I would really appreciate it if someone could confirm whether I have interpreted correctly the meaning of “stiffs” in the following excerpt
“I had enough,” he said angrily. “You ain't wanted here. We told you you ain't. An' I tell ya, you got floozy idears about what us guys amounts to. You ain't got sense enough in that chicken head to even see that we ain't stiffs. S'pose you get us canned. S'pose you do. You think we'll hit the highway an' look for another lousy two-bit job like this. You don't know that we got our own ranch to go to, an' our own house.”
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
Despite what Yahoo! answers tells me, “He's referring to the fact that they're both not dead”, I'm certain that is the wrong meaning.
Collins Dictionary provides the following definitions of the noun stiff in American English
- a corpse
- a drunken person
- an excessively formal or constrained person
- an awkward or rough person
- a hobo
- a man
- a person who gives a small tip or no gratuity at all
I believe that Candy, an aged and infirm handyman, is telling Curly's wife that he, Lennie (an itinerant worker) and Crooks (a stablehand) are not hobos. However, there are two definitions of hobo, neither one of which matches exactly
- A hobo is a person who has no home, especially one who travels from place to place and gets money by begging.
- A hobo is a worker, especially a farm worker, who goes from place to place in order to find work.
Lennie is an itinerant worker, a man with no fixed abode, whose dream is to settle down and live on a farm. Instead, Crooks and Candy have both lived and worked on the ranch for years. Curly's wife (she has no name in the novel) is aware that Crooks and Candy are not vagrants, but Candy uses the term stiffs as an abrasive slur.
In the excerpt, does the expression stiff refer to a homeless person who begs for money or someone who is a migrant worker? Perhaps there is another meaning of this N.American slang, one which is not listed in the Collins Dictionary.
Being born British, I am most familiar with the meaning of stiff being slang for a dead person. In current American English usage, can I say someone who is homeless and without work is a stiff? Can I use it instead of hobo or is it dated?
How derogatory or offensive is the term today? Is stiff = tramp/migrant worker familiar among American speakers?