Green’s Dictionary of Slang

screw n.1

1. in sexual contexts [screw v. (2a)].

(a) a prostitute.

[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: Screw, a Strumpet, a common Prostitute.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

(b) an act of sexual intercourse; also in fig. use (see cit. 1971); cit. 1841 is an extended pun on eye n. (1) and sense 1b/SE screw, a twist of tobacco.

[UK] ‘Female Tobacconist’ in Gentleman’s Spicey Songster 43: One was a youth, turned twenty and two, / He view’d her bird’s eye, then called for a screw.
[US] in P. Smith Letter from My Father (1978) 61: She used to come to me at the Plaza Hotel for quick screws.
[UK]Lustful Memoirs of a Young and Passionated Girl 47: I [...] was often urged by the boys to let them have just one screw.
[US]T. Dreiser in Riggio Diaries (1982) 301: We register & then indulge in delicious screw.
[US] in G. Legman Limerick (1953) 11: There was a young man named Hughes / Who swore off all kinds of booze. / He said, ‘When I’m muddled / My senses get fuddled, / And I pass up too many screws.’.
[US] (ref. to late 19C) N. Kimball Amer. Madam (1981) 19: Never give the guest a chance to ask for credit or say it was a bad screw.
[UK] ‘Christopher Columbo’ in Bold (1979) 53: Columbo and his scurvy crew / For want of a screw were frantic.
[US] in G. Legman Limerick (1953) 348: That last screw was delicious.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Weed (1998) 132: His first screw in the home of a girl who was fourteen.
[Ire]T. Murphy Morning After Optimism in Plays: 3 (1994) Scene v: Life’s a good screw, yeah-yeah!
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 59: Flash [...] was down the back of the car park having a screw with a woman from the cheese factory.
[UK] ‘Barnacle Bill the Sailor’ in Bold (1979) 20: It’s me and my crew: we’ve come for a screw!
[Aus]P. Temple Black Tide (2012) [ebook] All these lovely cops from Russell Street pop round [...] Basically looking for an easy screw.
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 262: I’d hate to die thinking I missed a good screw somewhere along the line.
[Aus]P. Temple Truth 20: Great screw too. If a little hasty.

(c) one’s partner in intercourse, esp. as a good screw or bad screw; usu. applied to a woman.

[UK] ‘Mother H’s Knocking Shop; or, A Bit Of Old Hat!’ in Gentleman’s Spicey Songster 44: Said the bawd, I perceive, you’re a bit of a screw, / If you preach next Sunday, I’ll come in a pew.
[US] in P. Smith Letter from My Father (1978) 60: Besides being a good screw, Pearl was one of the best manicurists.
[US]H. Miller Roofs of Paris (1983) 129: The girl is a wonderful screw.
[US]Trimble 5000 Adult Sex Words and Phrases.
[Aus]Lette & Carey Puberty Blues 27: The boys had to be good surfers and the girls had to be good screws.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 341: screw. To engage in sexual intercourse or a person considered as a sexual object.
[Aus]B. Moore Lex. of Cadet Lang. 321: usage: ‘I bet she’s a good screw’.

(d) (US) a synon. for fuck, the phr.

[US]J. Rechy Numbers (1968) 52: Get the screw out of here, you little bastard!

(e) a dismissive and pej. ref. to a woman, relegating her to the status of a pure sex object.

[UK]N. Dunn Up the Junction 97: I wonder if old Macdonald’s still there – the skinny screw in the cookhouse?

2. with ref. to a key or lock.

(a) (UK Und., also skeleton screw) a (skeleton) key.

[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (2nd edn) n.p.: Screw, a false key.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: Screw. A skeleton key used by housebreakers to open a lock. To stand on the screw signifies that a door is not bolted, but merely locked.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 18 Sept. 377/1: Donnelly said, they went to the Draper’s and went in on the screw and sneaked out a piece of broady. Q.What does the scraw mean - A.Turning round the latch of a door; broady, means broad cloth.
[UK]Eve. Mail (London) 5 Dec. 3/2: A man by the name of Shannon [...] showed them a screw (a skeleton key).
[UK]Life and Trial of James Mackcoull 297: The box contained a number of false keys, [...] such as a flashman would denominate rum kates, screws, dubs, and blanks.
[UK]H. Brandon Dict. of the Flash or Cant Lang. 165/1: Screws – housebreaking implements.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ Mysteries and Miseries of N.Y. I 116: ‘Screw.’ A key. ‘Screwsman;’ a key maker.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 317/1: Screw, A false key.
[Aus]J.P. Townsend Rambles in New South Wales 231: They [...] were ever intent on robbing the stores with false keys, called by them screws.
[UK]J. Archbold Magistrate’s Assistant (3rd edn) 445: Housebreaking implements – screws.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 145/1: No ‘darky’ in hand now; no ‘jemmy’ to pry a drawer open, or to ‘neddy’ a ‘bloke,’ within our grasp; nor bunch of ‘screws’ to open our way to what we wanted.
[UK]Macmillan’s Mag. (London) ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ XL 503: I [...] guyed down a double before you could say Jack Robinson. It was a good job I did, or else I should have got lagged (sent to penal servitude) because I had the James (crowbar) and screws (skeleton keys) on me.
[UK]‘Dagonet’ ‘A Plank Bed Ballad’ in Referee 12 Feb. n.p.: I pulled out a chive, but I soon came to grief, / And with screws and a james I was collared.
[US]J. Hawthorne Confessions of Convict 252: The wax found on Shinburn’s person had a screw imbedded in it.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 258: He sprung the paddy with a screw. He opened the lock with a key.
[US]Spokane Press (WA) 22 Sept. 7/3: The gun tumbled out of her dump and glommed the rocks after using a screw on the lock.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 113: He would never admit that we could [...] plant the coin, throw the jail screws in the creek, and go back and lock ourselves up.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 88: We opened that [lock] with a skeleton screw.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 19: I got a screw (a pass key) that would open any catch-lock.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 186/2: Screw, n. [...] 2. (Carnival). A key.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 817: skelton [sic] screw – A master key or key.

(b) a robbery achieved with a skeleton key.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 264: To screw a place is to enter it by false keys [...] Any robbery effected by such means is temed a screw.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 10 Mar. 3/4: A very skilful workman, in the screw line, alI the way from Manchester, via Van Dieman's Land, paid the excellent wine and spirit establishment of Mr. Samuells [...] a visit.

(c) (also bull-screw) a turnkey; a prison warder.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Screw. A Turnkey. Cant.
[UK]Egan Boxiana I 122: Where flash has been pattered in all that native purity of style, and richness of eloquence, which would have startled a High Toby Gloque, and put a Jigger Screw [i.e. a prison warder] upon the alert.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 381: On inquiring for Bob Logic, at the hatchways, any of the screws will direct you to my berth.
[US]N.Y. Herald 27 May 1/5: [report of a jailbreak] The keeper must look to his ‘screws’ as some of them are certainly more than loose.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]J.C. Parkinson Places and People 228: Under the walls of Ilford jail [...] Dick called back to memory how he had come out of that jail from ‘doing’ nine months [...] and the lenient way in which the ‘screws’ treated him.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 77: The slang name for all the [prison] offcials is ‘screws’.
[UK]A. Griffiths Fast and Loose III 199: I’d change places with you for less that that, if we could swindle the screws.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 4: This [...] can only be effected by the connivance of a ‘screw,’ or warder.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 18 Mar. 4/8: The jug there [i.e. Adelaide] is worse than any — the skilly is bad and the ‘screws’ (warders) are terrible dogs.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 100: It is not the custom of ‘screws’ to make inquiries in regard to how and why a light man was assigned to the heaviest work in a prison.
[UK]Marvel XV:376 Jan. 12: I could see the ‘screws’ a-searchin’ all round; but they couldn’t nohow discover my little ken.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Song of a Prison’ in Roderick (1967–9 II) 312: ’Tis a song of the weary warders, whom prisoners call ‘the screws’.
[US]A. Berkman Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1926) 111: Watch the screws and the stools they is worse than bulls.
[UK]S. Scott Human Side of Crook and Convict Life 80: We worked for old Bill G—as we worked for no other officer. He was our ‘Screw’.
[US]A.J. Barr Let Tomorrow Come 164: I suppose you have to be before they make you a bull-screw in a dump like this.
[US](con. 1910s) C.W. Willemse Behind The Green Lights 309: Life in jail without money is hell, and if you’ve got money the screws will give you anything.
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 15: The screws ought to be around soon letting the blokes out of their floweries.
[US]W.R. Burnett High Sierra in Four Novels (1984) 288: Barmy was smooth and clever and knew how to get around the screws.
[Aus]Cessnock Eagle (NSW) 4 Oct. 4/2: Screws in Peter, screws in me floor, / Screws all around and round.
[Aus](con. 1941) E. Lambert Twenty Thousand Thieves 131: Hang all screws and provosts [...] and make ’em dig latrines for the rest of their lives.
[US]‘William Lee’ Junkie (1966) 78: When the screw came, I’d spit in his face.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 47: Ever ‘ear of the screw married the prostitute.
[UK]C. MacInnes Absolute Beginners 152: Heaven help [...] the screws wherever they send him to.
[UK]F. Norman Guntz 5: I passed two screws who were on their way up the hill.
[Aus]W. Dick Bunch of Ratbags 166: We could understand this too, the way the screws belted them around inside the can.
[UK]T. Parker Frying-Pan 13: Maybe all screws aren’t bastards after all.
[US](con. 1960s) D. Goines Whoreson 238: I gave it to the screw at dress-out.
[Aus]K. Gilbert Living Black 246: That’s one thing the blacks can’t stand, is black screws.
[UK]A. Sayle Train to Hell 92: When I was in Wandsworf, on remand, right, this screw comes up to me.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 192: An MGM Big House where [...] Jimmy Cagney called the guards ‘dirty screws’.
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 10: Swallowed a couple of screws (metal variety not uniformed).
[Ire]P. Howard The Joy (2015) [ebook] All I know is that as long as that screw, Hawk-eye, keeps his beady little eyes on me, then I’m going to carry on playing the role of the doting father.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 4 Feb. 15: The problems he did have came from some of the ‘screws’, who would try various methods of intimidation.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 71: In Wandsworth [they] soon become allies in the constant battle of wits with the screws.
[UK]K. Koke ‘I’m Back’ [lyrics] I’m signing autographs in hell / Screws are coming to my cell.
[Aus]D. Whish-Wilson Old Scores [ebook] The set-up made sense. Workable from the screws’ point of view, but just ridiculous enough for them to deny it, should it ever go wrong.

(d) (US) a police officer.

[US]S. King Roadwork in Bachman Books (1995) 521: ‘Come and get me ya dirty coppers!’ [...] ‘How about some hot lead, ya dirty screw!’ he screamed at Fenner.

3. in terms meaning hard tasks or taskmasters.

(a) (US campus) a particularly demanding instructor.

[US] Harvard Register in Hall (1856) 378: One must experience all the stammering and stuttering, the unending doubtings and guessings, to understand fully the power of a mathematical screw.
Tour through College 26: The consequence was a patient submission to the screw, and a loss of college honors and patronage.
[US]A. Peirce Rebelliad 77: Screws, duns, and other such evils.
see sense 3c.
[UK]Cornhill Mag. II 381: He was an immense screw at school [F&H].

(b) (US campus) the essays and examinations they set.

[US]Harvard Lyceum 8 Sept. 102: Haunted by day with fearful screw [DA].
[US]B.H. Hall College Words (rev. edn) 404: screw. [...] an excessive, unnecessarily minute, and annoying examination of a student by an instructor is called a screw. The instructor is often designated by the same name. An imperfect recitation is sometimes thus denominated.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Apr. 2: That test was such a screw.

(c) a miser [? they screw down their money or screw it out of creditors].

[UK]Egan Life in London in Bk of Sports (1832) 7: His friends [...] said of Coachy, ‘that there was nothing of the screw about him’.
[UK]C.M. Westmacott Eng. Spy I 323: He’s a bit of a screw.
[UK]Egan Finish to the Adventures of Tom and Jerry (1889) 52: There was nothing of the screw about him, and what he axed for, he tipped for, like a Gent.
[UK] ‘Mother H’s Knocking Shop; or, A Bit Of Old Hat!’ in Gentleman’s Spicey Songster 44: Said the bawd, I perceive, you’re a bit of a screw.
[UK]Thackeray Diary of C. Jeames de la Pluche in Works III (1898) 413: It’s not my fault if that old screw Lady Backacres cabbidged three hundred yards of lace, and kep back 4 of the biggest diminds [...] and that Lady B. declared they were lost.
[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend II 240: Mr. Miles was a loose fish; a bachelor who had recently inherited the fortune of an old screw his uncle, and was spending thrift in all the traditional modes.
[UK]G.A. Sala Quite Alone I 63: He was to the day of his death as avaricious an old screw [...] as could be found between Bermondsey and Brixton.
[Ire]C.J. Kickham Knocknagow 139: I didn’t like to have Ned get the name of bein’ a screw.
[UK]Kipling Civil and Military Gazette 25 Dec. in Pinney (1987) 131: Screw, cold blooded old reptile.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 12 July 12/4: In other words, ‘We married you for your money bags, you mean Australian screw!’.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.].
[US]Bawdy N.Y. State MS. 5: Its cheaper and they give rebates to cheap screws like you.
[NZ]H. Thompson ‘The Rabbit Raid’ in Ballads About Business and Back-Block Life 53: His love of gold was so intense / He’ d starve himself to save expense [...] He was a screw—.
[US]G. North ‘Gun Guile’ in Greater Gangster Stories Feb. [Internet] I wanted to see if you really were the cheap screw I’d heard you were!

(d) (Aus.) a station overseer.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 13 Aug. 14/2: ‘Screw’ – in gaol it means warder; out back it signifies station overseer. Navvies invariably call the ganger the ‘gaffer’ or the ‘screw.’.

4. (US) a pressurised or stressful situation; note put the screw(s) on

[Aus]N.-Y. National Advocate 17 Dec. 2/2: Lottery. – The offices were crowded on Wednesday evening with persons to receive payment of large and small prizes, which were promptly paid. SEIXAS sold two 5,000 dollar prizes at his road to wealth — not an unapt name. How many jocund faces have been made, and heavy hearts lightened by the small shares of Fortune’s favour. Several screws were lightened.

5. an old and/or broken-down horse[? racing jargon screw, to force a horse to the front; thus a horse can be made to gain a better than expected place; note late 19C local New Orleans screw, a fool].

[UK]J.C. Apperley Nimrod’s Hunting Tour 215: Mr. Charles Boultbee, the best screw driver in England. (Note) This is somewhat technical and wants an explanation. A lame or very bad horse is called a screw [F&H].
[UK]R.F. Walond Paddiana I 169: Moses is a screw.
[NZ]M.A. Barker Station Life in N.Z. 45: Her horse must have been quieter and better broken than they generally are. F--- says that probably it was a very old ‘station screw’.
[UK]C. Rampini Letters from Jamaica 38: These two poor goose-necked, fiddle-headed screws – these ‘soldier-officer horses’.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 114: Goring put me on an old screw of a troop horse, with one leg like a gate-post.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 Aug. 24/2: Dead, the knacker would want half-a-crown to remove it. It was the most miserable and gauntest of ‘screws.’.
[UK]J. Astley Fifty Years (2nd edn) I 53: I happened to be off at the ‘fall of the flag’ with my old screw.
[US] ‘Top Hand’ in Lingenfelter et al. Songs of the Amer. West (1968) 336: If anything goes wrong, he lays it on the screws.
[UK]J. Buchan Greenmantle (1930) 355: All the horses had been commandeered for the war, he said [...] The second day he returned with two – miserable screws and deplorably short in the wind from a diet of beans.
Ogilvie & Armour Horse Laughter 63: Buyer of old screw. ‘I want her for a point-to-point.’.

6. a horse, with no pej. sense.

[UK]R.S. Surtees Ask Mamma 288: ‘Ah, my screw, is it?’ replied Jack, turning round, ‘dat is a queer name for a horse – screw – hopes he’s a good ’un.’.
[Aus]Australasian (Melbourne) 2 Feb. 139/2: Jones on a leggy high-spirited screw, prancing about.
[UK]G.J. Whyte-Melville M. or N. 61: The utmost speed attainable by a pair of high wheels, a well-bred screw, and a rough-looking driver.
[Aus]‘Banjo’ Paterson ‘An Idyll of Dandaloo’ in Man from Snowy River (1902) 40: All the cornstalks from the West, / On ev’ry kind of moke and screw, / Came forth in all their glory drest.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ In Bad Company 222: An unpretending tax-cart, to which were harnessed a pair of queer, unmatched screws.

7. in senses of SE screw out of, i.e. one’s employer.

(a) wages, salary; also attrib. see cite 1890.

[UK]D. Beveridge Letter in Ld. Beveridge India called Them (194?) 26: I have nothing to complain of in the conduct of the Blackies except perhaps their delay in announcing an augmentation of screw .
[UK]G.A. Sala Quite Alone I 11: ‘What he wants in parliament with twenty thousand a year I can’t make out.’ [...] ‘Twenty thousand. That’s a tremendous screw’.
Mt Alexander Mail (Vic.) 8 Feb. 3/1: Here is a nice young man, who annually earns a handsome ‘screw,’ (pardon the slang).
[UK]T. Frost Circus Life and Circus Celebrities 281: The salary received is the ‘screw’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Jan. 12/1: Sir James Palmer, baronet, is now, and has for many years been a constable in the Victorian force, notwithstanding that he has a private income of at least five or six times his poor ‘official screw.’.
[UK]A. Griffiths Fast and Loose III 26: What’s your screw at Walso’s? Three or four hundred a year?
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 22 Nov. 2/3: Teacher: ‘[W]hat is meant by “that peace of mind which passeth all understanding”.’ Young Early Birder: ‘Please, sir, I guess it’s what ma gives pa when he comes home late on screw nights’.
[Aus]K. Mackay Out Back 2: How the blazes do yer mean to make up a ’undred out of yer month’s screw?
[UK]Binstead & Wells Pink ’Un and Pelican 25: He frequently had drawn his ‘screw’ in advance.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Send Round the Hat’ in Roderick (1972) 472: Tom, most of whose screw went in borrowed quids, etc.
[UK]Sporting Times 4 Feb. 1/5: ‘This litter’y life is mighty exhausting at the price,’ growled Pitcher as he took his screw.
[UK][perf. Vesta Tilley] I Know My Business [lyrics] There's Mr Winston Churchill, now, his place would suit me fine / [...] / If ‘cheek’s’ the thing, I’d give 'em cheek, for less than half his screw.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 3 July 2nd sect. 9/1: They Say [...] That the English wheelwright is doing all his screw in on zam-buk.
[UK]Marvel 22 Feb. 15: I’ll earn my screw [...] I’ll work for you as hard as I would work for myself.
[Aus]L. O’Neil ‘L’Egyptienne’ in Dinkum Aussie and Other Poems 37: I worked an’ belonged to me union, an’ drew down a sizeable screw.
[UK]Auden & Isherwood Ascent of F6 I ii: A dreary little clerk on a dreary little screw – / Can’t you find something proper to do?
[UK]J. MacLaren-Ross ‘A Bit of a Smash in Madras’ in Memoirs of the Forties (1984) 284: The sum seems a bit stiff [...] five hundred chips was pretty near a whole month’s screw.
[UK]P. Larkin ‘Fiction and the Reading Public’ in Coll. Poems (1988) 54: For I call the tune in this racket; / I pay your screw.
[UK]G. Melly Owning Up (1974) 142: I preferred a straight screw with none of the responsibility for breakdowns and broken contracts.
[UK]P. Larkin ‘Livings’ in High Windows 40: And however you bank your screw, the money you save / Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.
[UK]C. Logue Prince Charming 27: You earned your ‘screw’ and your pension.
[US]UGK ‘Swisha And Dosha’ [lyrics] Fuck niggaz bumpin gums, real niggaz be bumpin screw.

(b) pocket money.

[UK]Marvel 10 Mar. 197: As soon as I get my weekly screw from dad.

(c) a swindle.

[UK]N. Dunn Up the Junction 39: She’s got a finger in all the screws in Battersea [...] She handles just about every kind of merchandise.
[US]R. Price Ladies’ Man (1985) 221: Everybody was getting fucked over. This world was a royal screw.

8. a pick-me-up, a tonic [it ‘pulls one together’].

[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 232: He was in the habit of taking every morning a ‘screw’ in the shape of a little dose of bitters to correct the effects of the last evening’s festivities.

9. (Aus.) an unpleasant old woman.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Oct. 17/1: The noun ‘screw’ has been muchly annexed by the slanguage. As pointed out, a gaol-warder or railway ‘gaffer’ is known as a ‘screw’; a disagreeable, cantankerous old woman is generally referred to as ‘a regular old screw.’ Both manual and brain-toilers speak of their remuneration as their ‘screw.’.

10. (orig. Aus.) a look, a stare, a gaze, esp. a challenging one.

[Aus]Gadfly (Adelaide) 1 Aug. 9/1: Me and Bill both rushes ter the winder ter ’ave a screw. We near dropped down dead with joy, for who does we see but the twins’ old girl.
[Aus]R.D. Doughty diary 10 Aug. [Internet] Chas and I up to the first line this afternoon. Had a good screw around.
[Aus]T. Wood Cobbers 84: Have a screw at that bullick. No; not that ’un – him yonder.
[Ire]‘Myles na gCopaleen’ Best of Myles (1968) 58: He was havin’ a rare oul’ screw at it, burnin the light all night.
[UK]D. Davin For the Rest of Our Lives 373: There’s a pile of locations there you might take a screw at.

Pertaining to sex

In compounds

screwdriver (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

dry screw (n.)

see separate entry.

still-screw (n.)

(US black) an upright act of sexual intercourse while slow-dancing.

[US] in P. Smith Letter from My Father (1978) 158: In Harlem [...] white women and their colored partners, or vice versa the colored women with their white partners danced by in passionate embrace (‘still-screw’ they called it), while practically standing still on the dance floor, going through all the motions of complete, tense fornication.
three screws (n.) [brandname, Three Screws + pun on sense 1b above]

(Can.) an aluminium container holding three condoms.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 1224: [...] since ca. 1920.
throw someone a screw (v.)

to have sexual intercourse with.

[US] in G. Legman Limerick (1953) 14: His wife said, ‘Oh, stuff / That philosophy guff / Up your ass, dear, and throw me a screw!’.

Pertaining to a key or lock

In derivatives

screwess (n.)

(Aus./UK prison) a female prison officer.

[Ire]B. Behan Borstal Boy 138: They were good sandwiches, and after the humiliation I had undergone from that old screwess, I might as well eat them.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Screwess. Female prison officer.
(ref. to 1986) C. Bronson Good Prison Guide [ebook] I recall about 1986/87 when female screws started to work in men’s prisons. It really was a big thing in those days to see a ‘screwess’.
[UK]C. Bronson Up on the Roof [ebook] Anyway, there was a gorgeous screwess, and it turned out she was a sex change. It blew me away.

In compounds

screwdriver (n.)

see separate entry.

screwman (n.)

a thief, a burglar.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 74: Mervyn Fraser [...] had come to be known among the boys as the screw-man’s day-dream. He was an insurance-assessor, and bent as Robin Hood’s bow.
screwsman (n.)

1. a skilled house-breaker.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 1 Nov. 83/3: The man figured in London [...] as one of the leaders of the swell mob, and was considered as the best ‘screwsman’ and ‘fitter’ in the mteropolis, but was finally ‘served’ with a term in Botany Bay.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 317/1: Screwsman, [...] a thief who makes and uses false keys.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 77: screwsman A burglar who works with keys, picks, dubs, bettys, etc., etc.
[UK] ‘Six Years in the Prisons of England’ in Temple Bar Mag. Mar. 543: I got to prigging pockets, and from that I got to be a ‘screwsman’.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 505: I asked a screwsman if he would lend me some screws because I had a place cut and dried.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 18 Nov. 5/2: I’m tired o’ Rob Ryot the snidesman, screwsman, peter-claimer.
[Aus]Dubbo Liberal (NSW) 30 Jan. 3/4: There are two distinct types of burglar. One is the skilled and practised ‘cracksman’ or ‘screwsman’.
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 263: When a screwsman’s got a job on, he daren’t go on the oil the night before.
[UK]S. Scott Human Side of Crook and Convict Life 154: It’s Arthur Comny, the L—— screwsman (burglar) in for 10 years and a ticket!
[Ire]Eve. Herald (Dublin) 9 Dec. 4/6: ‘Fence’ is the name given to receivers of stolen property, and, as the name implies, they have to ‘fence’ between the ‘screwsman’ (burglar) and the police.
[UK]G. Ingram Cockney Cavalcade 77: Why was it when anyone wanted a ‘gaff screwed’ they came to and got one of the Hoxton ‘screwsmen’ to do the ‘job’?
[UK]J. Phelan Letters from the Big House 143: Both screwsmen, which is the technical way of saying burglars, they achieved almost orgiastic pleasure in watching.
[UK]‘Raymond Thorp’ Viper 46: He used to be the best screwsman - cat burglar - in the business.
[UK] ‘Screwsman’s Lament’ in Encounter n.d. in Norman Norman’s London (1969) 67: We went round to my gaff, to get my turtle doves, / My stick, tools and glimmer, which every screwsman loves.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 50: For the screwsman it’s [i.e. discovery while working] sheer bad luck.
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 172: One well-known screwsman has been noted [...] for his generosity.
[UK](con. c.1905) A. Harding in Samuel East End Und. 86: Georgie and his brother Billy were both screwsmen, both done time for it, pawnbrokers mostly.
[UK] in D. Seabrook Jack of Jumps (2007) 47: Scotch Steve (‘I knew he was a screwsman’).

2. (UK prison) a warder, a turnkey.

[UK]‘Lady Barrymore’s Lamentation in Quod’ in Convivialist in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 18: The traps, you know, and screwsmen too, / Have shrunk beneath my frown.
[UK]Metropolitan Mag. 14 330: Don’t talk of the Devil [...] he’s the quod cove — the screwsman of the other world.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 317/1: Screwsman, A turnkey.

In phrases

Other senses

In phrases

have a screw at (v.) (also give a screw at, take a screw at)

1. (orig. Aus.) to stare at in an aggressive manner.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 13 Aug. 14/2: This bloke says, ‘You’ve got somethin’ pretty hot [...] wrapped up in that bit er hide.’ Then [...] he takes a screw at [...] me. [...] ‘What d’yer reckon yer can [...] fork him at?’.
[Aus]E. Dyson ‘Mickie Mollynoo’ in ‘Hello, Soldier!’ 42: I takes a screw at Molly. [...] He’s toyin’ with a scar of old I reckernise as mine.
[Aus](con. WWI) A.G. Pretty Gloss. Sl. [...] in the A.I.F. 1921–1924 (rev. t/s) n.p.: screw. (To have a) To look.
[UK]L. Dunne Goodbye to The Hill (1966) 79: The oul’ ones in the block must have come down to wish me luck and to have a screw at it.

2. to stare, to survey.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Dec. 38/3: Then I gave a screw along the cars, an’ my word, it was jest great.
E. Wallace Feathered Serpent 68: You’re not police, are you? You are a reporter? Let’s have a screw at your card.
[UK]E. Wallace Squeaker (1950) 157: Go and take a screw outside.
[Aus]R.S. Close Love me Sailor 138: What about nicking in and having a screw through the keyhole . . . if they’re in there?
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 59: Everyone rushed for the door and took a screw up the hill.
royal screw (n.) [royal adj. (1) + screwing n. (2a) ]

(US) an act of extreme harshness or unfairness, as meted out on oneself or to another person.

[US]Baker et al. CUSS 190: Screw (royal) Difficult exam. A misfortune.
[US](con. 1950s) H. Junker ‘The Fifties’ in Eisen Age of Rock 2 (1970) 100: The Royal Screw, hence The Royal Shaft, hence The King’s Elevator.

SE in slang uses

In derivatives

screws, the (n.) [SE screw; the pains it causes]

rheumatism, sciatica, fibrositis.

[UK]G. Bartram People of Clopton 51: In bed roarin’ mad wi’ the screws [EDD].
[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 1026/2: mid-C.19–20.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Gone Fishin’ 24: He said he’d be dead o’ the screws by tomorrow.
[UK]Barltrop & Wolveridge Muvver Tongue 85: Rheumatism, sciatica, fibrositis etc. are called ‘the screws’.
[UK]C. Dexter Remorseful Day (2000) 348: Bert, it seemed, had ‘got the screws’.

In phrases

a screw loose

1. a phr. used to suggest that something has gone wrong, or is missing or forgotten in a situation or arrangement; usu. as there’s a screw loose somewhere.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: A Screw loose — something wrong.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London II 391: Here they soon found out that, as a venerable son of the fan-tailed-hat fraternity described it, ‘a screw was loose’.
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker I 237: I must admit there is a screw loose somewhere thereabouts, and I wish it would convene to Congress, to do something or another about our niggers.
[UK]Marryat Snarleyyow II 127: They all agreed with Coble, when he observed, hitching up his trousers, ‘Depend upon it, there’s a screw loose somewhere’.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Nov. 7: It was currently reported that there was ‘screw loose’ with Lord Jersey’s promising colt.
[UK]Royal Cornwall Gaz. 29 July3/1: Some will have it — there’s a screw loose at Downing-street.
[UK]G.J. Whyte-Melville General Bounce (1891) 227: Major, there’s a screw loose here — it’s not on the square, you understand.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 4 Dec. 3/3: When the case was called on again last Wednesday it was found that there was a screw loose.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 106/1: First let’s go into this ‘lush drum’ out of sight, for I fear there’s a ‘screw loose,’ and it’s safer to be inside than out.
[UK]J. Greenwood Dick Temple III 261: When [...] a lot of machinery is put together in a hurry, it oughtn’t to be suprising [...] if a screw or so is loose in it.
[UK]H. Smart Post to Finish I 8: I don’t understand it, Rockinghham. I can’t help thinking there’s a screw loose.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 20 Feb. 1/3: They went home discontented, fully seized of the fact that there must be ‘a screw loose somehow,’ and each taking the other for being such a fool to listen to the tales of those gentlemen.
[US]C. Woofter ‘Dialect Words and Phrases from West-Central West Virginia’ in AS II:8 363: The matter didn’t work out, because there was a screw loose somewhere.

2. a phr. used of one who feels unwell.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 123: If the loose screw was not attended to, the hinges would ultimately be out of repair. [Ibid.] 390: A screw was loose; and two or three days passed over weithout his being able to quit his room.

3. a phr. used to suggest that something is wrong with a person, their reputation or behaviour.

[UK] ‘Memoirs of Dan Donnelly’ in Fancy I XVI 372: When his lushing creb had got leaky, and a screw was loose, he bade adieu to Dublin Bay.
[UK]Mr Mathews’ Comic Annual 23: That’s not Jerry’s pipe: I’ll call him; there seems to be a screw loose! but who’s afraid, damme?
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker I 237: I must admit there is a screw loose somewhere thereabouts.
[UK]W.T. Moncrieff Scamps of London II i: Eh! Mr. Danver’s voice! What screw’s loose now?
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 123: Screw loose [...] something wrong in a man’s affairs.
[UK]E. Eden Semi-Attached Couple (1979) 212: Yes, there is a screw loose with the clan of Douglas.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 223: [...] it is said there there is a screw loose betwen them; the same phrase is also used when anything goes wrong with a person’s credit or reputation.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 96/1: This old ‘splorger’ begins to suspect, as we do, that there is a screw loose with him.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 281: Screw loose the same phrase is also used when anything goes wrong with a person’s credit or reputation.
[UK]Sheffield Wkly Teleg. 23 Feb. 23/2: [pic. caption] Parent: There’s a screw loose somewhere, or you wouldn’t have lost that berth you were in.

4. (also a wheel loose, a wire loose, screws loose) a phr. used to describe someone who is considered eccentric, insane or retarded; often as have a screw loose.

[Ire]Tom And Jerry; Musical Extravaganza 54: Loose screw, something astray in a person’s health.
[UK]F.E. Smedley Frank Fairlegh (1878) 455: I told him I thought there was a screw loose with you.
[UK]E. Eden Semi-Detached House (1979) 83: As she did not seem clearly to comprehend what refreshment meant [...] he went down stairs to inform the housekeeper’s room that ‘there was a screw loose somewhere’.
[UK]‘Cuthbert Bede’ Little Mr. Bouncer 134: The old bald-pate had a tile off or a screw loose somewhere.
[Aus]Illus. Sydney News 26 May 3/3: I thought there was a screw loose somewhere when Mr Buchanan set the whole city in a ferment about the colour of hamlet’s hair.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 99: What was the difference between this and other shops? Was a screw loose anywhere? In that case it certainly could not be her fault.
[US]W.C. Gore Student Sl. in Cohen (1997) 15: screw loose, to have a To be unbalanced, crotchety.
[UK]Cornishman 4 May 4/4: One of the crew, who had for a long time been thought to have ’a screw loose,’ rushed up to it and conclusively proved his insanity [...] He took out a large clasp-knife and split the fish open, turned to the crew and shouted, ‘I’ll do the same to you, by God’.
[UK]Gem 30 Sept. 12: But my private belief is that you’ve got screw loose.
[US]Logan Republican (UT) 20 Jan. 7/2: ‘Matildy,’ I says, ‘he’s got a screw loose up aloft just as sure as you’re a born woman!’.
[US]‘Digit’ Confessions of a Twentieth Century Hobo 174: Another interesting specimen was a man with ‘a screw loose’.
[US]C. McKay Banjo 193: But mah buddy said to me I had a screw loose.
[US]D. Mackenzie Hell’s Kitchen 55: I have often wondered just why these exceptionally brilliant people should resort to drugs [...] Obviously there is a screw loose somewhere.
[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 70: Hennessey must have some screws loose.
[US]W. Smitter F.O.B. Detroit 233: The place was full of screwballs. Every guy there’s got a wheel loose.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 180: They’re like left-handed pitchers — all with a screw loose.
[UK]B. Kops Hamlet of Stepney Green Act I: Sam, she drives me mad talking about him... Hava, you’ve got a screw loose.
[US]E. De Roo Go, Man, Go! 53: They must have screws loose in their upper story.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Gone Fishin’ 112: ‘How is your head?’ ‘It is better now.’ ‘Are you sure there are no loose screws in it?’ ‘No.’ ‘Neither am I. Your mate’s still asleep. He’s got sense.’.
[US]J. Heller Good As Gold (1979) 132: ‘Another screw,’ said his stepmother, ‘seems to be coming loose.’.
[UK]Beano Comic Library Special No. 12 15: I never said you were crazy [...] I only said I thought you had a screw loose.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 21: Denton must have knocked a few of my screws loose.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Rev. 22 Aug. 15: He had a screw loose.
[UK]Observer Rev. 9 Apr. 4: He had a ‘wire loose’.
[UK]H. Mantel Beyond Black 104: She’s got a screw loose, Gloria says.

5. a phr. said of people who are on bad terms.

[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 298: Some surprise was manifested by the old Ring-goers, in witnessing Holt acting as the second to Sam, Harry having performed that office to Neal in all his previous battles, — but it was said [...] that a screw was loose between them, and that accounted for it.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 123: Screw loose, a quarrel between two individuals.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 223: When friends become cold and distant towards each other, it is said there there is a screw loose betwen them.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 9/1: The Leeds ‘fly-cops’ being away at the race in quest of some who had a ‘screw loose,’ left the ground pretty open and free for us.

6. attrib. use of sense 3.

[US]N. Algren Never Come Morning (1988) 40: He didn’t feel like arguing with screwloose sprouts tonight.
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 345: Rakowitz was a screw-loose kid [...] who’d been in and out of psych wards.
drop a screw (v.)

to be insane.

[UK]C. Holme Lonely Plough (1931) 221: The man must have dropped a screw or two, somewhere ‘across the dub’.
[US]P. MacKaye Sam Average in Mayorga (1919) 14: His screws are droppin’ out.
lose a screw (v.)

to be insane.

[UK]G. Melly Owning Up (1974) 105: They will dress you all in blue / Just because you’ve lost a screw.
put a screw into (v.)

(Aus.) to hit.

[Aus]E. Dyson ‘Nicholas Don and the Meek Almira’ in Benno and Some of the Push 25: I seen yeh. I’ll put a screw on your chin Monday see if I don’t You—.
put on the screw (v.) [SE screw, that which tightens]

to set a limit on credit; either institutional or individual.

[UK]Morn. Advertiser (London) 17 Nov. 1/3: The Bank has again put on the Screw, and the Markets are depressed.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[US]N.Y. Times 7 Apr. 6/6: In his [a suicide’s] possession were letters from a person in Lowell who had a hold on him, and from time to time ‘put on the screw’.
[UK]Aberdeen Press 5 Mar. 4/2: [headline] Cut in the Army Estimates. Treasury to Put on the Screw.
put the screw(s) on (v.) (also get one’s screws into, put on the screw(s), put the screws to, put the screw(s) upon, put the scissors on) [SE thumbscrews; note sense 4]

to pressurize.

[Aus]N.-Y. National Advocate 15 Mar. 2/3: Streets. – The inspector of the first ward [intends] putting the corporation screws on all occupants of stores who are in the habit of encumbering the side pavements in an unlawful or improper manner.
[Aus]N.-Y. National Advocate 21 June 2/3–4: [headline] The Screws, No. 1. [...] It will be asked what object have the owners of the old Advocate, in thus seeking every occasion to put the screws upon me?
[US]C.A. Davis Letters of Major J. Downing (1835) 88: It loans money only to our friends, and gits its thumb on all the Banks it can, and makes them do so too; and if they don’t they put the screws on ’em.
[UK]Paul Pry 30 Sept. 183/3: [H]e is not particular whether he puts the screw on friend or foe.
[UK]Thackeray Vanity Fair I 307: He knew where he could put the screw upon George.
[UK]A.C. Mowatt Fashion V i: Now to put the screws to Tiff.
[US]Lewisburg Chron. (PA) 4 Jan. 7/3: ‘Put on the screws’, ply well your tasks.
[UK]E. Yates Broken to Harness II 281: Tell Moss to put the screw on, and he’ll pay up fast enough.
Jackson Standard (OH) 18 June 2/1: They are putting the screws to the beer jerkers [...] under the new ordnance.
[US]N.Y. Times 3 Jan. 4/6: Its dumb to try putting on the screws at the wrong time.
S. Wales Dly News 9 Nov. 2/2: All that is needed is to put on the screws.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 371: We shall be able to put the screw on both parties and name our terms.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 87: Mrs. Minick ‘learnt’ her man the virtues of diligence and self-denial; she put the screws on; in his own colloquialism, she made him ‘hustle for the dust’.
[UK]Hants. Teleg. 23 Aug. 7/4: .
[US]F. Packard Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1918) I xi: Do what you’re told, or we’ll put the screws on you—see?
[US]D. Hammett ‘Death on Pine Street’ Nightmare Town (2001) 212: You’re a damned fool [...] Put the screws on them!
[US]T.T. Flynn ‘The Deadly Orchid’ in Goodstone Pulps (1970) 107/1: She’s putting the screws on Maxwell [...] Wants her dough quick, or else.
[UK]M. Harrison Spring in Tartarus 28: Oh! she put the scissors on ’em all right!
[US]W. Mahoney ‘The Ruse in Cocaine Alley’ in Und. Detective Mar. [Internet] Why not run them mugs in and put the screws to them?
[US]F. Swados House of Fury (1959) 83: Now they’re gonna put the screws on us, clamp down, all on account a them niggers.
[UK]J. Cary Moonlight (1995) 180: ‘But how can I write when I know she only wants a letter to show her power.’ And on the next day when a wire came, ‘No letter yet,’ he complained, ‘You see she’s putting on the screw’.
[Aus](con. 1936–46) K.S. Prichard Winged Seeds (1984) 105: They’ve been putting the screws on him at the office.
[US]B. Spicer Blues for the Prince (1989) 229: She came here to put the screws to the Prince.
[US]J. Thompson Swell-Looking Babe 91: When to take it easy and when to put on the screws.
[UK]J. Osborne World of Paul Slickey Act I: We have our professional ways and means / Of getting behind the scenes, / To put the screws on stars in jeans.
[UK]G.W. Target Teachers (1962) 162: The Old Man been putting the screw on?
[UK]P. Theroux Murder in Mount Holly (1999) 37: You can’t fool kids. Kids are the darnedest little critics of things. They know when you’re putting the screws to them.
[US]T. Berger Sneaky People (1980) 153: They’ll get you otherwise and put the screws to you.
[US]N. Heard House of Slammers 39: I could put the screws to Pittsburgh Pete about the Blake murder.
[UK]F. Taylor Auf Wiedersehen Pet Two 73: Ally knew when to put the screws on.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 227: The Hobby clerk is always worth putting the screws to.
[US]H. Roth From Bondage 114: It wasn’t my intention to put the screws on you because of that.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We Have No 65: One of his used bitches had got her screws into him.
[US]T. Dorsey Cadillac Beach 189: ‘What’s the last you heard?’ ‘He was mixing with some trouble boys on the flimflam, putting screws to a Peterman after the box job.’.
[US]Mad mag. Nov. 24: Your grades go up [...] because your parents ‘put the screws’ to your teachers.
[UK]K. Richards Life 406: When there was a heroin drought [...] They really used to put the screws on.
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 363: If Gio and I hadn’t done such a good job of putting the screws to Davey’s Third Street crew, he probably would still have been around.
under the screws [SE thumbscrews]

under pressure.

[US]N.-Y. American 15 Feb. 2/6: Mr. Wheeler. No wonder he made such a statement in his first fright. Would not a man say any thing when under the screws?