Green’s Dictionary of Slang

herring n.

1. a foolish, offensive or inconsequential person [? the commonness of the fish].

[UK]Appius and Virginia in Farmer (1908) 41: A judge may cause a gentleman – a gentleman? nay, a jack-herring.
[UK]Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor II iii: By gar, de herring is no dead so as I vill kill him.
[UK]J. Cook Greenes Tu Quoque Scene xi: For the love of laughter, look yonder: / Another herring in the same pickle.
[Ire]‘A Real Paddy’ Real Life in Ireland 44: I was brought [...] to catch a Dublin Bay herring, a soft-roed fellow, but fat.
[US]Spirit of the Times (N.Y.) 99: I hear o’ your braggin’, you miserable spint herrin’, that has neither the heart or appointments of a man [HDAS].
[US] ‘Ridin’ Up the Rocky Trail’ in J.A. Lomax Songs of the Cattle Trail 105: Some high-collared herrin’ jeered the garb that I was wearin’.
[US]M. Levin Reporter 65: The herring was an insurance salesman who had a Taste in Books.
[US]J. Reach My Friend Irma I i: Right now I’d even settle for a little herring like the Professor.
[UK]J. Franklyn Cockney 274: Men are known as ‘Rotten Herrings’.

2. (US) a cigar [like the fish it is smoked].

[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] D’ boss he never turned a hair. He tells us to t’row in wit him, ’n we t’rowed in, an’ he lights d’ herrin’ d’ chaw didn’t pay for.

3. (US) a inhabitant of the maritime provinces.

[US]Spokane Press (WA) 22 Sept. 7/3: Herring — a person from the British provinces.

4. (US) $1; a dollar [play on fish n.1 (2b)].

[US]Deelon & Martin Tillie and Gus [film] May I remind you ecclesiastically that the pot was shy two hundred and twenty-five herring? [HDAS].
[US]N. Algren Never Come Morning (1988) 24: Think of the herrings in that.

In compounds

herring-faced (adj.)


[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 356: Ahey! (cried he) are you there, you herring-fac’d son of a sea calf?
[US]J.F. Cooper Pilot (1824) II 141: A young herring-faced monkey! to meddle with a tool ye don’t know the use of.
[Ire]Dublin Penny Jrnl 26 Apr. 343/2: I longed to be foul of that herring-faced dog with the swab (epaulet) on his shoulder.
J. Grant Yellow Frigate 257: Split my topsails, if I would not rather endure the English fire, yardarm and yardarm for eight glasses, than over-hall all this talk again with these herring-faced lordlings.

In phrases

dead as a herring (adv.)

(US) completely.

Buffalo Commercial (NY) 11 May 2/3: ‘I am against the whole scheme, dead as a herring, flat as a clam shell, and straight as a loon’s leg’.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

herring-choker (n.) (also choke) [their consumption of herrings]

1. (Can.) a nickname for a native or inhabitant of the Maritime Provinces.

[Can]Yarmouth Telegram (Nova Scotia) 20 Oct. 1/1: I am down among the ‘herring chokers’ and ‘blue noses’ for a few weeks .
[US]Salt lake Trib. (UT) 6 Jan. 2/3: Storm centres are hovering over [...] North Atlantic States [...] giving the ‘herring chokers’ a dash of drizzling rain.
[US]G.A. England ‘Rural Locutions of Maine and Northern New Hampshire’ in DN IV:ii 74: Herrin’-choker, n. A Prince Edward’s Islander, or native of any of the Provinces ‘down east’.
[US]NY Tribune 4 Aug. 8/5: Her captain is a herring choker from Maine who takes butter on his potatoes.
T.M. Longstreth Silent Force 4: A French Canadian and a ‘herring-choker’ were tilting a bottle unespied.
Boys Life Mar. 16: A native of Nova Scotia, a ‘herring- choker,’ he had first learned to know the moods of the treacherous Atlantic as a deep-sca fisherman.
M.M. Lombardi Body and Song 153: She would preserve her identity as a ‘New Englander-herring-choker-bluenoser’.
J. Dunn Willis Ave. 312: Preacher was a Choke, short for herring choker, a Newfie.

2. (US) a Scandinavian-born immigrant.

[US]G. Williams Logger-Talk 15: Herring-choker. A Scandinavian.
[US]H. Wentworth Amer. Dial. Dict. 290/1: Herring-choker. 1. A Prince-Edward-Islander, or native of any of the Provinces ‘down east’. 2. A Scandinavian .
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]in DARE.
M.S. Mayer Nature of the Beast 1: I depicted Knute Rockne as an illiterate herring- choker.
[US]Maledicta VII 22: Swedes, Norwegians, and Canadian Maritimers were variously called herring choker, herring snapper.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 229: herring choker or -snapper, a Scandinavian.
D. Lonnnquist Skinner at the International 5: ‘Lonnquist, you ain’ta herring choker are you?’ I looked around to see if he was pulling my leg but nobody laughed. ‘Whatta ya mean, herring choker?’ I mumbled. [...] ‘Is your old man a Swede or ain’t he?’.
herring-destroyer (n.)

(US) a Scandinavian-born immigrant.

[US]Maledicta VII 22: Swedes, Norwegians, and Canadian Maritimers were variously called herring choker, herring snapper,and herring destroyer.

see separate entries.

herring-Jew (n.)

(W.I.) a derog. term for a Jewish or Syrian immigrant, who founded their fortunes on peddling salt-fish.

[WI]cited in Cassidy & LePage Dict. Jam. Eng. (1980).
herring pond (n.) (also herring-brook, herring ditch)

1. the sea, esp. the Atlantic; thus be sent across the herring pond or cross the herring pond at the King’s expense, to be transported (albeit to Botany Bay, Australia, rather than America).

[UK]Head Nugae Venales 213: I had rather Travel all the World over by Land, than cross that Herring-brook, St. Georges Channel.
J. Dunton Letter from New-England (1867) 19: I’le send an account of the wonders I meet on the Great Herring-Pond.
[UK]Pagan Prince 71: The King of Albion, [England] had a prodigiously vast Herring Pond in the North Seas.
[UK]Life of Thomas Neaves 29: If the D—n Bitch the Fence will not pay them back, I will send her Adversaries enough that shall do her Business, and hike her over the Herring-Pond.
[UK]Proceedings at Sessions of Peace, and Oyer and Terminer (City of London) Dec. 5/1: The Prisoner did not deny the Fact, but said [...] if he was not tuck’d up, it was only going over the Herring Pond [i.e. transported].
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 257: I wish to God we’d both been drown’d / When first we’d cross’d the herring-pond.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Herring pond, the sea. To cross the herring pond at the king’s expence; to be transported.
[Ire]Both Sides of the Gutter part II 12: What suppose, your souls? When the M—q—s crosses de herring-brook, it will be all a—e-about, in a crack.
[UK]‘Cant Lang. of Thieves’ Monthly Mag. 7 Jan. n.p.: Pikeing across the Herring Pond Going to Botany Bay.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Oct. XVII 21/2: He swore he had just come over the Herring Pond [i.e. the Irish Sea].
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 31 July 3/3: Sir Francis thinks it is very hard that he should be so loudly rated for crossing a river, when many of those of his party who censure him have crossed and re-crossed the herring pond, having been to Botany Bay.
[UK](con. 18C) W. Scott Guy Mannering (1999) 189: [of the North Sea] ‘He’ll plague you, now he’s come over the herring-pond!’.
[UK]D. Humphreys Yankey in England 20: I guess you are a Yankey, who have been in perils on the great salt herring-pond.
[UK]W. Perry London Guide 219: Sir John William Thomas lathrop, Bart. and Co. who is now on his journey across ‘the herring pond’ [i.e. to Botany Bay], for no good.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London II 61: Some new system of roguery to be put in practice, in fresh time and place, which may conduct them to the harbour of Fortune, or waft them over the herring pond at the expence of the public purse.
[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford III 126: Don’t desave yourself, Master Pepper! [...] you’re too old a hand for the herring-pond.
[UK] ‘Rampant Moll Was A Rum Old Mot’ in Secret Songster 6: So Rampant Moll ’stead of valking for cod – / Vos sent o’er the herring pond.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 68: The beak fullied her to the Balie, and a seven pennorth, across the herring ditch.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Times 14 June n.p.: For many years the general idea amongst the poor, and the criminal class in England was, that ‘going over the herring pond’ [...] was not so very bad.
[UK]Story of a Lancashire Thief 8: I heard from a chum, [...] that a regular don was likely to turn up in Manchester; a swell prig who had hooked it from London to escape being slowed, and maybe sent over the herring pond.
[UK]Western Times 10 July 4/5: [headline] A Call From Across the Herring Pond.
[UK]Tamworth Herald 6 Sept. 6/4: A trip across the ‘herring pond’, and a closer scquaintance with our American cousins.
[UK]N&Q Ser. 7 VII 36: Terms which have lived in America, and again crossed the herring-pond with modern traffic.
[UK]H. Nisbet Bushranger’s Sweetheart 119: ‘Authors [...] who think no small beer of themselves, on the other side of the herring pond.’.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘When Duty Calls’ Sporting Times 13 May 1/3: From ‘across the herring pond’ there comes a narrative of how / A policeman sallied forth at duty’s call.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 219/2: Sent across the Herring-pond (Lower Class). Transported to Botany Bay.
[UK]A. Brazil Madcap of the School 285: ‘I’m an American. We crossed the herring-pond just before the war started, and we’ve been stuck in this old country ever since’.
[UK]Marvel 29 May 5: ‘This yer stranger from way back across the herring pond!’ drawled Frank, in true Yankee style.
[US]Princeton Union (Minn.) 30 Mar. 4/2: A junket tour of the countries on the other side of the herring pond at the expense of American taxpayers .
[UK]Derby Dly Teleg. 11 July 7/2: [headline] A Short and Merry Trip Across the Herring Pond.
[UK]Eve. Teleg. (Dundee) 4 June 9/1: To-day our birthday wishes go across the ‘herring pond’ in USA to Jack Anderson.
[UK]Western Dly Press 21 Aug. 6/6: People here would like to see the warships Britain wants cross the ‘Herring Pond’.

2. the English Channel.

[UK]C. Reade Hard Cash II 25: Bankruptcy [...] is a broad road, but a crooked one: skirts the prison wall, sir, and sights the herring pond.
[UK]Punch 6 Feb. n.p.: I start to-morrow with the Show across the herring-pond, to wake up the Crowned Heads of Europe.
[UK]G.M. Hewett Rat 192: Take my advice and don’t cross the herring-pond.
[UK]N&Q 12 Ser. IX 346: Herring Pond. Used of the Channel.
‘The Ric-A-Dam-Doo’ in A. Hopkins Songs from the Front and Rear (1979) 49: They sailed across the Herring Pond, / They sailed across the Channel too.
herring-snapper (n.)

(US) a Scandinavian-born immigrant.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 229: herring choker or -snapper, as Scandinavian, Swedes, Norwegians, and Canadian Maritimers were variously called [...] herring snapper, and herring destroyer.