Green’s Dictionary of Slang

wire n.1

1. (US campus) a trick, a hoax, a stratagem.

[US]B.H. Hall College Words (rev. edn) 492: wire [...] a trick; an artifice; a strategem; a dodge.

2. a telegram [SE in 20C+].

[UK]Derby Day 36: I sent a ‘wire’ to the governor last night [...] telling him to put all his ready and the rest upon the horse.
[UK] in G.D. Atkin House Scraps 73: What with ‘Cables’ and with ‘Wires’ / When anything transpires.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 July 12/4: At a recent swell marriage in Paris the Pope’s blessing for the bridal brace was put in the form of a telegram which a priest brought to the officiating Nuncio upon a silver salver. Whereupon the Nuncio read the sacred ‘wire,’ [...] and the bride’s mother went into the vestry and anted up ten thousand francs for the glad tidings.
[UK]Marvel XV:377 Jan. 10: I’ve had Steggall’s wire.
[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 65: ‘The guy wit’ the yeller [will] flash the wise wire on him like he was lettin’ him in wit’ the main secret of his life’.
[UK]Magnet 3 Sept. 28: The first thing he did was to despatch a wire.
[UK]T. Norman Penny Showman 39: I remarked to him that I had had two offers by wire.
E. Ferber Cimarron 368: She made a practice of [...] scanning the A.P. wires [DA].
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 26: I got your wire.
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves in the Offing 79: I hadn’t sent that wire to Kipper Herring.

3. a privately delivered warning or piece of information [note Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin wialis, a gossip, a matchmaker a psychic, f. SE wireless].

[Aus]Worker (Brisbane) 4 Sept. 8/3: And when he gets a reprimand, or gentle kind of ‘tip,’ / [...] / The ‘bloke’ gives him a ‘wire’ that ‘the tree’ is coming down.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 22: There were no silly trips to Jersey to inspect ‘the scene of the crime,’ no long interviews with reporters about suggested clues, and no ‘keeping the wires hot.’.
[US]‘Sing Sing No. 57,700’ My View on Books in N.Y. Times Mag. 30 Apr. 5/2: The Christian [...] Hall Caine. Hall is in the limelight for keeps. Our special wire for today.
[US]A.J. Barr Let Tomorrow Come 42: That old stiff musta run to the wires.
[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 210: The real thieves get ‘a wire.’.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 537: What do you know about politics? Are you on an inside wire?
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 237/2: Wire. [...] 3. (P) A signal; any piece of confidential information; a warning.
[UK](con. 1920s) J. Sparks Burglar to the Nobility 29: I sent out a wire that I wanted to see him.
[US]R.D. Pharr S.R.O. (1998) 434: ‘I got the wire when you went for the wine and whiskey. J&J told me [...] They said your book is your whore’.
[UK]S. Berkoff East in Decadence and Other Plays (1985) 69: Maybe my wires got through to her.
[US](con. 1998–2000) J. Lerner You Got Nothing Coming 144: A new fish [...] is always an event of great interest, one invariably heralded by a ‘wire’ from the intake clerks or porters to alert the Yard Rats just who is coming out.

4. (US tramp) articles constructed of stolen telegraph wire and sold in the street.

[US]‘A-No. 1’ Mother of the Hoboes 43: The Rating Of The Tramps. 6. Wires: peddled articles made of stolen telegraph wire.

5. (US Und., also wire game) a racing swindle (see cit. 1940); also attrib.

[US]H. Green Mr. Jackson 32: I seen Murphy [...] ribbin’ up a live one for the wire game.
[US]Sun (NY) 27 July 40/1: It’s the old wire with a new twist. They have a phony poolroom [...] Mr Boob comes alonmg and the booster steers him in.
[US]A. Stringer Door of Dread 128: Yuh gotta change your dope, or the wire-gang’ll tap into your circuit and steer yuh for an early fall!
[US](con. 1905–25) E.H. Sutherland Professional Thief (1956) 31: On the wire and the stock market (two types of confidence games), the inside and outside men may change positions.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 16: The wire [...] was a racing swindle in which the con men convinced the victim that with the connivance of a corrupt Western Union official they could delay the race results long enough for him to place a bet after the race had been run, but before the bookmakers received the results.
[US]D. Dressler Parole Chief 219: There are three big con games [...] the Payoff, the Rag, the Wire.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 99: [He] owned the Rhode Island horse-wire, numbers and Narragansett track.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 100: I took my first pinch for running a wire room.

6. (US) a telephone.

[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 109: ‘I never did a thing like this before —’ ‘Like what? Talk to a man on the wire?’.
[US]A. Halper Foundry 77: The house phone jangled, the desperate foreman was on the wire again.
[US]R. Chandler High Window 87: ‘Hold the wire a minute,’ I said. I put the phone down.
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 240: They’d be on the wire in half a second.
[US]E. Torres Q&A 177: We got a bug on Bobby Tex’s wire.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 35: Nobody could say that Burchard didn’t know the wires or wasn’t a good man with a phone.
[US]College Sl. Research Project (Cal. State Poly. Uni., Pomona) 🌐 On da wires (phrase) 1. Speaking on the phone to a person.
[US]F. Bill Donnybrook [ebook] ‘Sorry, son, didn’t know you’s on the wire’.

7. (US prison) a guard who does favours for the inmates.

[US]J.L. Kuethe ‘Prison Parlance’ AS IX:1 28: wire. One who does favors for a prisoner.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl. 55: wire – a jail trusty who smuggles dope to other inmates.

8. (Aus.) a scolding, a reprimand.

[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 63: A chip or wire, a reprimand.

9. (US black) the gossip circuit, the ‘grapevine’; usu. in phr. on the wire

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 238/1: Wire, the. 1. (Erroneously termed ‘the grapevine’) The prison and underworld channels by which rumors and gossip are disseminated.
[US] ‘Return of Honky-Tonk Bud’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 70: I got a wire he got caught in a fire.
[US]E. Quiñones Bodega Dreams 85: The neighborhood became a tomb. Mute as an Egyptian. Every member of the street wire from the pimp to the junkie to the hooker talked like an Italian: ‘I ain’t see not’en’’.
[US]N. McCall Them (2008) 36: According to the wires, a dude called Henny Penn was nudging the establishment into drugs and prostitution.

10. any form of electronic eavesdropping device [abbr. SE wire-tapping].

[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 37: The law had been on the wire that morning tapping us.
[US]E. Torres Q&A 152: And don’t bring no wires on you.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 315: We’re gonna put this wire on you, Mr Mendoza [...] This has an extrememly sensitive transmitter.
[US]J. Wambaugh Golden Orange (1991) 360: If you’re wearin a wire by any chance, it ain’t worth shit. Whatever a man says under duress with a gun in his face ain’t worth shit in a court of law.
[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 203/2: wire n. 1 a hidden listening device.
[US]Mad mag. Nov. 24: Every time you get to second base with a girl you discover she’s wearing a wire.
[US]C. Stella Rough Riders 174: And it’d all be useless without a wire on his phones and so on.

11. the penis; usu. as pull one’s wire

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[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular.
[Ire]G. Coughlan Everyday Eng. and Sl. 🌐 Wire (n): mickey, penis.

12. (US) the Internet, connected by a modem.

[US]College Sl. Research Project (Cal. State Poly. Uni., Pomona) 🌐 On da wires (phrase) [...] 2. Signed onto the internet by means of a modem.

13. (drugs, also wiring) a vein used for the injection of drugs.

[Scot]I. Welsh ‘Stoke Newington Blues’ in Acid House 34: She taps a wire, jabs home and convulses appreciatively.
[Scot](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 156: Ah wrap my leather tie roond her thin white arm and tap her vein up. Nice wiring she’s got n aw.

14. (US prison) a message, a phonecall.

[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July 🌐 Wire: A message, or info that comes over the phone, as in ‘I got a wire today about...’.

15. (N.Z. prison) a burglar alarm.

[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 203/2: wire n. 2 a burglar alarm.

Pertaining to information

In compounds

wire-puller (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

get/give the wire (v.)

(US) to receive or give a warning or message, to inform or be informed.

[UK]N&Q 12 Ser. IX 384: To give a secret warning, or ‘to give the wire.’.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Romance in the Roaring Forties’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 36: Good Time Charley Bernstein just gets the wire and tells me.
[UK]B. Bennett ‘A Tale of the Rockies’ in Billy Bennett’s Third Budget 27: Jim’s friendly with all the kid-nappers. / When they’re short of kids he gets the wire.
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 236–7: How did the police get the wire on Costas? Who gave them the word?
[US]C. Cooper Jr Scene (1996) 147: I only got the wire from Bleeker last night.
[Aus]S. Gore Holy Smoke 82: Thanks for giving me the wire.
[US](con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 138: If Big Mama got the wire [...] she wouldn’t hesitate to lock Boots up.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell Plays Solomon (1976) 116: You set it up an’ give me the wire and I’ll git a few of the chaps an’ we’ll rubbish the lot of ’em.
[US](con. 1960s) D. Goines Black Gangster (1991) 59: Everybody will get the wire that there’s going to be a hit made.
[UK]F. Taylor Auf Wiedersehen Pet Two 240: If there’s anything we can help you with, just give us the wire.
have the wire on (v.)

(US) to keep under surveillance.

[US](con. 1940s) Malcolm X Autobiog. (1968) 194: They had their wire on me from uptown, all right.
hot wire (n.)

(US prison) information.

[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 373: You might get the collar on a hot wire from headquarters, and be taken off the train.
[US]H.C. Witwer Classics in Sl. 85: In the mean’s while, Antonio has sent a hot wire to his buddie.
[US]G. Milburn ‘Convicts’ Jargon’ in AS VI:6 439: hot wire, n. Good news; late information. ‘You can bet that he told everyone about the hot wire he had received.’.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 103/2: Hot wire. A reliable and up-to-the-minute report; direct inside information.
on the wire (also over the wire)

1. generally known, going the rounds of gossip and rumour.

[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 161: See what you can do on the wire.
[US](con. 1940s) Malcolm X Autobiog. (1968) 215: A Negro held up some Italian racketeers in a floating crap game. I heard about it on the wire.
[NZ]B. Mason Awatea (1978) 47: Nothing on the wire: not a whisper.
[US]K. Scott Monster (1994) 132: I was a bit uncertain about L.A. County after hearing so much over the wire.
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 120: I expect Tom to be in the newsroom next week when it moves on the wires.

2. (US und.) using some form of electronic surveillance.

[US]Danforth & Horan D.A.’s Man 97: The wire is installed and two men ‘sit on the wire,’ sometimes for months -- in a coal bin, a darkened and damp cellar, or in a woodshed.
pull wires (v.) (also pull a wire, pull the wires)

to exert influence, esp. behind the scenes; thus wire-pulling/wire-working n.

Annals 12th Congress 2 Sess. 562: When those who pulled the wires saw fit, they passed away [DA].
[US]Congressional Globe 26 Jan. 262/3: Neither by demonstrations here, nor by figuring and wire-pulling at home, am I engaged to the support of this bill [DA].
[UK]G.A. Sala My Diary in America II 304: By tenacity of labour, by force of will [...] not by rolling the log, nor laying the pipe, nor pulling the wire.
[US]C.G. Leland ‘Breitmann in Politics’ in Hans Breitmann About Town 40: Boot de ding dat jam de hardest / On de men dat bull de vires, / Und showed dat Captain Breitmann / Shtood pedween dwo heafy vires.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 261: Wire-pulling is not an American custom exclusively, as the figure of speech is as old as the Marionettes of Italy and France [...] but wire-working, as it is also called, has probably reached a higher degree of perfection here than abroad.
[UK]Sheffield Dly Teleg. 13 Nov. 2/2: What hasty embassies and nervous wire-pullings there were to get votes.
T.F. Robley Hist. of Bourbon County, Kansas 180: Political meetings and conventions caucused and pulled wires [DA].
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 4 June 1/1: The wild wire-pulling for the State pub sinecure tops anything within memory.
[US]W.M. Raine Bucky O’Connor (1910) 244: Neil has got to stand the gaff for what he’s done, but I’ll pull wires to get his punishment made light.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Oct. 11/3: Leading citizens of great tonnage pulled all sorts of wires in the interests of their pals.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 582: He was quite sanguine of success, providing puffs in the local papers could be managed by some fellow with a bit of bounce who could pull the indispensable wires and thus combine business with pleasure.
[UK]S. Scott Human Side of Crook and Convict Life 21: Don’t plead guilty today [...] You’ll come up again to-morrow, and meanwhile we may be able to pull the wires.
[US]J. Spenser Limey 176: He and the gang were pulling wires day and night.
[Ire]‘Myles na gCopaleen’ Best of Myles (1968) 64: The brother is very strict about wire-pullin and favours.
[US]I. Bolton ‘Do I Wake or Sleep’ in N.Y. Mosaic (1999) 38: Bridget seemed to know people in every corner of the globe waiting to pull wires, open doors for her.
[US]‘Toney Betts’ Across the Board 42: Levey had gone to Frank Costello about pulling a wire in his case.
[US]G. Radano Walking the Beat 51: ‘They pulled a few wires, had her classified as an undesirable alien—she was a whore—and had her deported to Cuba’ .
[US](con. 1917–18) H. Berry Make the Kaiser Dance 228: ‘Young man,’ he said, ‘we can pull a few wires here; you’ll be all right.’.
[US]H. Gould Double Bang 79: Mariano [...] easily countered all Vinnie’s wire-pulling.
put it on the wire (v.)

(US black) to circulate gossip or other information.

[US](con. 1940s) Malcolm X Autobiog. (1968) 218: Some young hustlers rose in stature [...] when they somehow hoodwinked older hustlers, then put it on the wire for everyone to hear.
[US](con. 1998–2000) J. Lerner You Got Nothing Coming 137: I already put it on the wire that you’re hitting the yard so my dawgs can watch your back.
straight wire (n.) [straight adj.1 (1) ]

(Aus./N.Z.) the honest truth; also used as an excl. to emphasize the truth of an assertion.

[Aus]‘John Miller’ Workingman’s Paradise 104: If he came any of his law-de-dah squatter funny business on me I’d give him the straight wire.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Nov. 31/1: ‘A nice put-up job.’ / ‘’Struth, no! Didn’t you see Mick the Mule?’ / ‘Dicken!’ / ‘Straight wire! He’s just out of quod, and he tried a Joe Rail on me for some beans.’.
[UK]‘G.B. Lancaster’ Sons O’ Men 235: Walt, yer are a smeller, straight wire.
[UK]Sporting Times 27 June 1/4: All they [three Sydney larrikins] could say was ‘Ryebuck!’ (when they wor pleased), ‘Straight wire?’ (when they wor doubtful), and ‘Blimy!’ (when they wor disgusted).
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 24 Dec. 5/3: ‘I’ll drive them, straight wire’.
[Aus](con. 1830s–60s) ‘Miles Franklin’ All That Swagger 328: ‘Will you?’ said Humphrey [...] ‘Straight wire. I will.’.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 139: I’m giving you the straight wire, honest to dinkum I am.
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 108/2: straight wire, the truth, genuine news.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].

Pertaining to masturbation

In compounds

wire-puller (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

pull one’s wire (v.) (also pull one’s wood)

to masturbate.

Good Ship Venus in Bold (1979) 99: For when on shore he kept a whore, / On board he pulled his wire.
[US] in Randolph & Legman Ozark Folksongs and Folklore (1992) I 216: ‘Tommy says we done pretty good, / It sure is better than pulling your --- / Poody-woody, down on the farm, / What you don’t know won’t do you any harm’. [...] She heard it in Jasper County about 1910.
song in Banglestien’s Bar n.p.: Train on trestle, bridge afire / Engineeer a-pullin’ wire.
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[SA]J. Matthews The Park and Other Stories (1983) 23: Ya, man. I gotta lotta wire but I doan pull my wire like you.
[US]Maledicta IV:2 (Winter) 192: We also come across specialized terms in the male masturbation phrases such as […] pull one’s wire.
[SA]B. Simon ‘Outers’ Born in the RSA (1997) 57: This ou opens his fly and starts pulling his wire so ou Bles tunes him, fokoff man.
[Ire]D. Healy Bend for Home 101: The boys were pulling their wire guiltily on the Fair Green, and comparing sizes.
[SA]A. Lovejoy Acid Alex 49: I would often wake up [...] to the sound of him pulling his wire, only he called it wanking.
pull someone’s wire (v.)

(Irish) to provoke, to fool someone.

[UK]W. Donaldson Big One, Black One, Fat One 159: He stared at me silently for a full minute and then said: ‘Are you pulling my wire?’.
[Ire]J. O’Connor Salesman 102: Are you serious now, or messin’ with me? [...] Because I don’t like people pullin’ me wire about this kind of thing.
[UK]A. Hailwood Gun Law 129: I smiled at him and told him to stop pulling my wire.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

wire-draw (n.) [SE wire-draw, to draw out, to persuade by subtle arguing]

(UK Und.) a trick that ensnares a victim; thus wire-drawn, tricked in this way; wiredrawer, a trickster.

[UK]Lyly Euphues (1916) 91: If Lucilla read this trifle she will straight proclaim Euphues for a traitor, and seeing me turn my tippet, will either shut me out for a wrangler or cast me off for a wiredrawer.
[UK]Lyly Euphues and his England (1916) 309: If he love not, thou stretchest out like a wire-drawer.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Wire-draw, a Fetch or Trick to wheedle in Bubbles; also to screw, over-reach, or deal hard with. Wire-drawn, c. so serv’d, or treated.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
wire game (n.)

see sense 5 above.

wire-inspector (n.) [i.e. SE wire, fencing]

(Aus.) a boundary rider.

Shearer (Sydney) 4 Feb. 4/2: What do you know of [...] ‘tick jammers’, or of ‘lizards’ and ‘wire inspectors’? [AND].
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Apr. 15/1: Lately, one of two ‘wire-inspectors’, camped at an outstation in C.Q, killed and brought home to show his mate, a beautifully-marked whip-snake.
St. C. Grondona Collar and Cuffs 57: The emu [...] is only of use – to give the boundary riders and wire inspectors something to do [AND].
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Jan. 20/4: I have heard boundary-riders referred to by many names. Blue-tongues, lizards, hatters, boundary jerkers, wire inspectors [etc.].
wireman (n.)

(US und.) an electronics expert.

[US]G. Liddy Will 190: Our two priorities were a ‘keyman’ or expert locksmith and a ‘wireman’ or electronics expert.
[US]B. McCarthy Vice Cop 201: ‘I installed the bug on the Sicilians in the townhouse myself. [...] Gus Garen [...] went with me. He was a wire man; probably the best wire man who ever lived. We pretended to be from the phone company’.
wire parlour (n.)

(US Und.) an execution chamber, using the electric chair.

[US]F. Packard Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1918) I x: If one of you dicks get him, he gets bumped off just the same, only regular, up in the wire parlour at Sing Sing.
wire-tapper (n.)

(US) a confidence trickster who claims that he can intercept the wire bringing racecourse results and thus cheat the bookmakers; thus wire-tapping, the swindle itelf; also attrib.

Columbus Dispatch 5 Jan. n.p.: The wire tappers escaped [DA].
[US]C.R. Wooldridge Hands Up! 99: A gang of confidence men operating the swindle known as the ‘wire tapping’ or ‘race track’ game [...] The ‘wire tappers’ usually fit up an office in some out-of-the-way office building or rooming house with telegraph instruments which make a circuit on themselves.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘Shearing the Wolf’ in Gentle Grafter (1915) 110: It’s you supposedly respectable citizens [...] that support the lotteries and wild-cat mines and stock exchanges and wire tappers of this country.
[US]I.L. Nascher Wretches of Povertyville 218: In the wire tapping game the victim is told that the telegraph wire leading to a pool room has been secretly tapped, and information from the race track is received in time to lay wagers in the pool room after a race has been run.
[US]‘O. Henry’ Strictly Business 36: Who wears the diamonds in this town? Why, Winnie, the Wiretapper’s wife, and Bella, the Buncosteerer’s bride [DA].
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe on the Job 4: What is it this trip, a wire-tappin’ scheme, or just plain green goods?
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 37: All the wire tappers operated around 6th Avenue place, and it was a hang-out for all sorts of crooks, adventurers, and men-about-town.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 238/1: Wire-tapper. A swindler who pretends to intercept secret inside information on crooked horse races, stock deals, etc., to mulct victims.

In phrases

down to the wire [horseracing imagery]

approaching the crux, the climax; to the very limit.

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ Down the Line 93: Swift often told himself he could give Marshall P. Wilder six sure-fires and beat him down to the wire.
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 175: ‘I’ll stand up with you.’ ‘Right down to the wire?’.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 137: We’re down to the wire and we’re neck and neck.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.
K. Garvey ThugLit July [ebook] [S]he was going to play it right down to the wire.
[US]T. Swerdlow Straight Dope [ebook] [W]e were down to the wire and we had just one bullet left.
get under the wire (v.)

(US black) to obtain something, e.g. money.

[US]D. Burley N.Y. Amsterdam News 15 Jan. 10A: The cats and the bats [...] played like mad in the backbeat 12, skiffling and skuffling, trying to get under the wire.
under the wire [horse-racing imagery]

at the very last minute.

[US]J. Weidman I Can Get It For You Wholesale 54: It looked like I’d just come in under the wire.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 172: Your bum comes in right under the wire.
[US]L. Berney Whiplash River [ebook] Shake made it back to the hotel just under the wire, barely an hour before Devane was due to arrive.