Green’s Dictionary of Slang

runner n.

1. (UK Und.) as a thief.

(a) a sneak thief, esp. one who specializes in entering houses and taking furs, cloaks and coats.

[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 81: The Budge by some is termed a Runner: his employment is in the dark of the Evening, to any door that he seeth open, and boldly entring the house, takes whatever next cometh to hand, and marcheth off therewith.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Runner, c. as Budge.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].

(b) a dog-stealer.

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.

2. in senses of an intermediary, a go-between.

(a) an employee of a casino who keeps track of police activity.

St James’s Eve. Post in Sydney England and Eng. in 18th Century i 229: ‘List of Officers attached to Gaming-houses’ [...] a runner, who is to get intelligence of the justices’ meetings, and when the constables are out.
[UK]Sporting Mag. May XXIV 125/1: A runner, who is to get intelligence of the justices’ meeting.

(b) (US Und.) often with defining n. comb.; someone engaged in conveying prohibited goods (such as drugs, liquor), or illegal immigrants, secretly.

[UK]R. North Examen 490: By Merchants, I mean fair Traders, and not Runners and Trickers [...] that cover a contraband Trade.
Marion Star (OH) 3 Apr. 17/1: ‘Runners’ or ‘carriers’ for the big and little [drug] vendors had spread over the city.
[US]S. Lewis Babbitt (1974) 81: A cocaine-runner and a prostitute were drinking cocktails in Healey Hanson’s saloon.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 442: Chink-runner, One who smuggles aliens into the United States.
[US]C. Coe Hooch! 234: My runners are as safe as a minister in church when they lug booze through the streets.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 191: A man in prison doesn’t expect to be treated as though he were in a nursing home. I was fortunate, for I was making quite a few dollars a month as a dope-runner for one of the dope mobs.
[US]E.H. Price ‘Revolt of the Damned’ Double-Action Gang June [Internet] The junk runner snarled.
[UK]V. Davis Gentlemen of the Broad Arrows 168: We sent warning to Nobby [...] to use ‘runners’ who were not known to the police.
[US]R. Chandler Little Sister 63: Used to be a runner for Ace Devore.
[US]‘Blackie’ Audett Rap Sheet 61: I guess them cops just tagged us as three rum-runners talking business.
[US]M. Richler Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1964) 284: You’re a dope-runner.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 5 Jan. Proud Highway (1997) 602: Promoter, grass-runner and general free spirit.
[US]C. Fuller Jr ‘Love Song for Wing’ in King Black Short Story Anthol. (1972) 142: He’s the runner of Tenth and Montgomery [...] He holds all the check.
[US]A.K. Shulman On the Stroll 54: He hung out on the street [...] admiring the players’ craft, eager to be a runner, a hustler for anyone with cash.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 67: You get to be a runner because a dealer trusts you to handle the dope and coke directly, to bring it in small quantities from the stash to the corner [...] He might handle some of the money or, in the dealer’s absence, supervise the street sales.
[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July [Internet] Runner: A person that is supporting prisoner with packages &/or money orders.
[US]G. Pelecanos Hell to Pay 13: Potter, Little, and White bought a kilo of marijuana [...] dimed out half of it back at their place, and delivered the dimes to their runners.
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 71: He then helps himself to the deck of dope he’s just seen the dealer take from his runner.

(c) (US Und.) an employee of a dancehall or gambling house whose task was to entice passers-by into the establishment; some runners worked from hotel lobbies, where they paid the clerk a fee to introduce them to wealthy or gullible tourists [see Williams for 17C use of runner as a brothel errand-boy].

[US]Microscope (Albany) 21 Feb. n.p.: Our wholesale property-speculators and their gentry in livery, called runners [DA].
[UK]T. Archer Pauper, Thief and Convict 86: Those poor fellows [...] are ready to accept any dishonest hand, and to hear [...] the lying salutations of the ‘runner,’ and to fall at once into the trap of the procuress and her myrmidons.
[US]Harper’s Mag. Nov. 814/1: The runners for several livery-stables offered to provide special transportation [DA].
[US]G. Davis Recoll. Sea-Wanderer 61: Clamorous as a pack of wolves eager for their prey, the runners for the boarding-houses came at you, a dozen at a time, and tackled on to poor Jack and his box.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 14 Jan. 5/3: He had been a ‘runner’ for a boarding-house.
[US](con. 1875) F.T. Bullen Cruise of the ‘Cachalot’ 317: Sheer weariness drove them out into the turbid current of the [Ratcliff] ‘Highway,’ there to seek speedily some of the dirty haunts where the ‘runner’ and the prostitute awaited them.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 11: Hotel runners [...] met the ships to swoop on newcomers with lie and cheat, and carry them away to hostelries whose mean interests they served.
[US]G.J. Kneeland Commercialized Prostitution in N.Y. City 291: The investigator was solicited on Sixth Avenue by a woman ‘runner’ to enter this house. She had been stopping other men.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 101: The cunningly worded domestic advertisements of notorious brothel ‘runners.’.

(d) one who lures victims into a confidence trick.

[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 176: Fraudulent companies will sell him water-lots, [...] found, upon reaching the place, to be swamp or morass, and half the year under water, while rascally runners will sell him tickets [etc.].

(e) a bookmaker’s clerk or assistant.

[UK]J. Curtis There Ain’t No Justice 78: I got street blokes collecting for me. How about being a runner?
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 19: Glenn [...] goes back to L.A. to be a lousy runner for a bookie.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 173: The runner makes the rounds in the morning to pick up bets and pays off in the afternoon.
[UK](con. 1900–30) A. Harding in Samuel East End Und. 283: Runner – Bookie’s runner. The chap that fetches the prices up.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.

(f) (US) in numbers gambling, one who picks up bets and takes the money to the central operator/operators.

[US]G.G. Carlson ‘Argot of Number Gambling’ in AS XXIV:3 193: runner. A person who solicits wagers for a number of gambling establishments.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 182/2: Runner. A policy-numbers agent or collector. [Note: Runners often build up a large personal following of players, receive as much as twenty-five per cent of the money collected from bettors and an additional ten per cent as a bonus to be deducted from the bettor’s winnings.].
[US](con. 1940s) Malcolm X Autobiog. (1968) 144: Yes, there were several runners on the Hill; even dignified Negroes played the numbers.
[US]B. Malamud Tenants (1972) 59: He had betrayed a numbers runner, his friend Ephraim, to the pigs [...] The runner’s friends trap Harry in his room and force him to strip off his clothes.

(g) (US drugs) one who recruits new customers for a narcotics dealer.

[US]Anslinger & Tompkins Traffic In Narcotics 314: runner. Teen-age contact used to recruit new addicts.

3. (US) a commercial traveller.

[US]L. Pound ‘A Second Word-List From Nebraska’ in DN III:vii 546: runner, n. Traveling-man. ‘There were three runners on the train.’.

4. in pl.

(a) (US Und.) a foot.

[US]A.J. Barr Let Tomorrow Come 87: The old boy [a rat] [...] either got caught in a trap or had a battle somewhere in here, and one of his runners is gone.

(b) (Aus./Can./Irish) track shoes, training shoes.

[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 131: white sneakers, tennies [...] runners (such shoes may be lifesavers when escaping rowdies).
[Ire]E. Mac Thomáis Janey Mack, Me Shirt is Black 72: Runners came in three colours, black, brown and white.
[Ire](con. 1930s) K.C. Kearns Dublin Tenement Life 209: If they seen a kid running in his bare feet they’d bring him into Bretts and buy him a pair of runners to cover their feet.
[Aus]S. Maloney Big Ask 65: Boys in bum-fluff moustaches, embroidered waistcoats and Nike runners.
[Ire]P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 277: There’s a bit of a debate going on as to whether Oisinn’s black Skechers are runners or shoes. June 28 [Internet] Athletic shoes come in many types and many nicknames [...] Runners [...] whatever ye’ calls ’em, I like Sneakers!
[Aus] F. McCarthy ‘Some Protection’ in Crime Factory: Hard Labour [ebook] In his hoodie, jeans and runners, his movements that of any small time dealer.

5. (US) a soda to take out.

[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 12 May [synd. col.] Soda to take out--a runner.

6. in senses of physical running.

(a) someone who is on the run from the police.

[UK]J. Gosling Ghost Squad 25: Thieves’ argot, spoken properly, is a foreign language which needs to be learned [...] a ‘blower’ or ‘runner’ is a deserter.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 199: Runner A person, arrested by police, likely to abscond if given bail.
[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 34: A runner. ‘He’s been picked up on warrant for armed robbery in Wales.’.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.

(b) (Aus. prison) an escapee.

[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Runner. 2. An escapee. As in ‘on the run.’.

In phrases

do a runner (v.)

(UK Und.) to abscond from the police or to be on the run, before possible capture by the police, or simply to run away; also of one who leaves without paying a bill.

Many Rev. 6 46: Wake up! The afternoon’s done a runner.
[UK]A. Payne ‘Get Daley!’ Minder [TV script] 52: Soon as Joe popped his clogs, he did a runner.
[UK]K. Lette Foetal Attraction (1994) 10: I really did a runner for this?
[Ire]P. Howard The Joy (2015) [ebook] Doping a runner wasn’t an option.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 31: Might do a runner with the lolly.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 193: I’ve always heard the Roller out in the yard and done a quick runner across the wall.
[UK]A. Guthrie Hard Man 166: May really wished Brian hadn’t done a runner.
[Aus]L. Redhead Cherry Pie [ebook] [S]houting to the gathering crowd that I’d done a runner and he was making a citizen’s arrest.
[UK]K. Richards Life 211: We decided to get out of England [...] So in early March we did a runner.