‘Queer Street’, where people in difficulties reside

The name Queer Street, or Queer street, queer street, originated in British-English slang in the early 19th century; it denotes an imaginary street where people in difficulties, now especially financial ones, are supposed to reside—it is, so to speak, the urban counterpart of Dicky’s meadow, a Lancashire term also dating from the early 19th century.

It is first recorded in Lexicon Balatronicum. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pick Pocket Eloquence (1st edition – London, 1811), an expansion by Hewson Clarke (1787-circa 1832) of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, by Francis Grose (1731-91):

Queer Street. Wrong. Improper, Contrary to one’s wish. It is queer street, a cant phrase, to signify that it is wrong or different to our wish.

The earliest actual use of Queer Street that I have found is from The Globe (London) of 2nd December 1825, which gave an account of a boxing match between ‘Young Gas’ and Morris Pope, which took place in “a field near Devil’s Ditch”, near Andover:

Round 3. Gas let fly right and left, giving Pope a tremendous blow over his loft ogle, putting him a little into Queer street, and leaving a small incision, about an inch and a half long, to tell the “flattering tale;” Gas napt it on the ribs at the same time. Pope down.

The second-earliest instance that I have found is from a paragraph in The Sydney Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of 5th December 1831:

Catherine Anderson, picked up, as the constable described it, in “queer street,” was sent 14 days to the factory*.

* Here, the factory designates Parramatta, in New South Wales, a detention centre for women, where cloth was manufactured by inmates.




It has been said that Queer Street is an alteration of Carey Street, the name of a street in London, site of the bankruptcy court. But this derivation is impossible, since the court was not located there until after 1840; besides, Queer Street did not first occur in the restricted sense of financial difficulties.

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