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]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.
steamboat/steamboated

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).
steamroll/steamroller

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.
[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.

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]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 piss (v.)

to hold in 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.
not give someone the steam (off one’s turds) (v.)

to be very mean.

[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.