Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sonofabitch n.

also bitch’s son, sombitch, son, sonabitch, son-a-fa-bitch, sonbitch, sonnomo bitzah, sonn’vabitch, sonobitch, sonofabastard, sonofabee, son of a big-shoe, son of a bitch, son-of-a-bitch-of-a-bastard, son of a dog, son of a French bastard, son of a hurry, son of a lady dog, son of a two-legged dog, son of a whore, sonofawhore, son of the bitch, sonovabitch, sonumbitch, sonuvabitch, sonvbitch, sumbitch, sumph, sunabitch
[coined c.1330 in the form Biche-sone and in its current form in Shakespeare’s King Lear (1605). Like a number of otherwise derog. terms (cf. bastard n.; motherfucker n.), it can be used affectionately and of a woman, albeit rarely, as well as of a man. It can also be used as a general non-specific referent meaning ‘thing’, e.g. pass the sonofabitch over here]

1. a derog. general term of abuse.

[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Coxcomb I iv: They had no mothers; they are the sons of bitches.
[UK]T. Randolph Muses’ Looking-Glass III iii: Daggs and Pistolls! To bite his thumb at me! Weare I a sword to see men bite their thumbs? Rapiers and Daggers! – He is the sonne of a Whore.
[UK]Rochester ‘Tunbridge Wells’ in Works (1999) 52: God damn me, Madam, I’m the Son of a Whore, / If in my Life I saw the like before!
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 5 Apr. n.p.: The Prisoner then told him, He was a Son of a Bitch, and he had nothing to say to him [...] when he approached near, he said, You Son of a Bitch, get you gone, or I will split your Brains with a Tile.
[UK]A Newgate ex-prisoner A Warning for House-Keepers 6: When that we come to Tyburn / For going upon the Budge / There stands Jack Catch that son of a w---- / that owes us all a grudge.
[UK]Behn Rover IV i: I know I’ve done some mischief, but I’m so dull a Puppy, that I am the Son of a Whore, if I know how.
[UK]T. Betterton Match in Newgate V iii: Was there ever such a chicken-hearted Son of a Whore?
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Noted Highway-men, etc. I 67: You old surfeited Son of a B—h.
[UK]A. Ramsay ‘The Chamaeleon’ Fables and Tales 23: Ye lied. And ye’re the Son of a Whore.
[UK]C. Walker Authentick Memoirs of Sally Salisbury 121: The Devil confound you and your Mumpish Money too, you Mumping Son of a Mumping .
[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 33: D--n your sodomitical Sons of B---hes Heads, said Dalton.
[UK]Proceedings at Sessions (City of London) Dec. 11/1: The Letter being as follows, To James Leicester, [...] You miserly Son of a Bitch, as soon as you get this, lay 5l. at the Back-door of the Sign of the Anchor.
[UK]C. Johnson Hist. of Highwaymen &c 354: Mr. Cabbage, a mischievous Son of a B--ch! peep’d thro’ the Key-hole.
[UK]Bog-House and Glass-Window Misc. 37: There’s none beshits the Wall but Sons of B--ches. / May the French Pox, and the Devil take them all.
Proceedings at Assizes of Peace, Oyer and Terminer (Surrey) 29: Carr said to me, you son of a bitch, why don’t you push up?
[UK]W. Toldervy Hist. of the Two Orphans IV 99: She, with much emotion, thus addressed him; ‘The d---l do for us both, but I’ll be my glass with you, for, bl-st your corner cupboards, you son of a b---h, I have a shilling in my pocket as well as you have.’.
[UK]J. Townley High Life Below Stairs II i: phi.: He’s a queer Son of a —. kit.: Oh, I know him; he’s one of your sneaking half-bred Fellows.
[UK]Nancy Dawson’s Jests 2: I am a bunting w---e and thou art a dirty son of a b---h.
[UK]Bridges Homer Travestie (1764) I 70: Son of an ugly squinting bitch, / Pray who the pox made you a witch?
[Ire]J. O’Keeffe The She-Gallant 2: An ould son of a whore that has one leg already in the grave.
[UK]Trial of Maha Rajah Nundocomar II 7/2: Mr. Fowke, hearing this, took up a book, and cried out G-d d--n you, you son of a bitch!
[UK]C. Morris ‘Billy’s Too Young to Drive Us’ Collection of Songs (1788) 13: I believe from my soul, he’s a son of a whore.
[US]Adventures of Jonathan Corncob 78: You are a Judas, and a d---d son of a b---, you know you are.
[UK]J. Gillray ‘John Bull taking a Luncheon; – or – British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chère’ 24 Oct. [cartoon] What! more Frigasees? – why you sons o’ bitches, you.
Account of the Trial of the Jews 3: Damn your eyes, you son of a bitch.
[US]Horry & Weems Life of General F. Marion (1816) 35: An ugly, cross, knock-knee’d hook-nosed son of a b-t-h!
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London II 306: If I ever get astride the back of such another harum scarum son of a bitch again.
[UK]Comical Hist. of the King and the Cobbler 34: ‘They’re coming!’ he cried out, ‘cock the piece, ye sumph.’.
[UK]London Standard 17 Aug. 4/2: One that wouild be a pimp [...] but is nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.
[UK]Marryat Peter Simple (1911) 269: Mark my words, you burgoo-eating, pea-soup-swilling, trouser scrubbing son of a bitch!
[UK]Leeds Intelligencer 23 Apr. n.p.: For sumphs such as Morpeth no man cares a fig.
[US]R.H. Dana Two Years before the Mast (1992) 103: He was not the man to call a sailor a son of a b—h.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 19 Sept. 3/1: Bungo called him a d—d Welch son of a female puppy.
[US]W.C. Hall ‘Mike Hooter’s Bar Story’ Spirit of the Times 26 Jan. (N.Y.) 581: He scolded an’ called ’em some o’ the hardest names you ever hearn (sich as ‘son-of-er b--h,’ an’ sich like) [...] You’d er thought he’d er knock’d the hine sights off’n every bitch’s son of ’em!
[US] ‘Crossing the Plains’ in Lingenfelter et al. Songs of the Amer. West (1968) 40: Let’s buy him out, the lousy son of a bitch.
[US] in T.P. Lowry Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell (1994) 41: Callin him ‘a damn big mouth son of a bitch’.
[UK]Stirling Obs. 5 July 6/3: ‘They’re coming! they’re coming,’ he cried; ‘cock the piece, ye sumph’.
[US]G.W. Harris Sut Lovingood’s Yarns 297: Yu durn’d yaller son ove a b---h, I’ll break yer holt.
[UK]E. Greey Queen’s Sailors I 246: I’ll have you flogged over the breech of a gun, you son of a dog!
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 99: ‘Let’s fight the d—d sons of b—s,’ cried a voice which I recognized as belonging to an agent for one of the stage lines.
[US]Caldwell Post 10 June in Miller & Snell Why the West was Wild 247: He replied, ‘Yes, you son-of-a-b---h.’.
[UK]Manchester Courier 25 June 5: A Texas Mother-In-Law [addressing a policeman] Wanted to amperate my jaw, the little brassy whelp! [...] You had better find that son or thar’ll be music.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 83: You throwed that race, you s— of the b— , and I am going to lick you for it.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 26 Oct. 3/3: What right does that son of a hurry to insinivate in that blasted way about my honour?
[US] in W.B. Gatewood Smoked Yankees (1971) 171: The prosecuting attorney [...] referred to them as that yellow man or that black s—of b—.
[UK]C.J.C. Hyne Filibusters 267: Now you turn to, you-son-of-a-dog, [...] and dont you try any of your nasty greaser tricks on me, or by the living whiskers, youll get hurt.
[US] in H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 3: The unnamed hero of Owen Wister’s The Virginian does not mind it when his friend Steve affectionately calls him a ‘son-of-a-______’ (the dash is in the original, 1902), but when the bad man, Trampas, addresses him this way, he draws his pistol and produces the immortal reply: ‘When you call me that, smile!’.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 26 Jan. 6/4: The brainless sumph went into the House of Parliament.
[US]L.W. Payne Jr ‘Word-List From East Alabama’ in DN III:v 373: son of a big-shoe, n. phr. A playful or facetious contortion of ‘son of a bitch, you’.
[Ire]Joyce Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 34: Sons of bitches! cried Mr Dedalus.
[UK] ‘The Winnipeg Whore’ in Bold (1979) 241: Up jumps the bugger-boys and the sons of the bitches.
[US]E. Pound letter 9 Nov. in Paige (1971) 214: I shd. like to protect Fenollosa from sonzofbitches like — [...] Naturally any sonvbitch who knows a little Nipponese can jump on it.
[UK](con. WW1) P. MacDonald Patrol 86: ‘Come on you sons o’ lidy dawgs! Chorust, please!’.
[UK](con. WW1) P. MacDonald Patrol 86: ‘Come on you sons o’ lidy dawgs! Chorust, please!’.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 57: Buckshot. I shoot the sonabitch.
[UK]D. Ahearn Confessions of a Gunman 73: If he is a Jew, you call him an Irish son of a bitch; and if he is an Irishman, you call him a Jew bastard.
[US](con. 1919) Dos Passos Nineteen Nineteen in USA (1966) 584: I think I’ll cable the sonsobitches and tell them I’ve resigned.
[US]H. Roth Call It Sleep (1977) 241: Sonnomo bitzah you! I fix! [Ibid.] 369: Goy, sonn’va bitch! Goy sonn’vabitch! Leo sonn’vabitch!
[US]E. Anderson Thieves Like Us (1999) 3: Get out the dogs [...] and run them sons of bitches down.
[US]M. Rand ‘Clip-Joint Chisellers’ in Ten Story Gang Aug. [Internet] Here I’ve been taking care of that damned Blinkie guy [...] and the son has been cutting in on me.
[US]P. Di Donato Christ in Concrete 11: The Lean [...] spat furiously. ‘Sons of two-legged dogs ...’ [Ibid.] 235: Goddamn-damn sonofabastarddd I said brick on the hoist – not tile! Brick you dago screwball!
[UK] ‘Christopher Columbo’ in Bold (1979) 52: That masturbating, fornicating / Sonofabitch Columbo.
[US]M. Levin Citizens 141: If he hadn’t had to labor like a sonofabee twelve hours a day all his life he’d have read more books.
[US]F. Swados House of Fury (1959) 158: I’d like to get my hands on those stinking white sons a bitches. [Ibid.] 168: Come out, you dirty sonovabitch!
[UK]A. Mendes ‘Afternoon in Trinidad’ in Lehmann Penguin New Writing No. 6 76: You goin’ let he bring that sonuvabitch heah?
[UK]G. Kersh Nine Lives Bill Nelson 35: Address me as Corporal, you yellow-bellied son of a fat-faced dog!
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Half-Size Homicide’ in Speed Detective Nov. [Internet] You lousy son, I was afraid you’d croaked!
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 232: Git up from there you no-piano-playin’ son of a bitch, I got it.
[UK]Dundee Courier 21 May 3/5: Commander king [...] denied that he had called the ratings ‘sons of bitches’ or ‘coolies’.
[US]J.D. Salinger Catcher in the Rye (1958) 27: I can’t stand that sonuvabitch.
[US]M. Spillane One Lonely Night 10: That Judge, that damn white-haired son-of-a-bitch.
[US]W.P. McGivern Big Heat 153: Well, let me say this much: I hope you get the sons.
[US]J. Blake letter 23 Sept. in Joint (1972) 92: I wanted to [...] show them what a cultured sonbitch I really am.
[US]Kerouac On The Road (1972) 236: Whoo! That sonumbitch!
[US]H. Salisbury Shook-Up Generation (1961) 10: What did you expect from the sons-of-bitches?
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 58: You’re the son of a bitch who robbed me last night.
[US]M. Rumaker Exit 3 and Other Stories 76: You nogood sonuvabitch.
[US]L. Bruce Essential Lenny Bruce 78: If you’re a sonovabitch you’re a sonovabitch!
[US]N. Heard Howard Street 69: Oh you sonofabitch [...] you hit me!
[US]D. Pendleton Executioner (1973) 67: How do I get this big sunabitch back on track?
[US]B. Moyers Listening to America 99: They know you’re a sonuvabitch.
[US]D. Jenkins Semi-Tough 31: You’re a lippy son of a bitch but you’re a good-looking son of a bitch.
[US]M. Scorsese Mean Streets [film script] 95: Answer me, you sonofabitch!
[Aus]Tharunka (Sydney) 8 Nov. 28/2: ‘[G]ive me a drag at least you roach-eating son of a bitch’.
[US]Maledicta 1 (Summer) 10: Consider: bastard, son-of-a-bitch (the older son-of-a-whore or whoreson); also son-of-a-bitch-of-a-bastard, which moves the insult up one further generation.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 25: Rocco, you sombitch.
[US]N. Thornburg Cutter and Bone (2001) 295: Bone was one lucky sumbitch.
[US]J.F. Kennedy in Hook & Kahn Book of Insults and Irreverent Quotations n.p.: I did not write S.O.B. on the Rostow document ... I didn’t think Diefenbaker was a son of a bitch. I thought he was a prick [R].
[US]S. King Christine 344: He doesn’t know what’s going on. Poor busted-luck sonofawhore.
[US]R. Campbell Alice in La-La Land (1999) 213: So Rialto delivered her to this Roger Twelvetrees. She recognized the sumbitch.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 186: Trying to find the sonofabitch who had sold him the bad bullets.
[US]S. King Dolores Claiborne 118: If that sonofawhore didn’t make two thousand [...] dollars that winter, I’ll smile n kiss a pig.
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 160: Goddamn lyin’ sumbitch Cuban!
[Ire]J. O’Connor Salesman 148: Well, sir, y’jus’ sit the sumbitches down and ask ’em if they did it.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We have No 285: ‘Fill your hand you sonofabitch’, the Duke drawls.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Travel 9 Jan. 5: They hate losing and they say so. ‘Sonofabitch mother-humping low-down goddam bastard’ was one parting shot from a vanquished opponent.
[US]T. Udo Vatican Bloodbath 85: Yes, it’s true. I fucken love love the fucken sonovabitch!
[UK]K. Richards Life 67: Loads of flash little sons of bitches would come down [...] to take the piss out of the art school students.
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 142: ‘I’ll handle it’ [...] ‘You son of a bitch [...] Not without me’.
[Aus]J.J. DeCeglie Drawing Dead [ebook] I see promise in the sombitch [...] I can make this asshole come good.
[US]S. King Finders Keepers (2016) 9: Sonofabitch, he was thinking. Smartass sonofabitch.

2. (Aus.) a moustache, as worn by cattle-buyers and wool inspectors.

[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 69: son of a bitch: A moustache and imperial whiskers favoured by cattle-buyers and wool inspectors in the 1890s. Obs.

3. (US) a stew.

[US]H.E. Rollins ‘A West Texas Word List’ in DN IV:iii 229: son-of-a-bitch, n. A kind of stew composed of vegetables and meats, of which Texas cowmen are very fond. It has no other name.

4. an affectionate term of address; also used self-reflexively.

Wilmington Jrnl (MC) 6 Aug. 1/3: ‘Oh, you little shining son o’ bitches! walk into your Mas’ Johnny’s pocket and jingle so’.
[US]J. Stevens ‘Logger Talk’ in AS I:3 138–9: ‘Son-of-a-bitch’ has become a harmless phrase in the woods here, and the logger is always astonished when a newly-arrived Tennesseean or Arkansan resents the phrase being added to a friendly greeting.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 30: Strangler! [...] You old son of a bitch!
[US]E. O’Neill Iceman Cometh Act I: Here’s the old son of a bitch!
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 62: You’re a good old sonofabitch.
[US]Kerouac On The Road (1972) 44: You old sonumbitch you finally got on that road.
[SA]L. Nkosi Rhythm of Violence I i: You’re just a sensitive son-a-fa-bitch!
[US]E. Tidyman Shaft 38: He was one tough sonofabitch.
[US]S. King Stand (1990) 520: Holy Joe, boys! Ain’t I some glad sumbitch to see you guys!
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 3: Among loggers in the Pacific Northwest, son of a bitch long ago became a harmless term, so that one woodsman might greet another with, ‘Hi, you red-eyed son-of-a-bitch!’ (Amer. Speech, 12/25).
[US]D. Hecht Skull Session 430: You are a very, very fortunate son of a bitch.

5. something or someone exceptional.

[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 177: But if so be that son of a bitch of a tree hadn’t come athwart my weather-bow, d’ye see, I’ll be damned if I hadn’t snapt his main-yard in the slings.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 250: You’re a son of a bitch of a mucker.
[US]J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath (1951) 225: They’s a big son-of-a-bitch of a peach orchard.
[US]J.H. O’Hara Pal Joey 36: He [...] was a son of a bitch for finding the nearest bar.
[US]J. Jones From Here to Eternity (1998) 750: The crazy son of a bitch.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Syndicate (1998) 76: I looked out on that big sonofabitch of a sea.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 124: Your layout is a sonuvabitch.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 357: Come the dinner rush, he was one hard-laboring sonofabitch.

6. a thing, ‘it’.

A. Miller Situation Normal 83: I’m inside a M4 and the sumbitch won’t shift to second.
[US]Kerouac On The Road (1972) 26: We been ridin this sonofabitch since des Moines.
[US]H. Selby Jr Last Exit to Brooklyn (1966) 60: He knew every goddam strip of chrome and every bolt and nut on the sonofabitch.
[US]R.M. Stern Brood of Eagles (1976) 269: Open, you son of a BITCH! OPEN!
[US]B. Jackson Killing Time 195: The very goddamned day that something goes wrong they’ll bust you right out of that sonofabitch and throw you right back in that barracks.
[US]L. Heinemann Paco’s Story (1987) 127: The Japanese were dug in all over that son-of-a-bitch.
[US]D. Hecht Skull Session 323: He’d better crack this son of a bitch soon.
[UK]Indep. 16 Aug. 16: You just punch a hole in the son of a bitch.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Mag. 9 Apr. 16: Plug the sonofabitch in!
[US]G. Pelecanos Shame the Devil 213: ‘You know the car?’ [...] ‘I know it. I restored the sonofabitch myself.’.
[US] N. Flexner Disassembled Man [ebook] I cracked open the beer [...] and downed that sonofabitch in three seconds flat.

In phrases

like a sonofabitch (adv.) [var. on like a bastard under bastard n.]

very hard, with absolute commitment, to a very great extent.

[UK]Northants Eve. Teleg. 29 June 8/3: It chanced that of oranges he had to write / And he worked like a son-of-a-gun through the night.
[UK]Liverpool Echo 28 Dec. 2/4: An old British sailor [...] stirring some tea — and growling like a son-of-a-gun.
[US]T. Wolfe Look Homeward, Angel (1930) 389: ‘Have you been working?’ ‘Hell, yes! [...] I’ve been working like a son-of-a-bitch.’.
[US]N. Mailer Naked and Dead 94: It’s gonna rain like a sonofabitch.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 73: I chase off like a sonofabitch after them with my birds.
[US]‘Paul Merchant’ ‘Sex Gang’ in Pulling a Train’ (2012) [ebook] He slid to the door, raised a foot, and kicked like a sonofabitch!
[US]N. Heard Howard Street 86: Swear to God I’ll work like a sonofabitch.
[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 263: I can patch tires like a son of a bitch, let me help you out, Pilgrim, with your flat.
[US]C. Hiaasen Stormy Weather 60: It wobbles like a sonofabitch.
[US] N. Flexner Disassembled Man [ebook] We drove like sons-of-bitches rthe next couple of days.

In exclamations

I’ll be a sonofabitch!

a general excl. of surprise or annoyance.

[US]Dos Passos Manhattan Transfer 94: ‘I’ll be a son of a bitch, Lappy, I’ll be a son of a bitch,’ roared Bud.
[US](con. 1914–18) L. Nason Three Lights from a Match 263: Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch,’ he remarked.
[US]T. Shibutani Derelicts of Company K (1978) 242: I’ll be a son of a bitch!
[US]H. McCoy Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in Four Novels (1983) 187: I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch! Every time I turn my back you all get panicky.
[US]T. Anderson Your Own Beloved Sons 95: If this ain’t the screwiest set-up, I’ll be a sonofabitch.
[US](con. 1950s) McAleer & Dickson Unit Pride (1981) 68: Maybe you don’t mind walking your ass off for a drink, but I’ll be a sonofabitch if I let you walk mine off.
[US]E. Grogan Ringolevio 80: ‘I’ll be a son of a bitch!’ he thought.