Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bum n.3

[abbr. bummer n.3 (1); most senses development of sense 1]

1. (US) a tramp, a vagrant.

[UK] ‘The Wide Awake Club’ in Bentley’s Misc. Feb. 209: My eye! how precious drunk he made Snatch’em, the bum, and I, one night as we pinned him coming home in his cab from the Opera to give a champaign supper at The Clarendon.
[US]Gold Hill News 15 Apr. 5/1: The policemen say that even their old, regular and reliable ‘bums’ appear to have reformed [DA].
[US]G.G. Hart E.C.B. Susan Jane 11: O, I’m the boy whose name is Nan, I’ve rescued many a drowning man, / And lots of ‘bums’ I’ve helped to land. Way down at Coney Island.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 23 Apr. 2: Such ratty bums I never did see before in my life.
[US]Neihart Herald (MT) 18 Apr. 2/4: Ye don’t want ter call me a bum, see? [...] Ye don’t know what a bum is. I’m a hobo. When ye call a hobo a bum, yer takin’ chances, see?
[UK]A. Binstead Houndsditch Day by Day 63: Two ragged, ex-racecourse roustabouts, known to the pavement-pacers of Fleet Street as Tinker and the Ball’s Pond Bum.
[US]F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley’s Opinions 171: Out here th’ floaters is all bums.
[Aus]J. Furphy Such is Life 12: Bum, (abbreviation of ‘bummer,’ and applied to the red-headed fellow) you surround them carrion.
Socorro Chieftain (NM) 12 Nov. 2/3: In America [...] we need bum-proof freight cars.
Hawaiian Star (HI) 17 June 4/2: The fiend who smokes a rank cigar [...] the bum, the boozer and the beat — they say these men are hogs.
[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 163: Gathered in a solid semicircle about the seat of justice was as fine a crew of porch-climbers, safe-crackers, crapshooters, and just plain bums.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win 61: The other bum came up with the can.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 40: bum.–The tramp who does not travel and who will not work; one who lives on charity from choice, although in many cases able to earn a living. One of the most generally misapplied definitions in underworld and tramp argot, but clearly explained in the words of an experienced hobo: ‘Bums loafs and sits. Tramps loafs and walks. But a hobo moves and works, and he’s clean.’.
[Aus]Townsville Daily Bulletin 3 Aug. 5/1: ‘Dosser’ Doyle was a swagman [...] Mate to the ‘bum’ and the bagman.
[US]J.K. Butler ‘Saint in Silver’ in Goulart (1967) 54: Railroad bums who hiked up from the freight yards.
[US]F.O. Beck Hobohemia 25: Do you know that there are classes among the unemployed as well as among the employed? The unemployed is a worker without a job; the hobo is a homeless, migratory worker; the tramp is a migratory nonworker motivated by desire for adventure; the bum is a stationary nonworker often addicted to drink or drugs; a vagrant is a person without any visible means of support.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 11: He’d be a bum, hungry, skinny, begging on the streets.
[US]G.V. Higgins Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) 32: The young bum had cornered a middle-aged, rather stout businessman.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 262: I looked like a bum, in bum suit, under bum hair, on bum shoes.
[US]H. Huncke ‘Boxcar Bertha’ in Huncke Reader (1998) 336: This Boxcar Bertha commanded the respect of all the bums and yeggs and reds and grifters of the road.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 9 Oct. 12: Gardeners had trouble stopping the bums urinating through the railings – although the bums would always claim it was good for the plants.
[UK]Guardian G2 11 May 6: ‘A Coke is a Coke,’ said Warhol, ‘and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.’.

2. (US) a term of abuse for anyone unpleasant.

[[UK]D. Lyndsay Satyre of Thrie Estaits in Works 37 2772: Quhair Devil gat we this ill-fairde blaitie bum? ].
[US]letter q. in Wiley Life of Johnny Reb (1943) 311: Quite a number of Northern bums, called U.S. soldiers passed out camps.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 81: The ungrateful turnkey, in his expansive moods, calls all the convicts ‘bums’.
[US]R. Lardner ‘Champion’ in Coll. Short Stories (1941) 113: She’s no bum for looks.
[Ire]S. O’Casey Plough and the Stars Act II: G’way, you little sermonizing, little yella-faced, little consequential, little pudgy, little bum, you!
[UK](con. WW1) P. MacDonald Patrol 41: ‘You shut y’r north [...] You’re an iggerunt bum’.
[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 73: ‘What’s the big idee?’ he shot at her. ‘I was on there downstage goin’ through my number, an’ here you were, holdin’ hands with that tailor-made bum.’.
[US](con. 1919) Dos Passos Nineteen Nineteen in USA (1966) 602: I’m sick of hearing what bums the Boches are.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 177: Get those bums out of here!
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 43: George did not like Louie and said he was just a bum.
[UK]F. Norman Fings I i: Well, I’ll tell yer why. It’s because of bums like you.
[US]H. Selby Jr Last Exit to Brooklyn (1966) 5: Go get a job you no good bums.
[UK]R.L. Pike Mute Witness (1997) 68: He snatches the hottest bum since Hitler, hides him [...] then he asks me just like this, what’s on my mind!
[US]M. Scorsese Mean Streets [film script] 40: I got a partner who’s a bum, who doesn’t help out.
[US](con. 1970) J. Ehrlichman Witness to Power 150: The President had made an offhand comment that students who torch and destroy their campuses [....] were ‘bums’.
[US]Pileggi & Scorsese Goodfellas [film script] 12: He said they were bums.
[UK]Guardian Sport 1 Jan. 16: To you bums I am Meester Boss.
[UK]M. Dibdin Thanksgiving 95: Married a bum when she was still cute, then had a bunch of kids.
[UK]A. Wheatle Dirty South 69: He was a low-down bum [...] He never gave my cousin a penny.
[UK]K. Richards Life 62: I’ve got an elite patrol here and I’ve got to take this bum in?

3. (boxing) a poor, incompetent fighter; similarly used of a racehorse.

[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 18: The old man is bugs. Cloudlight’s a bum. Now let me see, Johnny Lyons looks the class.
[US]Van Loan ‘Out of His Class’ in Taking the Count 182: ‘Why not fight some of these guys? [...]’ ‘Dubs!’ interrupted the manager. ‘Bums!’.
[US]Van Loan ‘Eliphaz, Late Fairfax’ in Old Man Curry 161: A month ago Fairfax was a bum; now he’s pretty near a stake horse.
[US]H.C. Witwer Classics in Sl. 4: Dempsey would be a set-up for me on account of him bein’ nothin’ but a big over-rated bum which had never been in a real fight.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Undertaker Song’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 331: By the fourth round the customers are [...] saying throw these bums out.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 11: A press agent for champions, deserved and otherwise, contenders and bums, plenty of the latter.
[US]Mad mag. Oct.–Nov. 48: The right guy is a bum your manager knows you can actually beat.
[US]‘Gunboat’ Smith in Heller In This Corner (1974) 44: I wouldn’t be fighting those big bums that weighed two pounds less than a horse.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 65: The pejorative connotations carried over into the word’s secondary meanings; among them: a prostitute or other easily available woman, an inferior racehorse or animal, a poor prizefighter.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Rev. 23 Jan. 6: Bugner, she says, was a ‘bum’.
[US](con. 1954) ‘Jack Tunney’ Tomato Can Comeback [ebook] My editor canned it [i.e. a fight story] when he saw who it was about. ‘Don’t clutter up my page with bums’.

4. (US Und.) a travelling thief.

[US] (ref. to 1900s) J. Black You Can’t Win 93: The term ‘bum’ is not used here in any cheap or disparaging sense. In those days [i.e. 1900s] it meant any kind of traveling thief. It has long since fallen into disuse.

5. (US) a worldly, promiscuous man.

[US]Committee of Fourteen Social Evil in N.Y. City 54: He is an expert dancer and is very popular because of this fact. In many halls he is the type of ‘bum’ who has led girls astray. [Ibid.] 57: A spieler connected with one of the dance halls said that in order to be a successful manager, a man must be a ‘bum,’ or in other words, one who can get acquainted with women, play cards and is accustomed to vice.
[US]Broadway Brevities Aug. 32: THE BROADWAY BUM.:— ‘Well— Gimme another drink’.

6. an incompetent sportsman (other than a boxer).

[US]R. Lardner ‘Alibi Ike’ in Coll. Short Stories (1941) 39: That lucky bum busted two pair.
[US]R. Lardner Big Town iii: I’m a bum myself. I just play shinny, you might say.

7. something worthless or unsatisfactory.

[US]R. Lardner ‘Women’ in Coll. Short Stories (1941) 151: They’ve made a bum out of my life. They’ve wrecked my — what-do-you-call-it?
[US]H. Boyle Associated Press 1 May n.p.: Money is a bum, a no-good [W&F].

8. a general term of address, as often affectionate as hostile.

[US]Van Vechten Nigger Heaven 37: You bum, you!
[US]J. Conroy World to Win 346: Wassa matter, bum, no comin?

9. (US) a promiscuous woman; a prostitute [pun on sense 1, i.e. tramp and tramp n. (2)].

Jamieson Etym. Dict. Scot. Lang (Supplement) n.p.: Bum, a lazy, dirty, tawdry, careless woman.
[UK]V. Delmar Bad Girl 60: You probably should have been married to him months ago, you little bum.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Well, That’s That’ in Short Stories (1937) 260: The bums are pretty maggoty, but a jane is a jane, and for the grand old purpose, they’re all the same.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 473: The only thing they got a place for in their lives is booze and female bums. Drunk and whoring all the time.
[US]W.R. Burnett High Sierra in Four Novels (1984) 397: What the hell did Marie think she was doing, rubbing up against the guy like that! Once a bum, always a bum.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 40: I want to know why she became nothing but a beautiful drunken bum.
[US]L. Bruce How to Talk Dirty 142: The real bums you can spot. They usually have babies in their bellies — that’s the real tramps.
[US]‘Gunboat’ Smith in Heller In This Corner (1974) 41: The second wife was a bum right out of a house.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 65: The pejorative connotations carried over into the word’s secondary meanings; among them: a prostitute or other easily available woman, an inferior racehorse or animal, a poor prizefighter.

10. (US) a fan or obsessive; usu. of a specified sport, e.g. scuba bum, surf bum.

[US]J.T. Farrell To Whom It May Concern 108: The old man said he didn’t want his son to be a football bum.
[US]F. Kohner Gidget (2001) 28: ‘Ever heard of a surf-bum?’ ‘I know some ski-bums,’ I said.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 22 Nov. in Proud Highway (1997) 418: The ski bums are still living it up in the Red Onion.
[US]N. Thornburg Cutter and Bone (2001) 52: A ragtag school of scuba bums was preparing to go into the water.
[US]H. Ellison All the Lies in Shatterday (1982) 186: You can keep that ski bum of yours on a string a little longer.
[UK]Guardian G2 29 July 3: Outside magazine has grown from a rough and ready fanzine for adventure bums.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 24 May 7: James, who [...] subscribes to the dress code of the surf-bum, wears a woolly sock-hat.

11. (US Und.) an experienced criminal.

[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Bum, a safeblower, yeggman; an experienced crook.

12. a semi-professional athlete who makes a living training others rather than entering high-grade competitions, e.g. tennis bum, ski bum, surf bum.

[US]G. Marx letter in Groucho Letters (1967) 38: For a tennis bum, you’re certainly leading a luxurious life.

13. a thug, a member of a criminal gang.

[US]P. Rabe Murder Me for Nickels (2004) 45: They give stable jobs to their bums what’s on the lam from someplace. [Ibid.] 55: An operator has troubles with Benotti’s bums [...] and a flying squad of our very own bums comes barreling down for a free-for-all.

14. an incompetent.

[US]J. Thompson ‘Sunrise at Midnight’ in Fireworks (1988) 153: Jo’na was a bum [...] Alla time make big mess, foul up ever’ting.

In compounds

bum-bitch (n.) [bitch n.1 ]

(US black) a derog. term for a young street girl.

[US]L. Pettiway Workin’ It 108: She might talk about my girlfriends like they’re bums. ‘Them little bum-bitches you be with’ and stuff like that. She used to call me ‘bum-bitch’ too. I run the streets a lot, so that’s what she says about me now.
bum factory (n.) (US)

1. a saloon or liquor store, the image is of the creation of vagrant alcoholics .

[US]Lincoln Eve. Call (NE) 15 Oct. 8/4: The deputy was not long the proprietor of the liquor store [...] Mrs Noonan claiming to own the property [...] and the bum factory is still engaged in its legalized manufacture of sots.
[US]S.F. Call 26 June 6/1: The [Republican ] party in this city must not take its orders from a saloon. The party must get off the free lunch route and refuse absolutely the dictation of the bum factories.
[US]Fulton Co. News (McConnellsburgh, PA) 1 Apr. 6/7: Temperance Notes [...] The clients of the bum factory seem to supply more than their share of patrons for the bomb factory.
[US]Capital Times (Madison, WI) 23 Mar. 11/3: When albums when out of style an album manufacturer decided to turn his place into a saloon. He hired a sign painter to change the sign ‘Album Factory’. [...] He accomplished the job by simply painting out the letter ‘L’ so that it reads A Bum Factory.
[US]LaFayette Sun (AL) 6 Nov. 7/5: ‘I have seen the misery which [alcohol] has created and I shall do everything within my power to wipe out the thirty-eight bum factories which we now have in Cudahy’.

2. a cheap hostel.

Lincoln Eve. Call (NE) 20 July 5/2: The bum factories had their usual scrubbing out last night.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 440: Bum factory, A cheap flop house.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 41: bum factory.– [...] cheap lodging-house.

3. (1920s-30s) a mission.

[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 440: Bum factory, (2) A mission.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 41: bum factory.–A mission.
[SA]L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 107: A ‘bum factory’ is any charitable organisation.
bum gang (n.)

(US prison) the prisoners who perform the most unpleasant tasks.

[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 440: Bum gang, In a prison, the detail of convicts who perform the most disagreeable tasks, such as policing the gutters, toilets and sewers.
bum’s rush (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

on a/the bum (US)

1. travelling as a tramp or beggar, scrounging, cadging.

[US] ‘That’s the Chisel!’ in Fred Shaw’s Champion Comic Melodist 36: Now all you coves, that’s on the bum, / Make all your cronies mizzle, / And to the Mission house do come, / For I tell you, ‘that’s the chisel’.
[UK]J.H. Carter ‘Our Member From Duck Creek Settlement’ in Log of Commodore Rollingpin 220: I’ve nigh an’ agin seed him go on a bum. / He thought nothin’ ov takin’ a twenty mile tramp.
[US]Century Mag. (N.Y.)Oct. 941/2: Plans are made also for going ‘on the bum’ the moment they are free [DA].
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 301: One honest man will put th’ whole force on th’ bum!
[US]Salt Lake Tribune (UT) 31 Jan. 17/6: When they spotted me all covered with mud comin’ along with the supe their eyes bunged out so you could hang your hat on ’em — they thought the devil was out on the bum, sure.
[US]J. London Road 34: The overland has stopped twice for me — for me, a poor hobo on the bum.
[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 68: Knocking around under the sidewalks on the bum with birds like these.
[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 31: Ikey is ‘on the bum,’ which is our idiomatic way of saying that a boy is not living at home.
[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 141: He’d blow the place, and go on the bum, see the world.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 12: Anyhow, having a room was better than being on the bum.
[UK]D. Dodge Bullets For The Bridegroom (1953) 34: Whit had just seen him on the bum in Reno.
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 172: On the bum for buckshee tears—for which, from time to time, you have a craving when the ducts are dry and there is nothing to cry about.
[UK]P. Terson Night to Make the Angels Weep (1967) I vii: You must never go into company with an empty glass. Otherwise they think you’re on the bum.
[US](con. 1938) H. Huncke ‘New Orleans, 1938’ in Eve. Sun Turned Crimson (1980) in Huncke Reader (1998) ) 90: I was strictly on the bum – any situation had – so to speak – to be taken advantage of.
F. Wheen Soul of Indiscretion (2001) 155: Two rather bogus Texas cowboys on the bum.
[Can]O.D. Brooks Legs 8: At the rate I’m giving my meat away I’ll be on the bum myself.

2. looting.

[US]C.G. Leland ‘Breitmann as an Uhlan’ in Hans Breitmann as an Uhlan 16: De treadful roarin Dootch mit de droom / Und de roompitty, pumpitty, poompitty pum! / De wild ferocious Dootch on a bum.

3. penniless.

[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Shocks of Doom’ in Voice of the City (1915) 101: I should think a man put on the bum from a good job just in one day would be tearing his hair.
[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 70: Two runs and all’d be over, and we’d be on the bum.
[US]A.J. Barr Let Tomorrow Come 115: Holy preachers come out every night [...] ’Till they get all your coin on the drum; / Then they tell you when you’re on the bum: [...] You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
[US] ‘Toledo Slim’ in Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 228: ’Tis true I’m on the bum, boys; I’m on the hog for fair.
[UK]J. Curtis Look Long Upon a Monkey 24: Racing at Wayton Ducis or any of these small country courses was strictly on the bum.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 810: on the bum – Literally, broken in pocket and spirit.
make a bum of (v.)

1. to make someone look a fool.

[US]Chicago Trib. 2 Nov. 38/2: The man who represented himelf to be king of the Klondike in 1900 swindled a real, bona fide count [...] [He] made a bum out of that count all right.
[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 55: If Tobasco had lived a few centuries earlier, what an awful bum he would have made out of Columbus.
Star-Trib. (MN) 17 Dec. 20/5: David once made a bum out of Goliath, but it is hardly possible that David Fultz will trim Organized Baseball.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 25 July [synd. col.] That’s Miguel’s ex-wife. She made a bum out of him and married a millionaire.
[US]Ogden Standard-Examiner (UT) 18 Feb. 1/4: [headline] ‘She Made a Bum Out of Me’ Says Dad Slaying Self, Tots.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 127: ‘You Wimp’s friends, no?’ ‘I don’t know [...] after he made bums of us today.’.
[US]L.A. Times 10 Mar. 38/1: Robert lee Johnson made a bum out of me. Or to be be more accurate, I made a bum out of myself.

2. to make a mess of, to do badly.

[US]H.C. Witwer Kid Scanlon 294: He’d be satisfied to let it go at half killin’ ’em both and makin’ a bum out of the Temple of the Inner Star.
[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 150: ‘Hey, girlie,’ cries Al, ‘you’re making a bum outa the rehearsal.’.
put the bum on (v.)

1. (US) to beg from someone.

[US]E. Anderson Hungry Men 3: I [...] put the bum on a priest out there.
[UK]K. Mackenzie Living Rough 97: A seedy-looking guy puts the bum on him.
[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 103: He tried to put the bum on me for a quarter.
[US]M. Braly It’s Cold Out There (2005) 191: He had approached JD to put the bum on him, asking for a quarter.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 179: They resent you putting the bum on them.

2. to interfere, to harass.

[US]T. Thackrey Thief 359: I let them hang in my place as long as they didn’t put the bum on customers.