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The meaning and origin of the expression: Queer Street

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Queer Street

Meaning

An imaginary street where people in difficulty live.

Origin

This slang term was recorded in 1811 in an updated version of Grose's 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'.