I did.’ ‘Rats, old man, it lets off steam.’.
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 95: I hope that super was just letting off wind.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 825: They got to get off steam some way.
[US]C. Odets Golden Boy I v: You and Carp blowing off steam.
[Can]Vancouver Sun (BC) 23 Oct. 42/1: ‘I gotta blow off steam too, or blow me block off’.
[UK](con. 1919) R. Westerby Mad in Pursuit 33: He knew that once she had let off steam like this she was all right.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ They’re a Weird Mob (1958) 102: Wouldn’ve touched ’im. Just lettin’ orf steam.
[US]Kerouac letter 6 Dec. in Charters II (1999) 231: Once in a while I go into NY & see my wild friends & blow off steam.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Scene (1996) 17: Davis needs me [...] if only to shoot off a little steam.
[US]H. Rhodes Chosen Few (1966) 93: ‘Do you really believe that or are you just blowing off today’s steam?’ ‘I believe it and I’m still blowing off steam.’.
[UK]P. Willmott Adolescent Boys of East London (1969) 155: When you’re young you want to let off a bit of steam [...] it’s a way of expressing yourself.
[US]Milner & Milner Black Players 19: When he particularly felt like letting off steam he would take out one of two pistols he kept for the purpose and blast a few holes in the wall.
[US](con. 1940s) E. Thompson Tattoo (1977) 100: Well, I knowed he would have to blow off some steam about it.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 209: If you just let them blow off steam they’ll go away after a while.
[Aus]N. Keesing Lily on the Dustbin 24: Women used to let off steam domestically with a fine range of substitute expletives. ‘Holy Moses!’, ‘Holy mackerel!’, ‘great balls of fire’, ‘good gravy’, ‘jumping Jehosaphat’ and ‘muddy great bucket of pitch’.
[US]P. Cornwell Cause of Death (1997) 96: We really can’t say that the culprit wasn’t some kid blowing off steam.
[UK]Observer Rev. 10 Oct. 3: To let off steam, she does a bit of primal screaming.
[US]G. Pelecanos Right As Rain 210: When she asks you where you been all night, it’s just her way of lettin’ off a little steam.
[US]B. Dempski et al. Dalko 37: [H]ard-working hard-drinking men who spent long weeks in the factories, then relaxed and blew off steam in the neighborhood taverns.

2. see blow off v.2 (3)

blow steam (v.)

(US) to chatter aimlessly and pointlessly.

A. Miller View from the Bridge 17: You think I’m blowin’ steam here?
[US]N.Y. Times Book Rev. cited in Cong. Wkly Reports 1323: [This] is a ferociously reported book, a tribute to old-fashioned digging in an age when lots of reporters are content to blow steam on television talk shows.
like steam (adv.) [20C+ use (Aus.)]

very quickly, very easily, energetically.

[UK]Dickens Pickwick Papers (1999) 391: Tother one [...] has got a barrel o’ oysters atween his knees, vich he’s a openin’ like steam.
[UK]Sportsman 23 Jan. 2/1: Notes on News [...] The lean kine of the Custom House eat up the fat ones ‘like steam’.
[UK]Sporting Times 2 Jan. 1/4: We got on like steam for some time.
[UK]Sporting Times 18 Jan. 2/2: We ate and drank like steam wherever we stopped on the road to Lewes.
[UK]Funny Wonder 5 Feb. 1: I wagged the old curl-case like steam.
[Aus]L. Glassop We Were the Rats 26: If they’re not a wake-up I can get set for a caser like steam.
[Aus](con. 1944) L. Glassop Rats in New Guinea 17: Look out [...] or he’ll reef twenty quid off you like steam.
not give someone the steam (off one’s turds) (v.) (also one’s shit)

to be very mean.

[Aus]R.G. Barrett Between the Devlin 41: ‘[T]hose two pricks wouldn’t give you the steam off their shit’.
[Ire](con. 1970) G. Moxley Danti-Dan in McGuinness Dazzling Dark (1996) II v: She wouldn’t give you the steam, that one.
[UK]N. Griffiths Sheepshagger 133: Been up to is tight-arsed tricks again as he? Fuckin typical. Tight as a gnat’s twat yew are, Marc, d’yew know that? [...] Wouldn’t give the steam off yewer turds as a Christmas present yew.
put on the steam (v.) [railroad or factory whistle imagery]

(US) to whistle.

[US]N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 75: When I put on the steam you can hear it two blocks — it means drop everything, it’s the nab.
the steam off one’s piss (n.)

an image of utter insignificance, thus used in not give (someone) the steam off (one’s) piss, to imply absolute contempt.

[Ire](con. 1920s) P. Crosbie Your Dinner’s Poured Out! 219: He wouldn’t give you the steam off his piss.
[Ire]B. Quinn Smokey Hollow 142: Them nuns are mean rips [...] They wouldn’t give you the steam off their piss.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 110: Dudes who hate them with a vengeance, cos of envy or fear, who wouldn’t give ’em the steam off their piss.
[Ire]L. McInerney Glorious Heresies 114: You know he doesn’t deserve the steam off your piss?’.
L. Inglis on Twitter 7 June 🌐 It's one thing to be incompetent, and it's a whole different game to not give the steam off your piss.