Green’s Dictionary of Slang

elbow n.1

1. (US) a detective, a policeman [pun on the ‘long arm of the law’; note Casey, The Gay-cat (1921): ‘“Elbow” comes from the detective’s way of elbowing through a crowd’].

[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 117: ‘De way dat guy is t’rowin’ his lamps at us [...] ’ud make a guy t’ink he was a copper.’ ‘He might be an elbow at dat, but if he is he’s a new one to me.’.
[US]H. Green Mr. Jackson 33: A coupla ‘elbows’ from Headquarters kin search ’em out.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 31: elbow [...] General usage in cosmopolitan centers. A detective.
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Gatewood Caper’ Story Omnibus (1966) 141: If everything’s all right, and there’s no elbows tagging along, somebody’ll come up to you.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl.
[US]Slanguage Dict. Mod. Amer. Sl.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 65/2: Elbows. (Chiefly Central and Western U. S.) Plainclothes policemen, especially pickpocket-squad detectives working in crowds.

2. (also El Bow) rejection, dismissal.

[US]G.V. Hobart Jim Hickey 109: We open in three weeks with the Co. that’s playing’ The Splinter In the Elbow.' I play the splinter and the manager gives us both the elbow on pay night.
[UK]F. Taylor Auf Wiedersehen Pet Two 26: ‘She gave you the Spanish archer.’ ‘The what?’ ‘The El Bow, mate.’.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Real Thing 25: [He] sprayed Pattie with plenty of money before he gave her the elbow.
[UK]N. Griffiths Grits 45: Av given Sarah thuh Spanish Archer, the old El Bow.
[UK]Guardian Guide 11 – 17 Aug. 3: I got given the Spanish elbow from my job as manager of a printing firm.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 23: ‘Why do you say she gave you the Spanish fiddle?’ ‘Come again?’ ‘Spanish fiddle. El bow. That’s what your Cockneys call it. The Big E. The elbow.’.
[Scot](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 131: He glances at his bird [...] —Elbay time, ah reckon, he winks.

3. (UK Und.) a pickpocket’s assistant [he elbows the victim to distract their attention from the pickpocketing].

[[UK]Hue and Cry after Mercurius Democritus 8: All Trades are very dead, none thriving better than Elbow-men, Hectors, Trappens, and such like, who increase daily in number].
[US]Maines & Grant Wise-crack Dict. 8/1: Elbow man – One who nudges the sucker out after he’s trimmed.
[US]W. Smith Bessie Cotter 10: He ain’t even a good elbow for that dip mob he trails with.

4. (US Und.) a general term of abuse [the victim is elbowed out of the way].

[US]J. Evans Halo For Satan (1949) 81: Why, you lousy elbow!

SE in slang uses

In compounds

elbow-bender (n.) (also arm bender, elbow crooker, elbow lifter)

1. a heavy drinker; thus elbow-bending, drinking; see also bend one’s elbow under bend v.1

[US]Trumble Sl. Dict. (1890) 13: Elbow crooker. A hard drinker.
[UK]Music Hall & Theatre Rev. 24 May 5/1: Charlie Sheard, the Holborn elbow-lifter.
[US]Salt Lake Herald (UT) 30 Mar. 4/5: He has been crooking his elbow.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 3 Mar. 4/8: Blank’s wife had termined to leave him owing to his propensity for elbow-bending.
[Aus]Biz (Fairfield, NSW) 17 Jan. 3/4: The elbow-benders will lose one of their accomplished artists on Friday.
[US]Archie Seale Man About Harlem 18 Apr. [synd. col.] Many of the local armbendwers were out making merry.
[US]Davis & Wolsey Call House Madam 20: Like a hint to the elbow-benders.
[US]‘Bill O. Lading’ You Chirped a Chinful!! n.p.: Arm bender: One who drinks often.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 139: The Times’ sports editor was an old elbow-bending partner of mine.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Coffin for a Coward’ in Hollywood Detective Dec. 🌐 it seemed screwy for him to come to a cafe like Plyman’s to do his elbow-bending.
[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Best that Ever Did It (1957) 143: Their roomers, who were just coming in from their Saturday night elbow-bending.
[US]McCulloch Woods Words 57: Elbow bender. A drinking man.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[US]C. Howell Book of Naughty Nomenclature 🌐 Booze Elbow-bender, Elbow-crooker.
[Aus]P. Doyle (con. late 1950s) Amaze Your Friends (2019) 60: Like elbow-bending at the Chamberlain Hotel.
[Aus](con. 1960s-70s) T. Taylor Top Fellas 37/1: You could bend an elbow in any watering-hole you chose.
[US]K. Huff A Steady Rain act 1: The elbow-bender still lives in this one room chinch pad looking over an alley.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell Plays Solomon (1976) 20: These were just some of the careers I toyed with while my head was spinning and my elbow bending.

2. a drinking party.

[US]P. Kendall Dict. Service Sl. n.p.: arm bender . . . a drinking party.
elbow exercise (n.)

(US) drinking.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 35: Later on I hoist a few dark brews — elbow exercise.
elbow grease (n.)

see separate entry.

elbow-jigger (n.) (also elbow-scraper)

a fiddle-player.

[Scot]W. Scott Bride of Lammermoor XII 77: We’ll be screwing up our bit fiddles [...] among a’ the other elbo’-jiggers.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 320: While the elbow-scraper, grown groggy, / Tunes fiddle up, with senses foggy.
elbow man (n.) (also elbow worker)

(US) a beggar, who lit. or fig. ‘nudges’ one for a handout.

[US]Coconino Sun (Flagstaff, AZ) 2 Sept. 9/1: Down with the ‘Elbow’ Man [...] The ‘elbow’ workers in Flagstaff are [...] so numerous that it is hardly possible to walk along the street without being importuned by the measly bums.
elbow-shaker (n.) (also elbow-shake)

1. a dice-player; thus elbow-shaking adj. [the action of shaking the dice cup].

[UK]Farquhar Constant Couple Prologue: Your elbow-shaking fool, that lives by’s wits.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: elbow-shaker as, He lives by shaking his Elbow; a Gamester or Sharper; one that lives only by Gaming.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Elbow shaker, a gamester, one who rattles Saint Hugh’s bones, i.e. the dice.
[Ire] ‘Luke Caffrey’s Ghost’ Chap Book Songs 3: His face look’d for all the world like de rotten rump of a Thomas-street blue-arse, and his grinders rattled in his jaw-wags, like a pair of white-headed fortune-tellers in an elbow-shaker’s bone box.
[UK] ‘Modern Dict.’ in Sporting Mag. May XVIII 100/1: [as cit. 1785].
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[Scot]Life and Trial of James Mackcoull 15: He was not only reckoned an expert pickpocket, but a keen elbow-shaker.
[UK]F.F. Cooper Elbow-Shakers! I i ii: Our luck may change! – there’s the respect / That give our Elbow Shaker so long a life.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum.
[UK]G.A. Sala Things I Have Seen II 95: Many of the gambling-house proprietors had realised handsome fortunes [...] Fred Elbowshake cultivated a taste for the Old Masters.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks 36/1: Elbow shaker, an expert dice or crap shooter.

2. by ext. of sense 1, an effete individual.

[US]‘Jack Downing’ Andrew Jackson 69: If you can’t drink what I give you, I’ll set you down as some elbow shaker; or aristocrat.

3. (US black) one who reminds others of a forgotten or overlooked fact or event by (fig.) digging them in the ribs.

[US]R. Klein Jailhouse Jargon and Street Sl. [unpub. ms.].
elbow-titting (n.)

(US) a game whereby a man accosts an unknown woman and rubs his elbows against her breasts before running off – or getting hit or shouted at.

[US](con. 1960s) R. Price Wanderers 89: He bumps into this fat lady and starts elbow-tittin’.

In phrases

big E (n.) [initial letter ]

1. a brush-off, a rejection.

[UK]Barr & York Sloane Ranger Hbk 158: elbow n. ‘She gave me the big E’. Used by young Sloanes to mean she told me to go away.
[UK]Guardian Guide 5–12 June 87: Vicky [...] is once again given the big E.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 23: ‘Why do you say she gave you the Spanish fiddle?’ ‘Come again?’ ‘Spanish fiddle. El bow. That’s what your Cockneys call it. The Big E. The elbow.’.

2. dismissal from a job.

[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 114: ’Spute with the chief. — And . . . — And nothin’. Big E.
[UK]N. Barlay Crumple Zone 56: Maybe this time she’ll get the P, the B and the Big E.
crook the elbow (v.) (also bend, an/the elbow, crook an elbow, elevate an elbow, raise the elbow)

to drink; thus elbow-crooking, drinking; thus note extrapolations in cits. 1875 and 1894.

[UK]Gent.’s Mag. 559: Besides these modes of expressing drunkenness by what a man is, what he has, and what he has had, the following express it by what he does— [...] 77 Crooks his Elbow.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Crook .
[US]R. Waln Hermit in America on Visit to Phila. 2nd series 23: ‘I warrant the bang-ups have crooked their elbows’ quoth Tom.
[UK]Jamieson Etym. Dict. Scot. Lang. (Supplement) I 271/2: To crook the elbow; as, She crooks her elbow, a phrase used of a woman who uses too much freedom with the bottle, q. bending her elbow in reaching the drink to her mouth .
[US]Spirit of the Times (Phila.) 14 Jan. n.p.: Hugh MacDonald and John Smith (not of Arkansas) were fined for elbow-crooking.
[US]N.E. Police Gaz. (Boston, MA) 12 Oct. 3/2: He was discharged for making too free with the ice water, or in other words, elevating his elbow too often.
N.Y. Caucasian 15 Mar. n.p.: Democrats and Republicans [...] unitedly ‘crook the elbow’ in response to witty but never illnatured toasts.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 593: Crook, to, viz., the elbow, is one of the many slang terms for drinking.
Besant & Rice With Harp and Crown (1877) 200: A clever fellow [...] who might have done great things in literature but for his unfortunate crook of the elbow.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 4: ‘To crook one’s elbow,’ to drink.
[US]Great Falls Trib. (MT) 1 Jan. 2/1: The noble red man never crooks his elbow at the bar.
[UK]G.F. Northall Folk-Phrases of Four Counties 14: He always had a crooked elbow [...] ‘Said of a man who has been a drunkard from his youth’.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 26: [C]rook one’s elbow, to drink.
[UK]Burnley Gaz. 7 Mar. 4/5: Mrs Jolliboy: He tells me that he has learnt to crook his elbow, though I don’t know what that means exactly.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.].
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 27 Mar. 4/6: This particular doctor has had Government billets before in the never-never country and lost them through crooking his elbow too assiduously.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Clarion Call’ in Voice of the City (1915) 191: After a job I can crook elbows with my old friend Barney with a clear conscience.
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 7 Sept. 14/2: They Say [...] That Wanga. as usual, proved himself an athlete by continually raising his elbow.
[US]A. Baer Two & Three 30 Dec. [synd. col.] Once outside the three-mile zone they can bend the merry elbow [...] and shake up the brew.
[UK]P. MacGill Moleskin Joe 55: Once I was able to [...] crook an elbow when them as didn’t take quarter’s much ale as me were flat in the sawdust.
[US]W. Coburn Law Rides the Range 173: Let’s [...] crook our elbows while exchanging choice bits of wit and wisdom.
[US]J.A.W. Bennett ‘English as it is Spoken in N.Z.’ in AS XVIII:2 Apr. 89: The century-old American phrase to crook the elbow (to have a drink) and its variant to bend the elbow have become naturalized on the other side of the Pacific.
crook one’s elbow (and wish it may never come straight) (v.)

a gesture used to emphasise the veracity of one’s statement.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Crook your Elbow. To Crook ones Elbow & wish it may never come straight if the Fact then affirmed is not true, adds great Weight & Efficacy to an Oath, according to the Corinth of Bow Street & St Giles’s.
get on one’s elbows (v.)

(US) to get angry.

[US]C. Himes ‘Let Me at the Enemy’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 42: We’ll all root, man [...] Don’t get on your elbows.
get the elbow (v.)

to be rejected, to be dismissed.

P. de Feu Long-legged Women 169: He got the elbow from his teaching job because he led the students in a revolutionary attempt to remove some doors.
[UK]J. Cameron It Was An Accident 6: Ain’t you working today you got the elbow?
keep one’s elbow down (v.)

to resist drinking alcohol.

[UK]J. Astley Fifty Years (2nd edn) II 27: I [...] told him he would soon kill himself if he didn’t keep his elbow down.
more power to your elbow

see under power n.

on the elbow (also on the bow, on the bow-wow) [the scrounger nudges or tugs one’s elbow]

on the scrounge.

[UK]A. Binstead Gal’s Gossip 93: He has, to use his own words, ‘got a bookmaker on the bow’.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 104: NOD: ON THE CHEAP [...] Syns. on the bow-wow, on the never, on the jolly good fellow, on the bustle, on the free list.
[UK]F.D. Sharpe Sharpe of the Flying Squad 329: bow (the) (pronounced ‘Bough’) : On the bow [...] ‘getting something for nothing,’ or securing entry to a place of amusement without payment (‘I got in on the bow’).
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 174: Bow, on the Variation of ‘on the elbow’ meaning scrounging.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak 30: On the Bow [...] scrounging.
shake one’s elbow (v.) (also exercise one’s elbow, shake the elbow) [the shaking of the dice-box]

1. to play dice, to gamble; thus elbow-shaking n.

[UK]Webster Devil’s Law-Case II i: Shaking your elbow at the Taule-boord.
[UK]C. Cotton Compleat Gamester 1: Gaming is [...] a paralytical distemper which, seizing the arm the man cannot chuse but shake his elbow.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: He lives by shaking of the Elbow; a Gamester.
[UK]S. Centlivre Gamester Act I: He is at shaking his Elbows over a Table [...] courting the Dice like a Mistress, and cursing them when he is disappointed.
[UK]T. Lucas Lives of the Gamesters (1930) 231: Fellows who have other visible livelihood than that of shaking the elbow.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: elbow-shaker as, He lives by shaking his Elbow; a Gamester or Sharper; one that lives only by Gaming.
[UK]G. Colman Oxonian in Town Epilogue: Now hey for cards and dice! his elbows shake.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]Sporting Mag. Aug. XVIII 222/2: Let itch of gaming gowks entice, / To shake their elbows o’er the dice.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 289: ‘Mr. Mortimer and myself are going to take a review of the neighbourhood of St. James’s, probably to shake an elbow.’ ‘Excellent [...]. Though I am no means a friend to gaming.’.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Jorrocks Jaunts (1874) 94: With the exception of a little ‘elbow shaking’ in the evening, there is [...] nothing else to do.
[UK]New Swell’s Night Guide to the Bowers of Venus 15: Foreigners and gamblers, adventurers in play, perfectures in the elbow-shaking.
[UK]Thackeray Pendennis II 222: It’s been doosedly dipped and cut into, sir, by the confounded extravygance of your master, with his helbow shakin’, and his bill discountin’.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour 242: ‘Are they chaps with any “go” in them?—shake their elbows, or anything of that sort?’ asked Sponge, working away as if he had the dice-box in his hand.
[UK]G.A. Sala Quite Alone I 40: ‘How he manages it,’ he continues, ‘I can’t imagine.’ [...] ‘Shakes his elbow,’ suggested purple-faced Captain Hanger.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]Henley & Stevenson Deacon Brodie I tab.I vii: smith: We thought [...] that maybe you’d like to exercise your helbow with our free and galliant horseman. [Ibid.] I tab.III iii: rivers: Well, Mr. Deakin, if you passatively will have me shake a Helbow- brodie: Where are the bones, Ainslie? [...] The old move, I presume? the double set of dice?
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 4: ‘To shake one’s elbow,’ to play with dice’.
[UK]G.A. Sala Things I Have Seen I 202: A sporting baronet, who had suffered much from the infirmity of ‘shaking his elbow’ at Crockford’s.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. [as 1882].

2. to play cards.

[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 25 Jan. 2/4: The ball was opened by shaking the elbow, whilst [...] the clashing of the cards, with their slang accompaniments, was anything but entertaining to the uninitiated.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn).
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette 3 Apr. n.p.: Shaking his elbow at baccarat nearly every night [F&H].
up to the elbows (also up to one’s elbows)

(orig. US) consumed by, overwhelmed by.

[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) III 317: I lived some time with a walking dictionary at Salamanca; a fellow up to the elbows in quotation and commentary.
Montagu ‘Memoir’ in Maginn Misc. I ix: They were at once ‘up to the elbows in friendship’.
Alumni 149: He is up to his elbows in packing and assembling material for shipment to the states.
Survey LV 118: In his private life he is up to his elbows in the social and economic experiments and problems of the Pacific Coast.
Australian Parliamentary Debates CLIIVII 592: [He] is never satisfied unless he is up to his elbows in muck.
[US]Columbus (OH) Dispatch 🌐 [heading] Up to his elbows in emus.
work the elbow (v.)

(US) to drink (heavily).

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 13 Nov. 14/1: Two-thirds ol them will be dead broke long before the snow falls. Judging from the style In which they are now working their elnowa, .

In exclamations

me elbow! [euph. var. on my arse! under arse n.]

(Irish) a general excl. of incredulity, dismissal.

O’Byrne Files – Dublin Sl. Dict. 🌐 Me elbow!exclm. Expression of disbelief.