Green’s Dictionary of Slang

crab n.1

[SE crab-apple, which is sour; later use is US]

1. a gullible person.

[UK] ‘The Jolly Fisherman’ Universal Songster I 133: Fish, just like men, I’ve often caught, / Crabs, gudgeons, poor John, codfish.
[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 25 Oct. n.p.: Those young crabs had better keep clear of Vinegar Hill, unless they want to get severely ‘punished’.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 28 Aug. 1/4: How the bagman hoped to hook the Tommies is not very clear. However, I suppose they thought [...] it might come off. So it did, crabs —six moons.

2. (Aus.) a police officer.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Oct. 15/1: Yer can easy git the office fr’m the rats or fr’m the ’cabs, / W’en they see th’ limelight shinin’ on the ’elmets of the crabs.

3. (US police) a police officer who is too conscientious and thus unpopular with local politicians and colleagues.

[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 174: He would go to the offended political boss and humbly apologize for being such a ‘crab’.

4. (US black campus) a freshman.

[US]M.H. Boulware Jive and Sl.

5. (Aus. prison) an individual prisoner who acts in such a way as to provoke a collective punishment.

[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Crab. A prisoner who invokes collective punishment. Thus ‘crabbing it’ refers to the misbehaviour of a prisoner which leads to the withdrawal of privileges from the group as a whole.

6. (US black) a weakling.

[US]L. Stavsky et al. A2Z.

7. (US black) an impoverished person; thus crabship n., poverty.

[US]E. Hubbard Love, Life and Work [Internet] His Crabship proved the contract, and Tom got it in the mazzard. [...] The beggar got the money and Minneapolis Tom got the experience.
[US]Ebonics Primer at [Internet] crab Definition: a broke ass nigga. Example: That nigga is a crab. He ain’t even five on that weed.

SE in slang uses

Pertaining to an ill-tempered person

In compounds

crab-ass (n.) [-ass sfx]

(US) an unpleasant person, the implication is of nit-picking, whingeing; also as adj.

[US]M. Levin Citizens 274: ‘Why don’t you fix this bottom?’ ‘I’ll fix your bottom, you old crab-ass.’.
[US]R. Gover One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding 108: Git away, you crabass! [Ibid.] 121: He so crab-ass horsey mean lookin.
B. Case Seeing Is Believing 64: I’m sorry for being a crab ass, Jonesy.
Suister Souljah Coldest Winter Ever 171: So the crab-ass judge tryna lock me down for a year.
M. Pena No Mercy 169: ‘Jeeze you're a crab-ass!’ ‘I am not a crab—ass . . . you startled me when you screamed!’ .
crab-stick (n.)

a sour, ill-tempered person.

[Aus]M. Anderson A River Rules My Life 85: Sis, I’m glad it’s you not me living with that old crab-stick for a month.

General uses

In compounds

crabfish (n.)

see separate entry.

crab-shells (n.) (also crabs, crab-spoilers) [a play on Norfolk dial. cart, the carapace or shell of a crab]

a pair of shoes, usu. in poor condition.

[[UK]Nashe Pierce Pennilesse 17: His shoes were the strangest, which, being nothing else but a couple of crab shells, were tooth’d at the toes with two sharp sixpennie nailes].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[[UK]Sporting Mag. May X 115/1: His russety shoes, like the shells of two crabs].
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[Ire]Spirit of Irish Wit 104: He stopped by thew way to have his crab shells japanned, i.e. his shoes blacked.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 385: D—n me if I would give a pair of crazy crabshells without vamp or whelt for the whole boiling of ’em — there is not one of ’em worth a bloody jemmy.
[UK] ‘The Shickster To Her Dab Had Gone’ in Flash Chaunter 15: Your Crabshells do not stand to tie, / Your Tile too never mind.
[UK]Flash Mirror 18: Trotter cases, mud pipes and boot kivers, carved to fit any pins [...] N.B. — Old pickling tubs and crab shells made and mended.
[Ire] ‘Bryan O’Lynn’ Dublin Comic Songster 18: Bryan O’Lynn had no brogues to his toes, / He hopped in two crab-shells to serve him for those.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 61: Twig his gams; stage his mud fakers – there’s a pair of crab spoilers – talk of a foot, why it’s fourteen inches. [...] 73: They didn’t like to blue their tin to spare their crab spreaders [feet].
[UK]Sam Sly 9 Dec. 4/3: If [...] you happen to have a pair of ‘crab-shells’ which are only warranted to keep out large stones [...] A bad pair of ‘crabs’ is a certain sign that the owner does not know bow to raise a few shillings.
[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 354: When shoes are shoes [...] they’se good for those as like ’em, which I don’t; but when they’re ‘crab-shells,’ and leaky and gummy in the soles [...] the sooner you get shut of ’em the better.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 200/1: Now these ’ere shoes [...] with a little mending, they’ll make a tidy pair of crab-shells again.
Wheeling Intelligencer (VA) 6 Mar. 1/7: Boots are called crabshells — an expressive term.
[UK]J. Greenwood Low-Life Deeps 254: We calls him Old Crabshells, because of the uncommon large size of his shoes.
[US]Trumble Sl. Dict. (1890).
[UK]Newcastle Courant 2 Sept. 6/5: He sprang into his sticks, drove the old kiddy out of the carriage, and made his crabshells go like seven leagued boots.
[UK]Answers 20 July 121/2: The state of my crabshells, or boots, pointed to the fact that I had come down in the world [F&H].
[UK]Era 1 Apr. 16/4: 'Ere, I sya, governor [...] go and buy yerself a new pair of crab-shells.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Oct. 11/2: The demise of a very venerable capitalist, call him Giltgore, leads to reflection on the mischief of waiting for crabshells – otherwise shoes.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 12 Mar. 12/5: Wearln of club-footed crab shells, / Dragged on toes twelve inches long.
[Ire]Share Slanguage.
crabwalk (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases