Glossary of Terms from The Long Goodbye

Chandler uses many expressions in common use today, but also draws from less familiar trade lingo, several decades of American slang and colorful words from previous centuries. Occasionally he seems to coin a phrase of his own, or to give an old phrase new usage. This glossary of expressions used in The Long Goodbye should be helpful to those entering the world of Chandler for the first time, or instructive for those just learning to “put on the tough.”

The Players

Contact man: an intermediary or go-between

Goon: a hired thug

Hack/hackie: a taxi cab driver; also a writer of low quality, especially for low pay

Peanut grifter: a small-time swindler

Piker: a person who does things in a contemptibly small or cheap way; in gambling, a cautious gambler who places small, sure bets and raises small stakes

Shamus (or dick): private detective

Sharpies: cheats or swindlers, especially at cards

The Law

Prowl car boys: beat policemen in police cruisers

Sneezer (or icehouse): jail

The Liquor

French fits: symptoms of drug withdrawal

Had a skinful: usually meaning “drank a lot,” “had too much of”

Hooch: hard liquor, especially bootlegged liquor and moonshine whiskey from unregulated stills

Loaded: drunk

Plastered to the hairline: excessively drunk (“plastered”) to full capacity (“the hairline”)

Rolled: have one’s pockets picked while passed out drunk

Squiffed out: passed out drunk

Stinko: very drunk

Tight: fairly drunk

The Currency

Double sawbuck: a $20 bill (“sawbuck” = $10 bill)

Down-at-heels: destitute

The folding: folding money, i.e. paper money (as opposed to coins), especially in generous amounts

The Talk

Clam juice: uncooperative silence; from “clam up,” refuse to speak

Dropped my nickel: entered the fray; from “drop a nickel in the slot” to play a machine, place a phone call, etc.

Guff: sass, backtalk, nonsense or verbal abuse

Horse laugh: a loud, boisterous laugh

“I’m up to here in the soft babies.”: “I’m surrounded by sentimental weaklings.”

No skin off my teeth: no difficulty for me; no concern of mine

Putting on the tough: putting on a “tough guy” act

The Tools of the Trade

Ammunition: power, influence

Cheaters: reading glasses or bifocals

Gat: any powerful gun, especially the Thompson submachine gun (“Tommy gun”) favored by gangsters of the Prohibition era

Hang one on the chin: throw a punch to the face

Judas window: an aperture in a wall or door used for one-way observation

Plug: a commercial endorsement; also a bullet

Content last updated: April 30, 2008

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