Raymond Chandler’s Guide to Street, Hoodlum, and Prison Lingo

Some of the best parts of Chandler's notebooks were his compilations of pickpocket lingo, jail house slang, and terms used by Narcs

Raymond Chandler, writer, crime, books


Writers keep notebooks because ideas come in the most unexpected of places. Notebooks contain a junkyard of treasures waiting to be discovered. They provide ports of entry to the imagination. And as Joan Didion once wrote, a place to keep “on nodding terms with the people we used to be”.

Thomas Hardy kept four notebooks: a “literary notebook”; a “Poetical Matter” notebook for his poetry; a “Studies, Specimens, etc.” notebook for assorted jottings; and a notebook for “Facts” which he compiled with help from his wife Emma out of old newspaper stories from the 1820s.

Raymond Chandler kept two kinds of notebook. One recording daily events and progression on works in hand. The second contained lists of titles, puns, similes, story ideas, observations, and first drafts. When Chandler moved to England, he had most of his notebooks taken out to city dump and burnt. Only two loose-leaf notebooks remained after Chandler’s death.

These notebooks reveal Chandler’s dedication to his craft, his fastidious nature, and his no-nonsense straightforward prose. Among his earliest notes are later marginalia denouncing any hint of pretentiousness.


Raymond Chandler, Killer in the Rain, book, crime fiction


Among his notes are comments on science and art or “truth”:

There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first truth is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art science would be useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would be a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from being ridiculous.


Chandler had a long interest in creating book titles. He even invented a writer Aaron Klopstein to try out some of his more bizarre titles, like Once More the Cicatrice, The Seagull Has No Friends, Twenty Inches of Monkey, The Hydraulic Facelift and Cat Hairs in the Custard.

Other titles for possible novels include:

The Man with the Shredded Ear

All Guns are Loaded

The Corpse Came in Person

They Only Murdered Him Once

The Diary of a Loud Check Suit

Deceased When Last Seen

Quick, Hide the Body

Stop Screaming—It’s Me

The Black-Eyed Blonde


Everyone Says Good-bye Too Soon


Raymond Chandler, Pearls are a Nuisance, books, crime fiction


But book titles and weighty thoughts was one thing, some of the best parts of Chandler’s notebooks were his compilations of pickpocket lingo, jail house slang, and terms used by Narcs.

Narcotics Squad Slang

pin-jabber—hypo user


dodo—any addict

gow—a dope, as “gowed up”

kick the gong around—use dope (Harlem)

daisy crushers—shoes

pearl diver—dish washer

fancy pants—(verb) to act cagily or coyly

Hard Harry—a hard guy

Slang and Hard Talk

Chicago lightning—gunfire

dip the bill—take a drink


cough yourself off—beat it

eel juice—liquor

creased, bent—knocked off, also stolen

circulation drops—drinks


squibbed off—shot

new street—new girl

give her hello—say hello to her

kick the joint—break in

under glass—in prison, caught

Hollywood Slang

baggage-smasher—clumsy person


duchess—a girl in the money

fluff—baby doll


garbo—a highhat

jail break—time out to eat

mob it—break formation

queen bee—show off

sock the clock—punch the time clock

toots—chorus boy (getting stale)

X ray—still photo

zubber—a cane and spats guy


Raymond Chandler, The Smart Aleck Kill, crime fiction, Penguin Books


San Quentin Prison Slang

Quoted by former Warden Holohan in Los Angeles Times.

(Well-known terms omitted.)

Beak – Judge

Buried – held incommunicado

Broom – Disappeared hastily

Bonarue (Fr.) – Good

Box – Safe and also phonograph

Bank – Shot of dope

Back door parole – Die in prison

Blow your copper – Lose good conduct credits

Buck – Priest

Case dough – Limited dough

Caught in a snowstorm – Cocained up

Crazy alley – Fenced-in section for daffy prisoners

Copper-hearted – Informer by nature

Crib – Safe

Crow McGee – No good, not real

Cecil – Cocaine

Croaker – Doctor

Copper – Good prison records

Cop a heel – Assault from behind

Dinah – Nitroglycerine

Dropper – Paid killer

Duffer – Bread

Eye – Detective

Fog – Shoot

Fall money – Bail and legal fees

Fin – Five dollar bill

Fin up – Five years to live

Grease – Protection money

Glom – Steal, grab

Gum heel – Cop

Herder – Guard in prison

Hincty – Suspicious

Jinny – Blind pig

Lifeboat – Pardon, commutation of sentence

McCoy – Genuine (opposed to Crow McGee)

Nose – Police spy

On the Erie – Shut up! someone is listening

Office – Signal

On the muscle – Quarrelsome, ready for trouble

Put the cross on – Mark for death

Roscoe – Gat, hand gun

Shag – Worthless

Slam off – Die (not kill)

Swamp – Arrest

Slim – Police spy

Sneeze – Kidnap

Spear – Arrest

Shin – Knife, contraband weapon, shotgun

Siberia – Solitary confinement cells

Tommy Gee – Machine gunner


Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, books, Penguin Books, crime fiction


Pickpocket Lingo

(Maybe New York only)

Saturday Evening Post, October 21, 1950

Cannon—General term for pickpocket (Dip is unused, obsolete)

Live cannon—A thief who works on normally situated people, as opposed to a roller (a lushworker) who frisks drunks. Both men knock their victims. Rousters walk with the victim pretending to help; sneak workers don’t touch him unless he is passed out or near to it.

Pit worker—Inside-breast-pocket expert.

Moll buzzer—Operator on women’s handbags.


Short—Bus, street car, any public conveyance.

Stride—Walking (“On the stride.”)

Shed—Railroad station.



Button—Police badge.

Kiss the dog—Work face to face with the victim.

Tail pits—Right and left side pockets of jacket.

Pratt—Rear trouser pocket.

Stall—Accomplice who creates confusion to fix the victim’s attention.

Right fall—Grand larceny conviction. To obtain there must be testimony that the accused had his hand in the victim’s pocket and was caught with the goods still on him. Most arrests are for “jostling,” which is a misdemeanor good for no more than six bits (months). A shove is enough when the shover is a known operator.

Hanger binging—Opening women’s handbags without stealing the bag.

Tweezer—Change purse.

Stiff—A newspaper or other shield to hide operations.

Wire or hook—The actual live cannon, as opposed to the stall.

Shot—A young pickpocket just starting to work (Harlem cant).

Fan the scratch—To locate money in a pocket without putting the hand in, i.e., by touch.

Dunnigan worker—Thieves who hang around comfort stations hoping for a coat left on a hook.

Note: A cannon never takes your money. He forks his fingers over it and moves away from it with a shove.


Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, Elliott Gould, book, crime fiction, film

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