But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man’s jolt. And never you cop another man’s plea. I’ve tried ‘em all and I know. They don’t work. (Nelson Algren, A Walk on the Wild Side)

It seems all search results of "blow wise to", very few in number, all point back to this book. Wiktionary's entry also cites this same sentence. It doesn't seem to appear anywhere else. Although Algren famously uses a lot of slang in his works, I can't find any origin/contemporary currency for this one. Are there other instantiations/attestations of this usage? What's its etymology? And what exactly is the phrase? Is "blow to something/someone" the basic phrase?

  • The basic phrase is definitely wise (to something). I’ve never seen or heard it used with the verb blow before, but it’s common enough with verbs like grow or become. Oct 14, 2018 at 22:38
  • Blow wise is probably a locally understood idiom for wise up. You forgot to mention "shaking another man’s jolt". Oct 14, 2018 at 22:41
  • @WeatherVane Haha, good call! Having read some Algren, I actually know what "shake someone's jolt" means. Prison slang, apparently.
    – user280704
    Oct 14, 2018 at 22:49
  • Hmmm so the apparent wisdom in the quote did not spare any jail / gaol time. Oct 14, 2018 at 22:51

1 Answer 1


For its definition, origin and exact phrase: A Dictionary of the Underworld: British and American:

»blow wise (to). To grasp the meaning (of), to inform oneself (about), to become informed: Dec. 1930, The American Mercury, James P. Burke ('The Argot of the Racketeers'), 'Blow wise to what I'm spieling', 1934, Howard N. Rose

And in Cassell's Dictionary of Slang

blow wise v. [late 19C+l (US) To see where one's interests lie, to understand; blow v. and wise n.

From my perusal of the etymology of blow, I could find no definite connection. "To bloom, blossom, put forth [flowers]" could possibly be related.


Is "blow to something/someone" the basic phrase?

I do not believe so. And for current usage in Ame ... nothing much:

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