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Speak Easy: Slang from the 1920's

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Did you hear that bearcat was playin' backseat bingo with that flyboy?"

A few nights ago, I was soaking in a bubble bath while my silly husband was making me laugh saying goofy out-of-date phrases, which inspired me to bring you some vintage slang. Many of these phrases are still used today but some died out long ago. It's funny to read some of these things and think about some of the strange things that we say today. I wonder if our grandchildren will laugh at us!

My "drinking" partner here is my little sister, Chelsea...
I found these adorable Flapper Flashcards from Flapperdoodle on etsy. How cute are they?! Learn to gab like a flapper with these jazz age phrases

Actor-Show-off
Agitate the Gravel-To leave (hot-rodders)
Ankle-biter-A child
To go ape- to explode or be really mad
Baby -Cute girl, term of address for either sex
Back seat bingo-Necking in a car
Bad news-Depressing person
Bash -Great party
Bent eight-a V-8 engine (hot-rodders)
Big Daddy -An older person
Big tickle -Really funny
Bit-An act
Blast-A good time
Blow off-To defeat in a race (hot-rodders)
Bobbed -Shortened
Boss-Great
Bread-Money
"You bug me" - to bother
Burn rubber-To accelerate hard and fast (hot-rodders)

Ab-so-lute-ly - affirmative
All Wet - describes an erroneous idea or individual, as in, "he's all wet."
And How - I strongly agree!
Applesauce- an expletive same as horsefeathers, As in "Ah applesauce!"
Attaboy - well done!; also Attagirl!
Balled Up - confused, messed up
Baloney - nonsense!
Bank's Closed - no kissing or making out - i.e. - "Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed."
Bearcat - a hot-blooded or fiery girl
Beat it - scam or get lost
Beat one's gums - idle chatter
Bee's Knees - An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
Beef - a complaint or to complain
Beeswax - business, i.e. None of your beeswax."
Bell bottom - a sailor
Berries - That which is attractive or pleasing; similar to bee's knees, As in "It's the berries."
Bible Belt - Area in the South and Midwest where Fundamentalism flourishes
Big Cheese - The most important or influential person; boss. Same as big shot
Big six - a strong man; from auto advertising, for the new and powerful; six cylinder engines
Bimbo - a tough guy
Bird - general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old bird."
Blind Date - going out with someone you do not know
Bluenose - An excessively puritanical person, a prude, Creator of "the Blue Nozzle Curse."
Bootleg - illegal liquor
Breezer - an convertible car
Bronx Cheer - A loud spluttering noise, used to indicate disapproval. Same as raspberry
Bull - (1) a policeman or law-enforcement officer including FBI (2) nonsense (3) to chat idly, to exaggerate
Bull Session - Male talkfest, gossip, stories of sexual exploits
Bum's rush - ejection by force from an establishment
Bump Off - To murder, To kill
Butt me - I'll take a cigarette

Caper - a criminal act or robbery
Carry a Torch - To have a crush on someone
Cash - a kiss
Cash or check? - Do you kiss now or later?
Cat's Meow - Something splendid or stylish; similar to bee's knees; The best or greatest, wonderful.
Cat's Pajamas - Same as cat's meow
Chassis - the female body
Cheaters - Eyeglasses
Check - kiss me later
Ciggy - cigarette
Clam - a dollar
Copacetic - Wonderful, fine, all right
Crush - An infatuation
Daddy - a young woman's boyfriend or lover, especially if he's rich
Dame - a female
Dapper - a Flapper's dad
Darb - An excellent person or thing (as in "the Darb" - a person with money who can be relied on to pay the check)
Dead soldier - an empty bear bottle
Deb - an debutant
Dick - a private investigator
Dogs - feet
Doll - an attractive woman
Dolled up - dressed up
Don't know from nothing - don't have any information
Don't take any wooden nickels - Don't do anything stupid
Double-cross - to cheat, stab in the back
Dough - money
Drugstore Cowboy - a guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up girls
Dry up - shut up, get lost
Ducky - very good
Dumb Dora - a stupid female
Earful - enough
Edge - intoxication, a buzz. i.e. "I've got an edge."
Egg - a person who lives the big life
Fall Guy - Victim of a frame
Fire extinguisher - a chaperone
Fish -(1) a college freshman
(2) a first timer in prison
Flat Tire - A dull witted, insipid, disappointing date. Same as pill, pickle, drag, rag, oilcan
Flivver - a Model T; after 1928, could mean any old broken down car
Flapper - A stylish, brash, hedonistic young woman with short skirts & shorter hair
Fly boy - a glamorous term for an aviator
Frame - To give false evidence , to set up someone

Gams - A woman's legs
Get a wiggle on - get a move on, get going
Giggle Water - An intoxicating beverage; alcohol
Gin Mill - An establishment where hard liquor is sold; bar
Glad rags - "going out on the town" clothes
Gold Digger - A woman who associates with or marries a man for his wealth
Goofy - in love
Hair of the Dog - a shot of alcohol
Handcuff - an engagement ring
Hard Boiled - a tough, strong guy
Hayburner - (1) a gas guzzling car (2) a horse one loses money on
Heebie-Jeebies - The jitters
High-Hat - To snub
Hit on all sixes - to perform 100 per cent; as "hitting on all six cyclinders"
Hooch - Bootleg liquor
Hood - hoodlum
Hoofer - Dancer
Horsefeathers - an expletive ; same usage as applesauce
Hotsy - Totsy - Pleasing
It - Sex appeal
Iron - a motorcycle
Jack - money
Jake - OK, as in , "Everything is Jake."
Jalopy - Old car
Jane - any female
Java - coffee
Jitney - a car employed as a private bus. Fare was usually five cents; also called a "nickel"
Joe - coffee
John - a toilet
Joint - an establishment
Juice Joint - a speakeasy
Joint - A club, usually selling alcohol
Keen - Attractive or appealing
Kisser - Mouth
Left holding the bag - (1) to be cheated out of one's fair share (2) to be blamed for something
Level with me - be honest
Line - Insincere flattery
Live wire - a lively person
Middle Aisle - To marry
Mrs. Grundy - A priggish or extremely tight-laced person
Moll - A gangster's girl
Neck - Kissing with passion
[up]
Nifty - great, excellent
"Now you're on the trolley!" - Now you've got it, now you're right!
Nobody Home - Describes some one who is dumb

On the lam - fleeing from police
On the level - legitimate, honest
On the up and up - on the level
Orchid - an expensive item
Ossified - a drunk personOwl - a person who's out late
Palooka (1) a below-average or average boxer (2) a social outsider, from the comic strip character Joe Palooka
Pet - Same as neck, but more so
Piker - (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward
Pill - (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person
Pinch - To arrest
Pipe down - stop talking
Pushover - A person easily convinced or seduced
Putting on the Ritz - after the Ritz hotel in Paris; doing something in high style
Rag-a-muffin - a dirty or disheveled individual
Razz- to make fun of
Real McCoy - The genuine article
Ritzy - Elegant (from the hotel)
Rubes - money or dollars
Sap - a fool
Says you - a reaction of disbelief
Scram - Ask someone to leave immediately
Sheba - A woman with sex appeal (from the move Queen of Sheba) or (e.g. Clara Bow)
Sheik - A man with sex appeal (from the Valentino movies)
Shiv - a knife
Sinker - a doughnut
Speakeasy - An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor
Spifflicated - Drunk. The same as canned, corked, tanked, primed, scrooched, jazzed, zozzled, plastered, owled, embalmed, lit, potted, ossified or fried to the hat
Spiffy - An elegant appearance
Spoon - to neck, or at least talk of love
Struggle Buggy - the backseat of a car. A parent's worst nightmare
Stuck On - Having a crush on
Swanky - Ritzy
Swell - Wonderful. Also: a rich man
Take for a Ride - To drive off with someone in order to bump them off
Tin Pan Alley - the music industry in New York, located between 48th and 52nd street
Tomato - a female
Torpedo - A hired gun
Upchuck - To vomit when one has drunk too much
Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy
What's eating you? - What's wrong
Whoopee - To have a good time
You slay me - that's funny
Zozzled-Drunk
*1920's slang terms from the Antique Automobile Club of America

21 Responses to “Speak Easy: Slang from the 1920's”

  1. It's amazing how much of that language we still use - only, we barely consider it slang anymore, it's been around for so long!

    Great post!

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  2. What a great post! Struggle buggy- too funny.
    Lovely drinking partners. I love hearing antiquated phrases pop out now and then.
    A southern one I said the other day was RIGHT AS RAIN.
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

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  3. Great post! I love using 1920s slang in everyday convo. It's always good for a laugh.

    pixiedrivein.blogspot.com

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  4. Very interesting, I'll have to see how many I can slip into my conversations.......hehe............. Love the photo's of you two !!!!

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  5. Your photos are just ducky ;) Looks like you two babies might be on a caper, or at the very least, you'll end up spifflicated - LOL.

    Vintage slang is too fun - I use it often. Gee, I've always called my vehicle a jitney - does that mean I can start charging passengers 5 cents??

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  6. haha! Just the bee's knees, doll! You look so ritzy for a dame on the hooch!

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  7. lol, you gals are too much fun! or should I say "you slay me!" hehehe!

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  8. Spifflicated!

    Is it too late to change my name from 23SkidooWithYou to Spifflicated???

    btw The pics from the train station were terrific. My fav was the reflection shot in the window. Really terrific! I really liked the red snood with the olive dress too.

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  9. I love "spifflicated"! The train station pics were so much fun to do. My hubby is my photographer and the reflection pic was his fav! He's got a good eye for it!

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  10. Gosh, your blog is so much fun! Of course you can link the stockings tutorial. :D

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  11. Very nice! Looks like you two dames sure did have a swell time!

    Cheers!
    ~Paige

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  12. I love old slang, i try and use some every so often to amuse the people around me :)
    The photos are hilarious too, i bet you had a lot of fun posing for these! xx

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  13. These pictures are so cute!!! It looks like you two had a ton of fun that day!

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  14. im looking for pictures of 1920s beauty queens

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  15. Fabulous post! Love your blog! Best wishes, Carla. :)

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  16. Hehe. I loved this post! Can't wait to use some of these terms and phrases when I'm out and about. You girls look like you're having fun as well!

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  17. So cute...but do you know if there are any slang for Thanks?

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  18. your photoshoot lady is sensational ! you look absolutely fab !!! and having so much fun !!! ITS LIKE THE REAL THING!THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT LIST Of 20s SLANG!!! I THINK YOU SHOULD DO MANY MORE PHOTOSHOOTS !!! ;0)

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