Roach Clip

What does “Roach Clip” mean?

Roach clip is a slang term used to describe any device used to hold a partially smoked joint or blunt that has become too small to hold. Using a roach clip prevents the consumer from burning their fingers. Tools like alligator clips, needle nose pliers, surgical hemostats, or tweezers can all be used as a roach clip.

Example usage:

“Hey, do you have something we can use as a roach clip? The joint is getting too small to hold.”

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Related Cannabis Vocabulary Terms:


The history of the term “Roach Clip”

Before getting to where the slang “Roach clip” comes from, we must first look at where the term “roach” comes from. While the exact origin of the term in cannabis culture is speculated, the most likely origin is thought to have come from Latin-America. In several variations of the folk-song “La Cucaracha” (“The Cockroach”) the song references a cockroach’s need to smoke weed. Lyrics to a 1910 version of the song are below:

“La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Porque no tiene
porque le falta
Marihuana que fumar

English translation:

The cockroach, the cockroach
Cannot walk anymore
Because it hasn’t
because it lacks
marijuana to smoke”

In this version of the song, we can see the reference to what is known in cannabis culture as a ‘roach’. The roach, being the end of a joint, usually has little cannabis left to smoke. Different interpretations of this version have been widely debated. Reportedly during the Mexican Revolution, commander Pancho Villa’s troops sung this version during battle. Later the song is used in a mocking regard toward Mexico’s dictator, Victoriano Huerta who was highly criticized at the time.

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the United States saw a wave of immigration throughout south-western America that brought with them their language, culture, and cannabis. Cannabis became popular amongst marginalized communities by being a relatively inexpensive while prejudice and fear grew around the plant. Media published articles conflating cannabis users to violent criminals, having “superhuman strength”, and a “lust for blood”.


Jazz Era’s Influence

In 1938, ‘roach’ is first seen in the United States published in a New Yorker Magazine article about Jazz clubs in Harlem, where journalist Meyer Berger describes cannabis culture among African-American jazz musicians. In the article he goes on to explain many different cannabis terms of the time such as “viper” being someone who consumes cannabis and a “roach” as “a pinched off smoke, or stub”.

Many other “stoner” terms came out of the Jazz Age by being referenced by majorly influential Jazz musicians most notably Louis Armstrong. In his biography, The Louis Armstrong Story: 1900-1971, Armstrong recounts an arrest for cannabis possession by stating, “The two were sharing a joint outside in the parking lot between sets. Unbeknownst to them, a rival club owner had summoned two detectives who saddled up to the pair and said, “We’ll take the roach, boys.””

A Low-Tech Solution

While roach clips may have been common place in cannabis culture behind the scenes, it wasn’t until 1973 until the word “roach clip” sees its first publication. In the humorous essay, “The Ubiquitous Roach Clip“, Charles Willeford writes how it would be un-American to not get your money’s-worth of “Mary-Jane” by using a roach clip to savor your joint. He goes on to talk about the low-tech evolution of roach clips, stating, “Initially, a bent paper match in the form a “V” was a hasty field expedient, which was quickly followed by the split wooden match. These crude implements did the job, perfunctorily, but they were not quite satisfactory.”

Roach clips became a creative implementation of cannabis culture. Anything from hair clips to wire became rudimentary tools commonly seen as adaptations to smoking. “The bobby pin was much better, a natural development as women were drawn inevitably into the weed culture. With one flat interior side, and one bumpy side, the bobby pin was an evolutionary milestone and a far better roach clip than the ordinary office paper clip,” wrote Willeford.

Fashion and Customization

By the 1960’s, people started to get creative about their cannabis accessories. An artist named Gary Knox Bennett started commercially producing Roach Clips in San Francisco by turning mass-produced parts into custom pieces. Bennett elevated roach clips into a modern, elegant form with Baroque-inspired spirals and beautiful jewels. Others opted for more of a middle ground and refashioned their alligator clips with leather cords and colorful feathers. Today the creativity of roach clip’s is vast – look no further than Etsy to see hundreds of different iterations of what a roach clip can be.