Green’s Dictionary of Slang

grab v.

[fig. uses of SE]

1. (also grab off) to steal, to take or obtain for oneself; to rob.

[UK]W. Perry London Guide.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 137: [He] grabb’d his pocket-handkerchief, and was after shewing a leg, when a little boy that kept his oglers upon ’em, let me into the secret, and let the cat out of the bag by bawling — Stop thief!
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Lytton Ernest Maltravers I 43: There, man, grab the money, it’s on the table.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Dickens ‘Slang’ in Household Words 24 Sept. 75/2: To steal is to prig, to pinch, to collar, to nail, to grab, to nab.
[US]C.G. Leland ‘Breitmann in Politics’ in Hans Breitmann About Town 32: All pooblic tockuments / Vich he can grap or shteal / vill sendt / Franked — mit his gompliments.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 236: As she turned her back and went into the house I grabbed the key, and so they couldn’t lock it nohow.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler (1996) 34: He told us that two fellows had grabbed and robbed him of $400 in gold.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 72: I’m goin’ tuh grab off this old guy an’ not waste no time. He’s rollin’ in money.
[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 41: I’m going up to Newport — Maybe I can grab off an heiress up there.
[US]Lardner The Big Town 157: Ella had grabbed $160 on that race and was $140 ahead.
[US]Broadway Brevities Dec 13/2: Didn’t she finally settle upon the boob who grabs off a big earned increment in moving pictures.
[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 22: They’re out there grabbing off more dough than we’ll ever see.
[US]B. Schulberg What Makes Sammy Run? (1992) 16: I just came down to grab a couple of drinks.
[UK]I, Mobster 47: I was grabbing off a hundred grand a year in the alky racket.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 51: ‘You shouldn’t grab so much.’ ‘Grab be boggered. I earn it.’.
[US]P. Hamill Dirty Laundry 94: You want to grab a beer somewhere?
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 97: Got there early, grabbed a table before they all got turned over.

2. (also grab off) to arrest; thus grabbing n.

[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 18: We all resolved if Brown was grabbed, that is, taken, to rescue him. [Ibid.] 433: Our Fence is grabb’d; our Receiver is taken.
[UK]Whole Art of Thieving [as cit. 1753].
[UK]Sporting Mag. Apr. XVI 6/2: Agreed to grab about a dozen old acquaintances for examination next week.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: To Grab. To seize a man. The pigs grabbed the kiddey for a crack: the officers seized the youth for a burglary.
[UK]G. Smeeton Doings in London 253: Some of them act as ‘touters’ to those who may have got the ‘swag,’ and the moment they find that the thief is ‘grabbed’ (apprehended), they run off.
[UK]Dickens Oliver Twist (1966) 133: Do you want to be grabbed, stupid?
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 284: If there’s a goose or hen within ten miles of us I’ll wring his neck or be grabbed.
gloss. in Occurrence Book of York River Lockup in Seal (1999) 37: A cross cove who had his regulars lowr, a fly grabbed him. I am afraid he will blow it.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 9 Sept. 6/5: Detective Grabbem [...] a dark keen-eyed officer.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Sept. 6/3: In 1855, he robbed a bank in Ballarat of £6000, and got clean away to London, where he was arrested by a Victorian detective who ‘cooee’d’ after him in the street, and on his looking round, ‘grabbed’ him.
[US]Salt Lake Trib. (UT) 27 Nov. 4/3: What was we grabbed for?
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 274–55: Now I know why you knew they never done them things. Guess I’ve grabbed myself a bunch of promotion to-night.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ From Coast to Coast with Jack London 101: I’ve got a regular ‘lead pipe cinch’ on the grabbing of the ornery scamps.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 74: That junk would get us five years, kid, if we got grabbed with it.
[US]‘Boxcar Bertha’ Sister of the Road (1975) 100: They grabbed him off and he’s confessed everything.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 342: The jonnops come along and found the lubra with Con and grabbed ’em both.
[US]W.L. Gresham Nightmare Alley (1947) 122: A spook worker never takes a real rap [...] If anybody grabs, the chumps rally around him and start alibi-ing their heads off.
[US]R. Chandler Playback 79: Even if the cops didn’t grab him.
[US]J. Mills Panic in Needle Park (1971) 176: You should have told me you were going to grab him here.
[US]G.V. Higgins Friends of Eddie Coyle 74: I got grabbed at the Weirs about five years ago.
[US]G.V. Higgins Patriot Game (1985) 20: That kid from Listowel that I grabbed.
[Aus]M.B. ‘Chopper’ Read Chopper From The Inside 104: What he does is ‘create’ other drug lords for the police to grab.
[US]G.V. Higgins At End of Day (2001) 94: One of them was gonna get himelf grabbed.
M. Dargg ‘Upsuh’ 🎵 Feds come I don't wanna get grabbed.

3. (US) to grasp, to comprehend.

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ Down the Line 14: She wanted to know what I meant by dope, and I told her it generally meant a sour dream, but she didn’t seem to grab.
[UK](con. 1940s) G. Morrill Dark Sea Running 11: I’m your boss. When I blow my whistle [...] Move, grab me?
[US]E.H. Hunt Undercover 230: [G]rab this—how do we all of a sudden install silent cameras and conceal them.

4. to appeal to; esp. as how does that grab you?

[US]H.S. Thompson letter 21 Feb. in Proud Highway (1997) 439: It may grab you. If not, send it back.
[Aus]J. McNeill Old Familiar Juice (1973) 104: bulla: ‘From soldier to soak in thirty years.’ (Laughing) That grab yer any better?
[US]E. Shrake in Texas Obs. 25 July in Davis (ed) Land of the Permanent Wave 13: [W]e would find a banger of a first-person story that was supposed to grab people.

5. (US) to capture, to kidnap, to abduct (other than in a judicial context).

[US]D. Hammett ‘The Gutting of Couffignal’ Story Omnibus (1966) 29: You’ve been waiting for your mob to come back and grab me.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Nevada Gas’ in Spanish Blood (1946) 165: I want a figure put on the bird that had me grabbed.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 88: Alfonso and Shad were grabbed in Newark.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 231: He’ll grab him on the way in or out.
[US](con. 1962) J. Ellroy Enchanters 10: He said they grabbed Gwen Perloff.

6. (US) to catch some form of transport, usu. a train or taxi.

[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 211: I’ll have to grab the next southbound rattler an’ git outer here.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Dream Street Rose’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 58: My friend goes [...] to grab a taxi.
[US]N. Algren ‘Depend on Aunt Elly’ in Texas Stories (1995) 101: Every time he fought there he’d grab a bus and get over to Texarkana.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Men, Big World 58: He walked down to Putnam Boulevard, a wide through-street, and grabbed a taxi.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 258: I don’t know for sure I’ll go there. Like I said, maybe I’ll grab a ship.
Zimbardo & Maslach Psychology for Our Times 31: As usual, your train was late so you grab a taxi to make up time.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 123: There’s a cab. You ought to grab it. They’re hard to find in the rain.
A. Quindlen Thinking Out Loud 108: She could grab a plane and be standing in line at the Magic Kingdom that very day.
[US]J. Ridley Conversation with the Mann 87: I held out a couple of bucks. ‘Here. Grab a cab.’.
J. Noble Mexico 436: Either hop a local bus or grab a cab.

7. (US) to irritate.

in Kanter & Tugend Pocketful of Miracles [film script] Hey? What’s grabbin’ her? [HDAS].

8. (US) to make a turn in a vehicle.

[US]E. Sanders Family (1972) 271: He grabbed a right and parked off Cielo Drive.

9. to have sexual relations; thus grabbing n.

[US] P. Munro Sl. U.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 154: Keith launched into a squalid decameron of recent gallops and tumbles, instant liaisons, valiant cuckoldries, eagerly requited grabbings and gropings.

10. (US und.) to seize the ‘right’ to extort payments from.

[US]R. Cooley When Corruption Was King 85: A crew could ‘grab’ an independent criminal, no matter where he was, and as long as they grabbed him first, they could keep him and a piece of his action.

In derivatives

grabalicious (adj.) (also grabilicious)

(UK black) greedy, grabby.

[WI] in Cassidy & LePage Dict. Jam. Eng. (2nd edn).
[UK](con. 1979–80) A. Wheatle Brixton Rock (2004) 85: Angela kidnapped Finnley’s spliff [...] Finnley admonished. ‘Where’s your patience. You’re too grabalicious!’.
[UK](con. 1981) A. Wheatle East of Acre Lane 31: Give ’im his twenty notes, Coff. You know how he’s grabilicious from time.

In compounds

grab-all (n.)

1. (Aus./US) a greedy person.

[UK]J. Hatton Cruel London I 73: You can’t help it I reckon, that yer mester’s a fool and a grab-all.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 21 Mar. 13/1: [...] just as if the deities were a set of mud-headed idiots to be cajoled by flattery, or a crowd of miserly graballs to be seduced by bribes.

2. the driver of a Hansom cab.

[UK]Lancs. Eve. Post 17 May 2/6: The driver of a hansom [cab] is a ‘graball’.

3. a bag to carry odds and ends.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 493/1: from ca. 1890.

4. (US Und.) a detective.

[US]Salt Lake Herald (UT) 19 Oct. 5/1: Mr Bates’ leather sticks out of his inside kick and Jimmy thinks it’s a shame. He cops and lams a couple of blocks. He’s weeding it when he sees a grab all across the street leaning on a mush with a steamer in his face.
grab-ass (n.)

see separate entry.

grabhooks (n.) [hook n.1 (1a)]

(US) the hands or fingers.

[US]Overland Mthly 54 278/2: Old man Havers has got a mania for importin’ all them college-bred sap-heads out here that he can get his grab-hooks onto.
[US]L. Light Modern Hobo 45: Back in New York the guys are more progressive, they don’t use their palms for tips any more — their ‘grab-hooks’ hold a hat.
W.C. MacDonald Law of.45’s 55: It might be a good idea to stick yore grab-hooks up in the air [HDAS].
[US] in DARE.
grab joint (n.) [joint n. (3b) ]

(US) a snack bar, a cafeteria.

Northwestern U. Studies in the Social Sciences I 136: Did you ever have anything to do with a ‘grab joint’ on a carnival?
[US]C. Rawson Headless Lady (1987) 29: A grab joint is a hot-dog stand; a grease joint is a lunch wagon or stand; a juice joint the lemonade -.
[US]J.E. Dadswell Hey, Sucker 101: grab joint ... cookhouse; sandwich stand.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]F. Brown Madball (2019) 40: She’d [...] told him to go to the grab joint, not all the way to the chow top but just to the grab joint, and get her a coney island sandwich.
[US]C. Clausen I Love You Honey, But the Season’s Over 130: The white-jacketed concession men, who worked the ‘juice’ and ‘grab’ joints, handed out red hots and watery orange drinks.
D. Gilman Mrs Pollifax Pursued 104: C’mon, let’s hit Mick for a cup of coffee at the grab-joint.
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 6: The grab joints and flashy rides were a front for the real action: flat stores, alibi and percentage joints, crap tables, slot machines, fortune wheels.
[US]W. Keyser ‘Carny Lingo’ in 🌐 Grab Joint or Grease Joint — An eating concession in which the customer takes away food served directly over the counter.

In phrases

grab a handful of — (v.) (also grab an armful of —, armload of —)

(US tramp) to steal a ride, modified by a term for the vehicle, usu. a train, e.g. grab an armful of freight.

[US]G.H. Mullin Adventures of a Scholar Tramp 232: I’s gwine grab me a armful o’ freight an’ foller de smoky trail.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 105: grab a handful of rods To catch a freight train.
[US]J.L. Gwaltney Drylongso 153: I knew where he had gone [...] I grabbed an armload of airplane, I want you to know, and brought Rupert Alexander White right back to this house.
grab air (v.)

1. (US) to go outside for some fresh air.

[US]Myers & Workman Kick 174: ‘You want to grab some air?’ I asked, standing. [...] . I gave him a nod and started toward the door.
[US](con. 1962) J. Ellroy Enchanters 59: We’re four guys grabbing some air.

2. see grab (the) sky

grab a root (v.)

(US) to hold tight, to get busy, to go ahead.

[US]T.F. Upson diary 18 Jan. in Winther With Sherman to the Sea (1958) 148: His mule lost its footing, and someone yelled to him to grab a root and the boys took it up and you could hear ‘Grab a root’ in evry [sic] direction.
[US]Harper’s Mag. May 913/2: One more wicked than them all sang out that old army slang, ‘Grab a root!’ [DA].
J.H. Wilson Under the Old Flag II 28: And yet wherever mounted men went this reward was vociferously shouted with the derisive cry: ‘Dismount and grab a root!’.
H. Garland Main Travelled Roads (1995) 8: Grab a root there! Where’s my band-cutter?
[US]G.H. Mullin Adventures of a Scholar Tramp 211: Grab a root, dah, yo fo-eyed bastahrd!
E. Dick Vanguards of the Frontier 481: ‘Rise and grab a root!’ Another shouted: ‘Chuck-a-luck-a-luck-a-chuck, come and get it ’fore I throw it out.’.
[US]K. Kesey Sometimes a Great Notion 490: Grab a root an’ dig.
grab ass (v.)

see separate entry.

grab a stump to rest your rump (v.)

see under stump n.

grab-it-and-growl (n.) (also grab-(it-)and-gallop) [the speed of one’s eating]

(US) a diner, a lunch counter; also attrib.

[UK]H.L. Davis Honey in the Horn 37: She was running the kitchen and tending a grab-and-gallop lunch-counter for an average of forty men a day.
[US] in DARE.
posting at 16 June 🌐 The only burger-flipping experience comes from the troll. Things must be slow at the Grab It and Growl.
grab off (v.)

1. see sense 1 above.

2. see sense 2 above.

grab (the) sky (v.) (also claw sky, grab air)

(US) to put one’s hands in the air (cf. reach for the sky under reach v.).

Oshkosh Northwestern (WI) 26 Sept. 15/4: Mussweiler was prepareing to close his litle shop [...] when a dapper youth entered and told him to ‘grab the sky’.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Nevada Gas’ in Spanish Blood (1946) 159: Just drop the gat, blondie. The rest of you grab air.
[UK]Buckingham Advertiser 2 July 2/4: ‘Grab the sky, stranger!’ came the voice.
Alton Eve. Teleg. (IL) 3 Nov. 30/2: [cartoon caption] ‘Whatcha mean, grab sky? Who d’ya think you are?
[UK]Oh Boy! No. 17 9: You’re one of the gang – grab sky!
[US]Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) 26 July 14/1: The man [...] ordered the junior burglars to grab some air and held them at pistol point.
[Ire](con. 1920s) L. Redmond Emerald Square 43: It was a case of ‘Claw sky, hombre’ or be ventilated.
how does that grab you? (also how does that grab your ass?) [a slightly aggressive implication, a challenge is assumed]

what do you think of that?

[US] in Choice Sl. 35: How does that grab yer?
[US]J. Davis College Vocab. 1: How does that grab you?
[US](con. 1950s) McAleer & Dickson Unit Pride (1981) 271: She’ll ask if it’s O.K. if she ships over Stateside [...] How’s that grab your ass?
[UK]C. Gaines Stay Hungry 168: I’m yours. Completely all yours. How does that grab you?
[US]C. McFadden Serial 54: I mean, how does that grab you?
[US]S. King Christine 391: How does first-degree murder sound to you, Arnie? Does that grab you with any force?
[Aus]W. Ammon et al. Working Lives 115: Flapjacks and syrup and a bit of good old roo steak straight from the pan. How’s that grab you?
[UK]D. Lodge Therapy (1996) 51: Yep, how does that grab you, Mr Passmore?
D. Olaiya Never Ever Say Yes 21: You’re beautiful enough to become the world’s best [i.e. model]. How does that grab you?
[UK]B. Hare Urban Grimshaw 21: How does that grab you?