In the opening chapter of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, the first-person narrator is telling a story to an "advertising exec type fruit" on the New York subway, and in the middle of the story he goes on a digression:

"Ever notice how many expressions carry over from the queers to con men? Like 'raise', letting someone know you are in the same line?

"'Get her!'

"'Get the Paregoric Kid giving that mark the build up!'

"'Eager Beaver wooing him much too fast.'

What does this passage mean?

  • 4
    It would help to provide more context (who the speaker is, what happened before, chapter, page number, edition, author). And also when you ask about meaning, are you asking for the meaning of particular words or phrases, a paraphrase of these particular lines, or an explanation of where they fit into the novel as a whole, and what they mean as part of the wider work of art?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


The speaker in this passage is calling attention to similarities in slang usage between “queers” (gay men) and “con men” (confidence tricksters). He gives four examples of phrases which have slang meanings to both groups.

  1. “‘raise’, letting someone know you are in the same line”

    “Line” here is “one’s vocation or calling” (OED) so that in context “to be in the same line” means “to be a queer/conman too”. I was unable to find any independent evidence for this sense of “raise”. It is in the New Partridge Dictionary:

    raise verb to identify yourself to a fellow traveller US

    Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, eds. (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, volume II, p. 1584. London: Routledge.

    but the only citation given there is to this very passage from Naked Lunch.

  2. “‘Get her!’”

    get her (exclaim, dated, ’40s) command to take a gander at someone who is trying his damnedest to be charming and witty but winding up a fiasco. Equivalent to “who does he think he is?”

    Bruce Rodgers (1979). Gay Talk: A (Sometimes Outrageous) Dictionary of Gay Slang, p. 95. New York: Paragon.

  3. “‘Get the Paregoric Kid giving that mark the build up!’”

    “The Paregoric Kid” is a nickname for the hypothetical queer/conman in the example.

    paregoric, n. A pain-relieving or soothing medicinal preparation, esp. an opiate.

    mark, n. 26.b. A person who is easily persuaded, deceived, or taken advantage of; a victim targeted by a swindler, cheat, etc.

    build-up, n. An accumulation of favourable publicity designed to popularize a person, product, etc. Also, simply, preparatory work, preparation.

    Oxford English Dictionary

    Putting all this together, the Paregoric Kid is using soothing words to prepare or persuade someone, either to engage in sexual activity, or to be the victim of a confidence trick.

  4. “‘Eager Beaver wooing him much too fast.’”

    Again, “Eager Beaver” is a nickname for the hypothetical person in the example.

    pushover one easily persuaded to join in sexual activity; an eager beaver

    Rodgers, p. 162.

    “Woo” means “to move or invite by alluring means; to entreat or solicit alluringly” (OED), the invitation being to engage in sexual activity, or to participate in a confidence trick.

  • thank you for this @gareth-rees, I was lost on the first line referencing "raise" because I couldn't find any reference/usage for this one so the rest of it didn't make sense to me. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 6:48

Gareth's answer is already great! Personally I would add that there is additional subtext in terms of the relationship between queer life, organized crime, and rituals of speech.

In the days of the vice beat, cops were trained to infiltrate queer circles with a rigor that you would expect of cops trying to infiltrate a gang. Police studied the rituals and language of queer life extensively, and trained their cops to be able to replicate those signifiers, similarly to when police attempt to infiltrate crime organizations.

"In some departments, it may have occupied a majority of the vice squad’s time and personnel. Often selected for their youth or beauty, these cops sometimes went through an astonishing training regimen to prepare them to slip undetected into the demimonde of the sexual psychopath, receiving official guidance on dress, slang, and comportment at a level likely surpassing even the most committed homosexuals. But soon men began sharing stories of being beaten, arrested, or worse from the predatory undercovers and adopted community signals to make clear to both parties that neither meant the other harm."


Queer men at the time had a similar reason for needing to operate in covert ways, and signify their identity to others like them while not alerting suspicion. Thus the shared ideas of "raising" to another person and being "in the same line."

Additionally, there is a history of violence and crime in film serving as a proxy for intimacy between men. Injury and emaciation serve as plausible deniability that allows men to express care for one another:

"One way of doing this, Neale argues, is by making the male body the target of violence. In the war film, a soldier can hold his buddy—as long as his buddy is dying on the battlefield. In the western, Butch Cassidy can wash the Sundance Kid's naked flesh—as long as it is wounded. In the boxing film, a trainer can rub the well-developed torso and sinewy back of his protege—as long as it is bruised. In the crime film, a mob lieutenant can embrace his boss like a lover—as long as he is riddled with bullets. Violence makes the homoeroticism of many "male" genres invisible; it is a structural mechanism of plausible deniability."

TARANTINO'S INCARNATIONAL THEOLOGY: "Reservoir Dogs", Crucifixions and Spectacular Violence journal article in JSTOR by Kent L. Brintnall

So, I think beyond the explicit parallels in shared language, I think Burroughs might also be pointing to both the shared mechanisms of homosocial ritual and the implicit cultural connections between crime films and connection between men.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.