One of the slightly more jovial definitions in Grose’s book, this means “a peruke maker”, with a peruke being a wig.
As an aside, the word peruke itself has rather fallen out of usage over time. Specifically, a peruke wig is the one worn by barristers and judges in British courts, although at the time of Grose they were quite a common fashion accessory amongst the well-to-do. I’m not sure that this was a much used phrase though, it doesn’t appear to have been used often in print.
I thought it was interesting that this definition is an old one, not anything more recent, and it’s “the riff-raff, tag-rag, and bob-tail, or lowest order of people.” In its other meaning of the dirty layer on liquid, it’s from the Germanic word ‘Schaúm’, which still means ‘foam’ in English.
It’s a long time since I’ve heard this phrase, which Grose defines as “a shark”. I know it more in the sense of it being an argumentative person, but it also means a sailor who refuses to follow an order, although that usage seems to be more from the late nineteenth century. It’s a quirky little phrase though, I like the idea of being able to refer to someone as a sea lawyer without them realising its full meaning….
Any excuse for me to roll out Ngram….. However, it shows the phrase is sadly fading out of usage.