have a screw loose, Slang. to be eccentric or neurotic; have crazy ideas: You must have a screw loose to keep so many cats.
    have one’s head screwed on (right/straight). head(def 67).
    put the screws on, to compel by exerting pressure on; use coercion on; force: They kept putting the screws on him for more money.

Origin of screw

1375–1425; late Middle English scrwe, screw(e) (noun); compare Middle French escro(ue) nut, Middle Dutch schrûve, Middle High German schrûbe screw
Related formsscrew·a·ble, adjectivescrew·er, nounscrew·less, adjectivescrew·like, adjective

Synonyms for screw Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for screw around



a device used for fastening materials together, consisting of a threaded and usually tapered shank that has a slotted head by which it may be rotated so as to cut its own thread as it bores through the material
Also called: screw-bolt a threaded cylindrical rod that engages with a similarly threaded cylindrical hole; bolt
a thread in a cylindrical hole corresponding with that on the bolt or screw with which it is designed to engage
anything resembling a screw in shape or spiral form
a twisting movement of or resembling that of a screw
Also called: screw-back billiards snooker
  1. a stroke in which the cue ball recoils or moves backward after striking the object ball, made by striking the cue ball below its centre
  2. the motion resulting from this stroke
another name for propeller (def. 1)
slang a prison guard
British slang salary, wages, or earnings
British a small amount of salt, tobacco, etc, in a twist of paper
slang a person who is mean with money
slang an old, unsound, or worthless horse
(often plural) slang force or compulsion (esp in the phrase put the screws on)
slang sexual intercourse
have a screw loose informal to be insane
turn the screw or tighten the screw slang to increase the pressure


(tr) to rotate (a screw or bolt) so as to drive it into or draw it out of a material
(tr) to cut a screw thread in (a rod or hole) with a tap or die or on a lathe
to turn or cause to turn in the manner of a screw
(tr) to attach or fasten with a screw or screws
(tr) informal to take advantage of; cheat
(tr often foll by up) to distort or contorthe screwed his face into a scowl
Also: screw back to impart a screw to (a ball)
(tr, often foll by from or out of) to coerce or force out of; extort
slang to have sexual intercourse (with)
(tr) slang to burgle
have one's head screwed on or have one's head screwed on the right way informal to be wise or sensible
See also screw up
Derived Formsscrewer, nounscrewlike, adjective

Word Origin for screw

C15: from French escroe, from Medieval Latin scrōfa screw, from Latin: sow, presumably because the thread of the screw is like the spiral of the sow's tail


The use of this otherwise utilitarian word in a sexual sense, though recorded in an 18th century slang dictionary, does not appear to have really taken off until well into the 20th. Although a classic example of the anatomical metaphor for the sex act seen from the male point of view, it can be used as a transitive verb by women, which suggests that the metaphor is all but dead
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for screw around



"cylinder of wood or metal with a spiral ridge round it; hole in which a screw turns," c.1400, from Middle French escroue "nut, cylindrical socket, screwhole," of uncertain etymology; not found in other Romanic languages. Perhaps via Gallo-Romance *scroba or West Germanic *scruva from Vulgar Latin scrobis "screw-head groove," in classical Latin "ditch, trench," also "vagina" (Diez, though OED finds this "phonologically impossible").

Kluge, Watkins and others trace it to Latin scrofa "breeding sow," perhaps based on the shape of a pig's penis (cf. Portuguese porca, Spanish perca "a female screw," from Latin porca "sow"). Latin scrofa is literally "digger, rooter," from PIE root *(s)ker- (1) "to cut" (see shear (v.)). A group of apparently cognate Germanic words (Middle Low German, Middle Dutch schruve, Dutch schroef, German Schraube, Swedish skrufva "screw") are said to be French loan-words.

Sense of "means of pressure or coercion" is from 1640s, probably in reference to instruments of torture (e.g. thumbscrews). Meaning "prison guard, warden" is 1812 in underworld slang, originally in reference to the key they carried (screw as slang for "key" attested from 1795). Slang meaning "an act of copulation" is recorded from 1929 (meaning "a prostitute" is attested from 1725). To have a screw loose "have a dangerous (usually mental) weakness" is recorded from 1810.



"to twist (something) like a screw," 1590s, from screw (n.). From 1610s as "to attach with a screw." Slang meaning "to copulate" dates from at least 1725, originally usually of the action of the male, on the notion of driving a screw into something. Meaning "defraud, cheat" is from 1900. First recorded 1949 in exclamations as a euphemism. Related: Screwed; screwing. To screw up "blunder" is recorded from 1942. Screwed up originally was figurative for "tuned to a high or precise pitch" (1907), an image from the pegs of stringed instruments. Meaning "confused, muddled" attested from 1943. Expression to have (one's) head screwed on the right (or wrong) way is from 1821.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with screw around

screw around


Fool around aimlessly, accomplishing nothing, as in If you boys would stop screwing around we'd have the fence painted in an hour. It is also put as screw around with, as in Stop screwing around with the new camera. The idiom probably derives from screw in the sense of “turn” or “twist.” [Slang; second half of 1900s]


Be sexually promiscuous, as in He's been screwing around behind her back for years. [Vulgar slang; first half of 1900s]


In addition to the idioms beginning with screw

  • screw around
  • screw loose
  • screw someone out of
  • screw up
  • screw up one's courage
  • screw you

also see:

  • have a screw loose
  • pluck (screw) up one's courage
  • tighten the screws
  • turn up the heat (put the screws on)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.