Green’s Dictionary of Slang

shell n.

1. the female body.

[UK]G. Stevens ‘A Cant Song’ Muses Delight 177: As I trolled a-long I grappled her shell, she stag’d rum bowman & knew me full well.

2. the vagina.

[UK]Dialogue between a Married Lady and a Maid II: This pretty shell, prettier than that out of which Venus herself was born, will be sadly torn by Philander.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[UK]Farmer Vocabula Amatoria (1966) 75: Conque, f. The female pudendum; ‘the shell’.

3. (US Und.) a safe.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 191/1: Shell. A safe or vault with a thin door.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS 465/2: shell n. 1. A vault or safe [...] archaic.

4. (US) a portion of opium.

[US]W. Norr Stories of Chinatown 36: Bring a shell of dope, will you?
[US]L.J. Beck N.Y.’s Chinatown 314: Each group had the regulation lamp, a pipe and a ‘shell of dope’.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 127: He lacked the price of a ‘shell’ of hop, and he had a yen that had crawled into his very soul. [Ibid.] 195: Bring a couple shells an’ a stem.
[US]G.J. Kneeland Commercialized Prostitution in N.Y. City 91: For a ‘shell of hop’ he would kill a dozen Chinamen.

5. (Aus.) a coffin.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 4 Apr. 11/4: Every corpse within a radius of 20 miles put in an appearance […]. Morning coaches and coffins were advertised to call at 11 p.m., but so numerous were the encores that it was long after that hour before the entertainment was finished, and some of the ghastly audience had barely time to scurry home to their plantations and creep into their shells before the Araluen roosters began to call ‘Time’s up’ from every perch and dunghill.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 11 July 7/3: The word ‘shell’ we think unusually appropriate and graceful. It performs the double office of satisfying all the requirements of metre and all the wants of Robert. That it does the former felicitously will be seen at once when you try to substitute for it some word such as ‘coffin,’ ‘piner,’ or ‘cherry-case’ when the halting rhythm warns you to let ‘shell’ alone.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Aug. 12/3: The hospital porter [...] put the Orangeman in the cheap, black casket intended for the cadaver whose name had been Pat [...]. The ornate and privately purchased shell was filled with the only corpse left.
Pensacola News Jrnl (FL) 2 June D1/5: It has been tagged as a crate, a bone-box, an oak overcoat, a six-foot bungalow, a shell. Chicago gangland mentioned it [...] as a wooden kimono.

6. (Aus./US) a corpse.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 8 Sept. 13/1: Early one recent morning a very beery mariner, fell out of a third-floor window at the Melb. Sailor’s Home[...]. It was apparently a case for the morgue, but when they took the ‘shell’ to the hospital on the off-chance, it was found that, except for a bruise or two, he was none the worse.
[US]J. Archibald ‘Bird Cagey’ in Popular Detective Jan. [Internet] Mrs. Drupe is getting very impatient as she cannot collect life insurance on Corny until they find his shell.

7. (Aus.) an ear.

[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 18 Feb. 4/8: ’E kep’ on whisperin’ in their shells like ennything [...] Right up close in their shells.

8. a hearse.

[UK]J. Manchon Le Slang.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

shell-back (n.) [the image of a slow-moving turtle]

1. orig. of sailors, a veteran; thence an ultra-conservative, slow-witted person.

Scaramento Daily Union (CA) 12 Dec. 2/4: Here is a brief extract, illustrating something of the dangers to which the marine ‘shellback’ is constantly exposed.
Scarmento Daily Union (CA) 17 May 3/4: The old Copperhead patriarch [...] was heard to ask his friends what kind of a flag it was proposed to display [...] ‘The Stars and Stripes, of course,’ replied the friend. ‘I thought so,’ said the old shellback.
Pacific Rural Press 4 Oct. 217/4: The tar is in his element [...] and makes the clumsiest ‘shellback’ for the time a model of grace.
[US]L.A. Herald 16 Mar. 4/1: ‘I wonder what brings old Eyre into the Exchange?’ remarked one of the shellbacks in the lobby.
[UK]W.C. Russell Sailors’ Lang. xiii: The merchant seaman [...] does not apparantly blush to figure as ‘Jack Muck’ and ‘Shellback’.
[UK]W.C. Russell Jack’s Courtship I 3: It takes a sailor a long time to straighten his spine and get quit of the bold sheer that earns him the name of shell-back.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 21 Mar. 20/1: They soused him in water, and scrubbed him every day, till the period was up. Still the old shellback was groggy.
[US]‘Frederick Benton Williams’ (H.E. Hamblen) On Many Seas 42: He was a genuine old ‘shellback,’ who I believe would have growled if he had been invited by a fairy to wish for whatever he wanted.
[US]A.J. Boyd Shellback 325: He knew his work, and was a thoroughgoing old shellback, although only about thirty years of age.
[Aus]W.A. Sun. Times (Perth) 23 Feb. 1/1: One of the bungling shellbacks, ordered not to follow, tracked up the crimson dyed damsel by her ruddy trail.
[US]R. McCardell Show Girl and Her Friends 48: You know how it is when you are out with a shellbark [sic]. You hope [...] he’ll loosen up and buy you something nice.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard God’s Man 293: Hard on an old shell-back that sweated blood to lay up savings for a safe harbor.
[US](con. 1899) H.P. Bailey Shanghaied Out of Frisco 23: The weather-beaten old shell-back.
[UK]Western Morn. News 23 May 8/3: Hark to the tale of shellback as lay on Plymouth Hoe.
[Aus]R.S. Close Love me Sailor 68: It would have been funny to see that old shellback.
[US]G. Metalious Peyton Place (1959) 325: By Jesus! he thought, I’ll have to watch it. I’m beginning to sound like a true shellback.
[Aus]B. Humphries Barry McKenzie [comic strip] in Complete Barry McKenzie (1988) 69: These independent Cornish shell backs need careful wooing.
[UK]S. Hugill Sailortown 4: Did not the shellback often feel that he would like to become ‘the mate of a fish ’n’ chip cart, with brass knobs and hand-rails’?
[Ire]J. Ryan Remembering How We Stood 108: It was a description that an old shellback had once given me.
[SA]A. Dangor Z Town Trilogy 162: God but you are a shell bek.
[Aus]S. Maloney Sucked In 21: It was the Reformers versus the Shellbacks. the arena was the union movement.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

Sacramento Daily Union (CA) 7 Feb. 2/6: There would be goodly numbers of old shellback Democrats there.
[UK]W.S. Walker Zealandia’s Guerdon 127: He was a regular ‘shell-back’ skipper.
[Aus]S. Maloney Big Ask 165: My task was to muster the strays. Disaffected individuals, the shell-back left, up-for-grabs ethnics.
shell game (n.)

1. (also nutshell racket) a swindling game in which a small object is concealed under a walnut shell or the like; the manipulator then moves the shells round at speed; bets are made on the shell under which the object is found.

[US]Wichita Eagle (KS) 5 Aug. 5/4: The case against Ed. D. Dorsey [...] charged with gambling, in working the nutshell racket, was dismissed.
[US]Rock Is. Dly Argus (IL) 21 June 4/2: The court house square was occupied [...] by ‘Peanuts’, a wild eyed fakir [...] who worked the shell game for three hours.
[US]W.T. Hall Turnover Club 169: Would endeavour to make a collection of Japanese coins, with their cards and a shell game [DA].
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 71: One is a variation of the old shell-game.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Ethics of Pig’ in Gentle Grafter (1915) 228: That night I went down to the circus tents and opened up a small shell game.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 123: The shell game is a typical bunko trick.
[US] (ref. to late 19C) N. Kimball Amer. Madam (1981) 242: There was faro (bucking the tiger), blackjack (twenty-one), old sledge (seven up), the shell game, three card monte, chuck-a-luck, escarte and brag.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl.
[US]T. Thursday ‘Billy the Kidder’ in Blue Ribbon Western Nov. [Internet] This fairly honest larceny is known as the shell game.
[US]F. Brown Dead Ringer 21: Your pennypitch games that slide along the borderline of gambling would be shell games and three-card montes.
[Aus]D. Niland Big Smoke 70: I’m the patron of all them that do be practising the shell game.
[US](con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 29: Artifice became my bible, as I learnt how to play stuff, the shell game, pigeon drop and three card molly.
[US]C. Heath A-Team 2 (1984) 164: We could work a shell game on those geeks.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 77: That faith like a shell game had mocked Joe all his life.

2. a generic for any form of confidence trick.

[US](con. 1949) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 193: I think Gearhart had a very good idea when talked about implementing that old shell game with the second group of men.
shell road (v.) [SAmE shell road, a back road having a bed or layer of shells]

(US) to throw a person, often a woman who refuses to have sex, out of a vehicle and thus force them to walk home an inconvenient and poss. embarrassing distance.

[US]Ade Forty Modern Fables 271: Any one who put a Napkin inside of his Collar or wore a striped Bow with Full Dress would be shell-roaded.
[US]D. Runyon ‘It Comes Up Mud’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 531: She is shell-roaded on the Pelham Parkway by some Yale guys when she gets cross with them.
shell worker (n.) (also shell man, shell spieler) [worker n.1 (1)]

(US Und.) one who operates a shell game

[US]J.P. Quinn Fools of Fortune 348: The simplicity of the apparatus enables the ‘shell’ man to carry his outfit with him in his vest pocket wherever he may go.
[US]Ade Artie (1963) 109: He’s better ’n any o’ them shell-workers that used to graft out at the government pier.
Cincinnati Enquirier (OH) 26 May 2/2: Among the goody-good every thimble-rigger, shell spieler and brace dealer is a gambler.
[US]C.R. Wooldridge Hands Up! 66: Confidence men, shell workers, and sand-baggers followed them like wolves after a lone prairie traveler. [Ibid.] 68: The next one to walk into trouble without looking for it was a merry ‘shell man.’.
[US]Ade ‘The Fable of the Misdirected Sympathy’ in True Bills 105: I may not handle as much Coin as some of the Shell-Workers that hang out in Wall Street.
[US]I.L. Nascher Wretches of Povertyville 221: The three card monte men and the shell men have been driven off the street.
[US]W. Irwin Confessions of a Con Man 57: The head shell-worker had done time for manslaughter.
[US]Madison Jrnl (LA) 30 Aug. 3/1: ‘Charge, gamblin’. All hands plead guilty.’ [...] It was a phoney police court [...] owned and controlled by the shell men.
[US]Wash. Times (DC) 10 Oct. 15/2: You were the finest shell worker [...] that ever cleaned up a county fair.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 176: He munched and listened to the shell-workers talk singsongingly of the elusive little pea.
[US]El Paso Herald (TX) 18 July 13/6: The circus grafters are the shell and wheel men, flat-joint and broad workers, stalls and dips.
[US]AS XXII:3 162: There are today two fairly well defined types of professional shell-men operating.
shell wroughter (n.)

(Aus. Und.) one who operates a shell game

[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 2 Dec. 18/1: All sorts and conditions of crooks take part in the great trek — ‘whizz’ men, ‘broad-tossers,’ ‘shell’ wroughters, ‘Jack’ spinners; all are there.