Gas meters and flips

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Apr 30 13:20:46 UTC 2008

Actually, I posted this same question years ago, with reference to this same song.  Specifically, on Tue, 6 Mar 2001 16:03:30.  Considerable discussion followed.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

----- Original Message -----
From: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG>
Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 5:29 pm
Subject: Gas meters and flips

> I've got a query from a fellow who's got an R&B radio show (online
> only, I think) and wants to puzzle out some of the lyrics to a song
> called  "A Tip On The Numbers" which was released by Slim Gaillard &
> His Flat Foot Floogie Boys in 1941. Slim was also part of the duo Sam
> and Slim. They show up in the Black newspapers as early as 1938.
> The song is about the numbers game, a form of gambling that's very
> much like the Pick 3 you can now legally play in state lotteries. Slim
> sings a few numbers to play on certain days of the week, and then at
> about 1:13 there's a spoken bit that includes this exchange:
> [quote]
> Look here, [?], you got a couple of gas meters you can lay on me, you
> know?
> Gas meters! A gas meter?
> Gas meter.
> I got a deuce of flips I'll lay on ya. [?]
> A deuce of flips! Unh unh. Well, I'll tell ya old man, I need a couple
> of GAS meters.
> [end quote]
> The questions: what is "flip"?
>  From context surrounding this quote, it's clear they're talking about
> money. The song's about gambling, for one thing. For another, in the
> part after the quote above, one fellow tells the other that he's just
> received his welfare check.
> I agree with my correspondent that "gas meter" is a quarter, because,
> as he says, you used to have to put money in the gas meter on the
> house in order to get any gas out of it. Clarence Major's "Dictionary
> of Afro-American Talk" includes that meaning and dates it to the
> 1940s. A quote from Helen Trace Tysell's "The English of the Comic
> Cartoons" in American Speech (vol. 10, no. 1, Feb. 1935, p. 53) adds a
> bit of confirmation that gas meters took quarters: "That dog-goned gas
> meter swallers quarters like a elephant swallers peanuts."
> My correspondent also believes that a "flip" is a coin but he's not
> sure of the denomination, except that, if "gas meter" is a quarter,
> then a "flip" is probably a smaller coin. It makes me think of penny-
> pitching, but that's only a guess. Green's Cassell's Dictionary of
> Slang includes "flip"="a bribe or tip. [one 'flips' the recipient a
> coin]" but who can say if it's pertinent?
> I suppose that "flip" could be a clipping of "flipper"=hand and the
> one fellow could be telling the other when he says "I got a deuce of
> flips," more or less, "I'm not giving you money but I've got nothing
> but a pair of empty hands (that I'll smack you around with)."
> I've checked HDAS, DARE, Gold's Jazz Lexicon, the American Thesaurus
> of Slang, a few other dictionaries and a few of the newspaper
> databases but I'm not coming up with anything convincing.
> I've uploaded the song so you can hear it:
> Thanks, in any case.
> Grant Barrett
> gbarrett at
> 113 Park Place, Apt. 3
> Brooklyn, NY 11217
> (646) 286-2260
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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