Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Slang in Fiction Writing by John Knoerle, Author of A Despicable Profession

Today's special guest is John Knoerle, author of the spy thriller, A Despicable Profession: Book Two of The American Spy Trilogy.

May, 1946. America is basking in hard-won peace and prosperity. The OSS has been disbanded, CIA does not yet exist. Rumors swirl about the Red Army massing tanks along the Elbe in East Germany.

Former OSS agent Hal Schroeder gets an offer from Global Commerce LTD to be a trade rep in Berlin. He flies to New York to meet his new boss. Hal’s jaw drops when former OSS Chief Wild Bill Donovan strides in. Schroeder, who survived perilous duty behind German lines, says he is no longer interested in being a spy. General Donovan assures him that’s not part of his job description.
Hal comes to doubt that when he meets his immediate superior in Berlin. It’s Victor Jacobson, the case officer who sent him on repeated suicide missions in WWII.

John Knoerle's Glossary of Slang

As I fiction writer I love slang, there’s a certain poetry to it. And as a writer of late ‘40s spy and mystery novels I especially love the argot of the underworld of that era. I put a glossary of that slang together from reading everything from Black Mask magazine to Mickey Spillane novels. The films noir were also a good source.

Here’s a sample of what I found. For a more extensive list visit my website at http://www.bluesteelpress.com/

--John Knoerle

“The buttons don’t like it when a slewfoot gets topped. Especially with his own gat by a gowed-up twist in a rib joint.”

To translate, see below:

arm-breaker - hired muscle

bangtail - racehorse, also a prostitute

basted, boiled, oiled, out on the roof, roofed, tanked - drunk

beezer - nose

berries, cabbage, plasters, snaps - cash money, dollar bills

bindlestiff - hobo, migrant worker

bitch kitty – an obnoxious woman or girl

bones - dice

box job - safe cracking

bughouse - insane asylum

bulls - railroad police, prison guards

burleycue – burlesque show

busted flush - a bad deal, a failure

butter and egg man - the man with the money

buttons, elbows, goms, Johns, muzzlers - cops

buzzer, potsy, tin - a policeman’s badge

C, C-note - hundred dollar bill

caboose, icehouse, jug, sneezer - jail

cackle-broad - a society woman

cake eater - a dandy, a ladies’ man

California bible, California prayer book - deck of playing cards

Chicago overcoat - a casket

Chicago typewriter - a machine gun

to chill, clip, grease, ice, push, set over, spot, top, top off - kill

Chinese angle - unusual twist

to clank - panic

clean sneak - a successful getaway

coffin nail, gasper, pill - cigarette

coffin varnish, panther piss, phlegm cutter, tarantula soup - cheap liquor

corn, cush, geetus, jack - money

creep joint - a gambling parlor that migrates to avoid detection

croaker - doctor

dangle, drift, dust, dust out - go, leave

darb - a beautiful woman, anything of high quality

deek - detective

ding donger - aggressive person

dipsy doodle - chicanery

dog wagon - cheap restaurant

eightball - a loser

have your elbows checked - get arrested

fin - five dollars

frail, jane, twist, wren, x-ray - a woman or girl

frogskin - a dollar bill

to gaff - shortchange

gams, pins, stems - a woman’s legs

gat, heater, iron, piece, rod, roscoe, tickler - a handgun

get a can on, tie a bag on - get drunk

gink - a stupid man

to glim, to hinge - see, take a look

to glom - seize, steal

goozle - throat

gow, hop - heroin, any narcotic

gunsel - an armed criminal, also a young homosexual

Harlem sunset - a fatality with a knife

head fulla bees - crazy

heaters, peepers - eyes

highbinder - a corrupt politician

high pillow - the boss

hotcha - desirable, especially a woman

ing bing - a fit, an outburst

in jigtime - quickly

jingle brained - addled

to jug - to incarcerate

juice dealer - a loan shark

kelly, lid, skimmer - a man’s hat

kick - complaint

the lay - the setup, the arrangement

to lay paper - to pass counterfeit cash or bad checks

left handed - dubious, unlucky

loogan - a hoodlum, especially Irish

lunch hooks - hands

map - face

meat wagon - ambulance

the mop - the final word, the summation of events

mush, yap - mouth

nance - an effeminate man

to nick - take money from

nippers - handcuffs

on the nut, on my uppers - broke

on the pad - on the take

orphan paper - a bad check

oyster fruit - pearls

palm oil, salve - a bribe

to peach, to squeal, to turn up - inform

pissing on ice - living well

plaster - a tail, also a banknote

poke - wallet, bankroll

pro skirt - a prostitute

rats and mice - dice, craps

rib joint - a brothel

rub joint - a hall with taxi dancers

rug joint - a fancy nightclub

What’s the rumble?- what’s going on?

sawbuck - ten dollars

scatter - a room or hideout, also a speakeasy or club

second-story man - burglar

to send over - betray

to shag – tail, chase

on the shake, to shake - blackmail

shamus - private eye, also a police informer

sheever – a traitor, police informer

slapman - an undercover cop

slewfoot - a cop

to smoke - to kill with a gun

table grade - said of an attractive woman

tag - an arrest warrant

taped - under control, cinched

throw a bop into - have sex with

tip your mitt - show your cards

torpedo - an armed thug, a hit man

under glass - in jail

woo bait - attractive female

wrong gee, wrong number - an untrustworthy person

in a yank - in a rush

yard - $100, sometimes $1000

yegg - thief, safecracker

zazoo - a man, a sharp dresser


all aces, or all silk so far - everything’s okay

all wool and a yard wide - first rate

beat down to the ankles - worn out

cut me a huzz - tell me what’s happening

dogshit and razorblades - junk, worthless information

from hell to breakfast - thoroughly, all the way

grab a cloud - raise your hands

the squeeze ain’t worth the juice - not worth the effort

What’s the wire on this guy? - What’s the background, the story?

John Knoerle’s first novel, Crystal Meth Cowboys, published in 2003, was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, The Violin Player, won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. Knoerle is currently at work on “The American Spy Trilogy.” Book One, A Pure Double Cross, came out in 2008. Book Two, A Despicable Profession, was published in August of 2010.

John Knoerle currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Judie.

Find out more about the books of John Knoerle at www.bluesteelpress.com.

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