Origin of "Queer Street"

Posted by James Briggs on August 18, 2002

In Reply to: Origin of "Queer Street" posted by Richard Osborne on August 17, 2002

: I found the origin of this phrase ("in debt") quite interesting, and unexpected, considering the context in which I have heard it used in the U.S.: I heard a boxing commentator describe a prizefighter who had taken a number of hard blows to the head as taking a walk on "Queer Street."

Here's what I have found:
Queer street: To be in queer street means to be in financial trouble. The origin here is said to be the habit of traders putting a query (?) against the name of customers with suspected financial problems. In my 1811 dictionary, however, the saying only implied that something was wrong or improper. There was no sense of financial element then. What it does say is:
'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.'
I have also been told that it may come from 'Carey Street', a street in the legal section of London but, of course, there no such sense in 1811, nor is there even any mention of 'Carey Street'. There is, however, an entry in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable which says that 'to be in Carey street' is to be bankrupt. The bankruptcy court is situated there. It seems that 'Carey street' is more recent than 'Queer street'.