Gang Jargon

Before you get to the article…

On February 23, 2018, my book on the Mau Maus and Sand Street Angels, who were two Brooklyn youth gangs from the 1950s, has been completed.  It took 15 years of research and writing to complete Brooklyn Rumble: Mau Maus, Sand Street Angels, and the End of an Era.  This book is roughly 6″x9″ and has 370 pages and includes a look at the characters in the Mau Maus and the details of a gang killing that happened in February 1959 in front of the iconic Brooklyn Paramount Theater (now Long Island University).  If you want to buy a copy, click here and this link will take you to an online ordering page.


Here are some of the words used, creating a peculiar gang vernacular, some of them are self-explantory, others need an explanation.  I have seen some of these words brought up in court records and they had to be explained to the judge and jury.

Common Gang Terms Meaning
Bust To beat up. Also to disperse, as, “Man the cops busted us and we wasn’t doing anything.”
Bopping Fighting against a rival gang
Burn To bop, especially with weapons
Call it on To arrange a rumble
Clique The gang
Cool it To call off the rumble
Crew Same as clique
Debs The girlfriends of gang members. Sometimes the debs are loosely organized as an auxilliary of the gang
Down Bad; tough. A gang member might say admiringly of his gang: “We’re way down”
Down kiddie A tough guy. He doesn’t punk out. He’s not chicken
Fair one A fist fight, without weapons, between one or more representatives of two rival gangs. A fair one may occur when individual members of rival gangs have personal grudges to settle, or when it has been decided to settle gang grievances without resorting to a rumble. In many cases, what starts as a fair one, with the rest of the gang watching, ends in a rumble anyway
Go down Same as to burn
Job man The social worker, usually from the Youth Board, who tries to help gang members. Gangs often like to have a job man assigned to them because it shows how tough they are
Jump A dance or other social event. Also, as a verb, to attack rival gang members without warning
Pad down To search or frisk. “The cops padded us and then busted us”
Piece A firearm, usually a pistol, but also a rifle, perhaps cut down. “The heat’s on, man; I got to hide my piece”
Pot Marijuana
Pull a jap To make a sneak attack. From the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese “burned our guys”
Punk out To behave in a cowardly manner; to run away, as from a fight or threat
Rank To taunt rivals with threatening or insulting looks or words; a form of challenge. Probably from the Army expression to “pull rank,” meaning to make use of one’s higher rank to bully a subordinate
Rep Reputation, prestige, status. One of the major reasons for joining a gang
Rumble A huge free for all fight, often with up to 50-60 boys. Usually took place in a park or school yard
Schemer The shrewd member of the gang. A schemer might take over gang leadership by subtly playing one faction against another. Also, the one who thinks up things to do
Session Same as jump or dance
Shank To stab, particularly in the leg
Sound Same as to rank, with overtones of seeing how far the one being sounded can be pushed
Stick To stab someone without killing them i.e. in the shoulder, arm or leg
Tight Close in the sense of close friends
Turf The neighborhood territory ruled by a gang. Rumbles frequently happen as a result of invasions of a gang’s turf, or from disputes over who’s turf it is
Waste To defeat thoroughly; to annihilate. “Man those guys busted one of our kids. So we got some bicycle chains and a piece and we went over in the turf and really wasted them” Possibly from the phrase “to lay waste”