Queer Street


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Queer Street'?

An imaginary street where people in difficulty live.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Queer Street'?

This slang term was recorded in 1811 in an updated version of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, titled Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence:

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 phrase is often associated with debtors, although not exclusively so. Queer Street may have been imaginary but it where it was imagined to be was certainly London. By 1821 the term had found its way into Pierce Egan’s Real Life in London:

“Limping Billy was also evidently in queer-street.”

Of course, the phrase was coined long before the 1920s when ‘queer’ was first used as a synonym for ‘homosexual’.

Trend of queer street in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.