Green’s Dictionary of Slang

gills n.1

[SE gill, a fish’s breathing apparatus, situated on each side of the neck]

1. the cheeks; often in phr. red in the gills or pink in the gills, embarrassed.

[UK]G. Gascoigne (trans.) Supposes IV iv: philogano: I think he be drunken. ferrarese: Sure he seems so. See you not how red he is about the gills?
[UK]Dekker Honest Whore Pt 1 IV ii: This shal hang him by th’ gills.
[UK]Jonson Alchemist II iv: subtle: And shall we twitch him? face: Through both the gills.
Bacon Historia Naturalis n.p.: Redness about the cheeks and gills [F&H].
[UK]Ford ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore I ii: And had not your sudden coming prevented us, I had let my gentleman blood under the gills.
[UK]Behn Sir Patient Fancy II i: If we Men of Quality fall out [...] why, there comes a Challenge upon it, and ten to one some body or other is run through the Gills.
[UK]M. Stevenson Wits Paraphras’d 53: Then make a thousand wanton pauses, / With scrubbing Gills, and rubbing Noses.
[UK]C. Coffey Boarding-School 13: Oh Fy! your Gills look as red as a Turkey-Cocks.
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Epistle to the Reviewers’ Works (1794) I 10: Whether ye look all rosy round the gills, Or hatchet-fac’d like starving cats.
[UK]‘Bumper Allnight. Esquire’ Honest Fellow 57: She stroak’d his fat gills, as she sat on his knee.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: Gills, the cheeks. To look rosy about the gills; to have a fresh complexion. To look merry about the gills: to appear cheerful.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 187: The Bug-destroyer munched a candle and sluiced his greasy chops with Jacky [...] rubbing the tallow from his gills.
[UK]‘The Jolly Fishmonger’ in Corinthian in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 41: She strok’d his fat gills as she sat on his knee.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Handley Cross (1854) 424: A rosy-gilled, middle-aged, middle-sized man.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 120/2: Gills, the cheeks.
[UK]Thackeray Newcomes I 84: Binnie, as brisk and rosy about the gills as Chanticleer, broke out in a morning salutation.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 29/2: The ‘cop’ [...] saw Joe looking very pale in the gills, but it was from fright, and not faint.
[US]‘Johnny Cross’ ‘Fulton Street’ Orig. Pontoon Songster 11: Another lodged here in my gills, and I nearly choked to death.
[UK]‘Old Calabar’ Won in a Canter I 153: [He] made his appearance on deck, remarkably white about the gills, and looking [...] more like a ‘washed out old shirt,’ than any thing else.
[US]Eve. Chronicle (Virginia City) 10 June in M. Lewis Mining Frontier (1967) 202: It kind o’ made us feel uneasy about the gills.
[UK]E.J. Milliken Childe Chappie’s Pilgrimage 50: Red shine his gills.
[UK] ‘’Arry in ’Arrygate’ Punch 24 Sept. 133/1: Settin’ about in the garden, jest like a old saffron-gill’d ghost.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 32: Gills, the lower part of the face.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 13 July 4/3: [O]ur red gilled friend is not keeping and training horses as a sort of benevolent institution.
[US]C. M’Govern By Bolo and Krag 35: ‘I can’t let you back on the ship,’ ses the patroon, getting red around the gills.
[US]J. Lomax Cowboy Songs 177: Through rain, hail, and snow, frozen plumb to the gills.
[US]A. Stringer Door of Dread 113: A he-butler that looks like a missin’ link and then finished off by that pink-gilled wop wit’ the meat-carver fresco-work all over his map!
[UK]Lawrence & Skinner Boy in Bush 207: Tom twisted his fingers, white at the gills.
[US](con. 1910s) L. Nason A Corporal Once 108: He swallowed often and hard, and had a nice green tinge to his gills.
[US]Cab Calloway ‘For the Last Time I Cried Over You’ 🎵 [Spoken:] What’s the matter with you, pops; you sure look beat about the gills.
[US]F. Brown Dead Ringer 102: You’re still a little pale around the gills, kid.
[US]T. Berger Reinhart in Love (1963) 149: I caught a fishy look around your gills.
[US]P. Roth My Life as a Man (1974) 198: Weak in the knees and white around the gills.
[UK]R. McGough An Imaginary Menagerie 44: Then / pasa doble / till pink in the gills.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Rev. 25 July 7: A blush of pink around her gills.

2. the corners of a stand-up shirt-collar.

[UK]H.N. Coleridge Six Mths in West Indies 226: Your shirt collars should be loose round the neck, and the gills low .
[UK]Mr Mathews’ Comic Annual 14: After threatening to lay hold of the Black mongrel by the gills, and pull him about like a salmon.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Jorrocks Jaunts (1874) 134: Green ran his fingers through the bushy sides of his yellow wig, jerked up his gills, and [...] strutted up to that inn.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour 196: He wore no gills.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 176: Gills overlarge shirt collars.

3. the mouth.

[UK] ‘Mouths For The Men’ in Secret Songster 23: Then the girls stretch’d their gills so monstrously wide.
[UK]Sam Sly 7 Apr. 2/2: Mr. P—ll, grocer, Poplar, not to let that leather-gilled boy of his call out ‘Buy, buy,’ on Saturday nights, it is very annoying.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 157/2: Advancing to us with a short black pipe in his gills, he held out his big ‘mauly’.
[US]Letters by an Odd Boy 26: You would have shut up that two-legged moke [...] who only opened his gills to brag.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 3 Nov. 3: But I didn’t see anything froth around his gills.

In phrases

down in the gills


C. Rowcroft Fanny the Little Milliner 13: She looks very white, and rather down in the gills.
J.W. Wilstach Angel and the King 266: Fie had missed from his pocket a roll of bank bills, / Three hundred good dollars, the price of a horse, / And it made him decidedly down in the gills.
Salesmanship 86/2: But as I left the room I felt pretty well ‘down in the gills’.
M.F. Jones Cooter Farm 105: You look a little down in the gills, boy [...] Tough night?
for one’s gills (adv.)

(UK Und.) to one’s gain, to one’s advantage.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 69/1: A dispute ensued, the ‘fly cop’ being accused by the ‘moll-tool’ of ‘sticking’ to a ‘skin’ for his own ‘gills’.
grease one’s gills (v.) (also grease the gills)

to eat heartily and substantially.

[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 143: ‘To grease one’s gills,’ ‘to have a good feed,’ or make a hearty meal.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 176: Gills the lower part of the face. Bacon. ‘To grease one’s gills,’ ‘to have a good feed,’ or make a hearty meal.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
Nashua Teleg. 6 Sept. 4/2: Is the American housewife [...] being compelled to pay a higher price for bread so that Ivan can continue to grease his gills?
green about the gills (adj.) (also green around/in/round the gills, blue..., greenish...)

feeling and looking sick, esp. from an excess of alcohol.

London Society 6 86/2: Seeing I looked rather down in the mouth, he said: ‘Hallo, White! you look rather green about the gills; you must not be so shaky’.
[UK]Leeds Times 22 Jan. 7/6: He sighed and looked peevish, being green about the gills and up-all-nightish.
[UK] ‘’Arry at the Sea-Side’ Punch 10 Sept. 111/2: See that bloke shudder and shrink / And go gooseberry green in the gills.
[UK]Hants. Advertiser 31 Jan. 7/7: A gentleman of fifty, looking very green indeed about the gills, was introduced to me.
[US]S. Lewis Our Mr Wrenn (1936) 20: Why, if Gogie had to [...] watch every single last movement of a fool girl that can’t even run the adding-machine, why, he’d get green around the gills.
[Can]R. Service ‘Funk’ in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man 59: You’re duckin’ all the bullets, / And you’re green as gorgonzola round the gills.
[UK]Wodehouse Carry on, Jeeves 132: The poor old bird was looking pretty green about the gills.
[US]J.M. Cain Postman Always Rings Twice (1985) 53: I was plenty blue around the gills.
[US](con. 1920s) Dos Passos Big Money in USA (1966) 975: Nat [...] tried to get Charley to take a drink. ‘You look kinda green around the gills, Charley.’.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Million Buck Snatch!’ Dan Turner - Hollywood Detective Jan. 🌐 Dave Donaldson looked green around the gills.
[US]F. Brown Fabulous Clipjoint (1949) 92: He was still a little green about the gills.
[US]K. Vonnegut ‘The Boy Who Hated Girls’ Bagombo Snuff Box (1999) 191: Little fellow – kind of green around the gills.
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves in the Offing 136: He was looking, I noticed, fairly green about the gills.
[UK]B.S. Johnson All Bull 169: It was several days before my greenish-round-the-gills appearance finally wore off.
[UK]A. Payne ‘Minder on the Orient Express’ Minder [TV script] 98: You’ve gone a bit green around the gills, Mr Crane.
[Ire](con. 1920s) L. Redmond Emerald Square 61: He was green about the gills.
[UK]Eve. Standard Mag. 4 June 45: On the fourth dish of the day people would start to look a bit green around the gills.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Wind & Monkey (2013) [ebook] ‘You look a bit green around the gills’.
[UK]M. Amis Experience 296: Kingsley [...] was still out of sorts and one degree under, out of kilter and a bit green around the gills.
[Aus]T. Winton ‘Long, Clear View’ in Turning (2005) 196: The old man looks blue around the gills.
[SA]Cape Argus 1 Feb. 🌐 Composting made me green around the gills.
M. Mellon ‘Death of a One-Percenter’ in ThugLit Mar. [ebook] ‘You look too green about the gills to go hunting’.
[US]J. Ellroy Widespread Panic 121: ‘You’re green at the gills, Freddy. You should take a Bromo and hit the sack’.
red about the gills (adj.) (also red in the gills)

angry, choleric.

John o’ Groat Jrnl (Scotland) 2 May 6/1: When getting red in the gills, take him out into the drawing room.
Derby Daily Teleg. 11 July 2/3: An old gentleman, very red about the gills.
to the gills (adv.)

absolutely, completely.

[Ire]Cork Examiner 7 Oct. 3/6: For the Challenge Cup [...] Mr Davis’s br[own] m[are] Game-the-the-Gills.
W. Buckley Croppies Lie Down 509: He [...] stood there, staring at the haughty face of the dead. [...] ‘Game to the gills by G—d!’ .
[UK]Wodehouse Carry on, Jeeves 2: She was a girl with a wonderful profile, but steeped to the gills in serious purpose.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 3 Feb. [synd. col.] You can be found in the corners of any nightclub on Broadway plastered to the gills.
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 192: ‘My dear chap,’ I said, gentlemanly to the gills.
[US]C.R. Bond 20 Mar. in A Flying Tiger’s Diary (1984) 129: There sat Pappy Boyington, Red Probst, Bill Bartling, [...] all stewed to the gills.
[US]M. Hart Winged Victory II v: I’m still stuffed to the gills.
[US]Southern & Hoffenberg Candy (1970) 86: Schnapps! Steinhagen from the Tyrol! It’ll juice you to the gills!
[US]Mad mag. July 52: He killed the contents and ended up stewed to the gills.
[UK]G. Lambert Inside Daisy Clover (1966) 262: Considering I was full of liquor, gas, burnt coffee, and doped to the gills.
[US]E. Torres Q&A 98: They’re coked to the gills.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 169: He was stoked to the gills.
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 73: Stoned to the gills, Onus one day crashed a fork-lift into a Snapple machine.
[Ire]P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 24: ‘Your credit card won’t swipe, Sir,’ [...] because the thing is maxed to the focking gills.
[US]T. Pluck ‘Deadbeat’ in Life During Wartime (2018) 34: A thousand-yard mope face on like he’s pilled to the gills.
[Scot](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 45: The smell ay that cookin makes ye seek. Bloody seek tae the gills.
[US]S.A. Crosby Blacktop Wasteland 150: The boxes [...] were both stuffed to the gills with cash.
[UK]M. Herron Secret Hours 75: [T]ake the canteen. Everyone knows it’s run at a loss, but it’s packed to the gills every lunchtime.
white about/around/in/round the gills (adj.)

1. frightened.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker I 23: Well, the Quaker looked pretty white about the gills.
[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick in England I 268: Lord, how white he looked about the gills arterwards.
G.P.R. James Beauchamp 52: You’re not hurt, only frightened, devilish frightened, that’s all, and you're still white about the gills, and fishy in the eyes.
[UK]Bucks Herald 2 Jan. 5/6: Certainly he did look a little white about the gills when my hon, opponent delcared himself for [etc.].
[UK]Manchester Courier 19 Nov. 6/2: Some of the spectators [...] were getting very white about the gills.
C.R. Low Letter of Marque 80: [...] to see how the shots were flying about, and whether the Johnny Crapauds looked ‘white about the gills’.
[US]Californian 5 142/1: Damn his white hands, an’ his lies; he’s comin’ out here tomorrow— O, ye needn’t turn white about the gills !
[US]E. Townsend Chimmie Fadden Explains 21: ‘I’d radder go on wid a sober man dan a drunken gentleman,’ says she, lookin kinder wite round de gills.
[UK]E.S. Mott Mingled Yarn 118: [W]eak as water, and very white about the ‘gills,’ I appeared before a Medical Board.
[UK]Sporting Times 13 May 4/4: ‘Hang it all! Take him off!’ entreated the wicket-keeper, a bit white about the gills. ‘He’ll kill somebody.’.
[Scot]Eve. Teleg. (Dundee) 5 Feb, 8/2: I barged into Jimmy London, looking dashed queer and white about the gills, evidently all gone to pieces.
[US](con. 1917–19) Dos Passos Nineteen Nineteen in USA (1966) 469: Everybody began to get white around the gills.
[US]B. Appel Tough Guy [ebook] Griffin [...] only had to show his face in a speak where they were fooling around with somebody’s else’s booze for the fooler-arounders to get white in the gills.

2. (also pale about/around/round the gills) feeling and looking sick, esp. from an excess of alcohol.

[UK]Sporting Mag. Dec. 103/2: Got a cross buttock, and a cut on the back of his head: grew white about the gills [...] It was with much difficulty that he could he persuaded to come on again.
[US]R. Waln Hermit in America on Visit to Phila. 2nd series 23: What the devil’s the matter, Tom? you look pale about the gills; — under the hatches, eh?
[UK]M. Scott Tom Cringle’s Log (1862) 62: Most of them were very white and blue in the gills when we sat down, and others of a dingy sort of whitey-brown, while they ogled the viands in a most suspicious manner.
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker I 23: Well, the Quaker looked pretty white about the gills.
[US]Yale Lit. Mag. Feb. 157: Poor fellow; he was looking ‘very white about the gills.’ [...]he arose and took a bee line for the back door, and disappeared, muttering something about a ‘different kind from what he was used to smoking’.
[UK]Bury Times 8 June 3/2: How pale you look about the gills!
[UK] ‘’Arry on His ’Oliday’ Punch 13 Oct. 160/2: To [...] spot the sick muffs as they lands / Awful flabby and white in the gills, and with hoptics so sheepishly sad.
[Scot]Aberdeen Jrnl 7 Apr. 6/6: Hallo, old man, what’s wrong? You look pale about the gills. Sick?
W.T. Eady I.D.B. 80: ‘You look a little white about the gills.’ ‘I suppose I shall get used to the rocking after a bit,’ replied Solomon; ‘it won’t go on like this all the time, will it?’.
[US]C. Connors Bowery Life [ebook] De old t'rush got w'ite around de gills. I t'ought he wuz goin’ ter drop dead w'ere he sat.
J. Conrad Set of Six 66: Poor father was remarkably white about the gills when we shook hands in Gravesend.
[US]Coshocton (OH) Trib. 8 Mar. 2/3: If I am pale around the gills the fact I won’t admit.
[UK]Herts. Advertiser 4 July 8/5: hen you meet a chap who’s looking ‘white about the gills,’ that’s a sure and certain sign that he needs Beecham’s .
[US]D. Runyon ‘The Brain Goes Home’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 223: He has a clean-looking face, always very white around the gills.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 5: Miss Dawn Astra seems to turn a trifle pale around the gills.
[US]J. Thompson Savage Night (1991) 37: She smiled weakly, still pale around the gills.
[UK]H.E. Bates Oh! To be in England (1985) 427: Ma, he couldn’t help thinking, looked a tiny bit pale round the gills.
[US]C. Himes Cotton Comes to Harlem (1967) 75: He looked white about the gills himself.
[US]G.V. Higgins Cogan’s Trade (1975) 23: He don’t look good at all [...] He looks white, all white around the gills.
[US]S. King Christine 380: You okay? [...] You look a little white around the gills.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Birthday 201: An old chokka at the bar asked why I was looking so white in the gills.