Ladies and Fellas, Grab a Sinker & a Joe – It’s Time to Learn Some Swell Slang!

It’s funny how much slang changes from generation to generation; sometimes in listening to my 19 year old sister, I already find myself feeling out of touch. When working on a period show like Rope it is important to have a sense of the slang from the time, both to understand the text and to help with improvising. I came across an amazing list of 1920s & 30s slang and couldn’t resist sharing it here; I think it’s time we bring some of these back, they really are the bee’s knees.

*Original post found at
Flapperspeak: Dictionary of Words From the 1920’s and 1930’s
From the AACA Potpourri website and Mark McCutcheon’s Writer’s Guide To Everyday Life From Prohibition Through World War II

Ab-so-lute-ly – affirmative
All six, hit on – to hit on all six cylinders, 100% percent performance
All wet – describes an erroneous idea or individual, as in, “he’s all wet.”
And how – I strongly agree!
And howl – emphatic response like, “You said it!”
Applesauce – an expletive same as horsefeathers, As in “Ah applesauce!”
Attaboy – well done!; also Attagirl!
Baby – sweetheart. Also denotes something of high value or respect.
Baby vamp – attractive female usually used by college boys – other terms include: angel, thrill, bird, liveone, peach, choice bit of calico, sweet patootie, panic
Balled Up – confused, messed up
Baloney – nonsense!
Bank’s Closed – no kissing or making out – i.e. – “Sorry, Mac, the bank’s closed.”
Barb – college student that was not part of a fraternity
Barleycorn, John – popular personification of bootleg alcohol – this term was used throughout Prohibition
Barrel House – illegal alcohol distillation plant
Bearcat – a hot-blooded or fiery girl
Beat it – scram or get lost
Beat one’s gums – idle chatter
Bee’s knees – extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate also “Cat’s Meow”
Beef – a complaint or to complain
Beeswax – business, i.e. None of your beeswax.”
Bell bottom – a sailor
Bent – drunk, ossified
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 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 strange or odd
Blind Pig – place where illegal alcohol was served, like a speakeasy. Blind Pigs had deceptive or “blank” fronts –often were in basements, behind peep-holed doors or in the back of legitimate businesses
Blocker –Southern term for moonshiner or bootlegger
Blotto – drunk, ossified, bent
Bluenose – An excessively puritanical person, a prude
Bohunk – derogatory term to describe a central European immigrant (used from 1900-1930)
Bootleg – illegal liquor also called busthead
Breezer – a convertible car
Brown – Bootlegger’s term for whiskey
Brown plaid – bootlegger’s term for Scotch
Bubs – women’s breasts (used as description from 1900 on)
Bug-eyed Betty – unattractive or unpopular girl, often this term was used by college boys – other 1920’s slang include: pig’s coattail, washout, mess, flat tire, chunk of lead, crumb
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 or kill
Bunny- term that conveys sympathy and endearment for lost or confused person
Bus – old, worn out big vehicle (used from 1915 onwards)
Bushwa – softer version of bull shit also spelled booshwash
Butterfly’s boots, the – anyone or anything that is great or dreamy like the cat’s meow
Cake-eater – a ladies’ man
Canned – drunk, ossified, bent
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?
Cast a kitten – to have a fit
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 or cat’s whiskers or gnat’s eyebrows
Chase yourself, go -get lost (from 1900 onwards)
Chassis – the female body from 1930
Cheaters – Eyeglasses
Check – kiss me later
Chewing gum – double talk
Copacetic – Wonderful, fine, all right
Coffin varnish – bootleg or homemade alcohol, also called horse liniment, stuff, and tarantula juice
Crush – An infatuation
Daddy – a young woman’s boyfriend or lover, especially if he’s rich
Dame – a female (term used since 1900, gained wide use in the 1930’s and 1940’s)
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 beer bottle
Deb – a debutante
Dick – a private investigator
Doll – an attractive woman
Dolled up – dressed up
Dope – drugs
Double-cross – to cheat, stab in the back
Dough – money
Drag – college dance
Dry – person who is against drinking and for Prohibition
Dry up – shut up, get lost
Dumb Dora – a stupid female also called Dumbbell
Earful – enough
Eel’s hips – variation of cat’s meow
Edge – intoxication, a buzz
Egg – a person who lives the big life

Ethel – effeminate man

Fag – before 1920, a cigarette, after 1920, a cigarette or effeminate man
Fella – guy
Fire extinguisher – a chaperone
Fish -(1) a college freshman also can be a first timer in prison
Flapper –free-spirited young woman
Flat tire – a dull, insipid, disappointing date. Also known as a pill, pickle, drag, rag, oil can
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
Fried – drunk, ossified, bent
Frosh –first year student at college
Gay – happy
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
Goods, the – the desired material
Goof – stupid bumbling person
Goon – hoodlum
Hair of the dog – a shot of alcohol
Half seas over – thoroughly drunk also known as “half under”
Heel – scoundrel
He-man – a masculine man
Hayburner – (1) a gas guzzling car (2) a horse one loses money on
Heebie-jeebies – The jitters, anxiety
High-hat – To snub or a snob
Hip – savvy –used since 1915
Hip flask – small container used to carry alcohol, hidden by the hip or in a big pocket –fad item in 1920’s
Hit on all sixes – to perform 100 per cent; as “hitting on all six cyclinders”
Hokey-Pokey – inexpensive candy or ice cream for children
Hooch – Bootleg liquor
Hooey – nonsense
Hoofer – Dancer
Horsefeathers – an expletive; same usage as applesauce
Hotsy – totsy – pleasing
Hurdy-gurdy – a hand organ often played in the streets
It – sex appeal
Iron – a motorcycle
Jack – money
Jake – all is is okay, 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

Joe Brooks – someone who is fashionably dressed
Joe Zilch – any male college student also known as Joe College or Joe Yale
John – a toilet
Joint – an establishment
Juice joint – a speakeasy
Joint – A club, usually selling alcohol, also called speakeasy, club, juice joint
Kale – money
Keen – Attractive or appealing
Knock-up – get pregnant not on purpose
Know One’s Onions – know what you are talking about
Lady legger – female bootlegger
Lam, on the – running away from the police
Lay off – knock it off
Level with me – be honest
Line – Insincere flattery
Live wire – a lively person – wild
Milquetoast – timid, mild person
Mind your own potatoes – mind your own business
Moonshine – bootleg alcohol
Neck – Kissing with passion
Nifty – great, excellent
Ofay – African American term to describe white people
Old Boy – male term to address other men also “Old man”
On the lam – fleeing from police
On the level – legitimate, honest
On the up and up – on the level
Ossified – a drunk person
Owl – 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
Pin – announce an engagement or agreement to be serious by giving or receiving a sweetheart’s fraternity pin
Pinch – To arrest
Pinko – liberal
Pip – extraordinary person or thing, sometimes used sarcastically
Prom-trotter – gregarious student who attends school social functions and likes to dance
Putting on the Ritz – after the Ritz hotel in Paris; doing something in high style
Quiff – cheap prostitute
Rag-a-muffin – a dirty or disheveled individual
Razz – to make fun of or take the piss out of, heckle
Ritzy – Elegant (from the hotel)
Rub – student dance party
Rube – hick
Rummy – drunk, alcoholic
Rush – try to get into a fraternity
Sap – a fool
Says you – a reaction of disbelief
Scratch – money
See a man about a dog, have to – phrase to describe “I need to leave now”, often referring to going out and buying bootleg whiskey
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
Sitting pretty – in a great position
Snake’s hips – cat’s whiskers or bee’s knees
Snoot full, have a – to be drunk
Snuggle pup – teenager term for a sweetheart who likes to cuddle
Sockdollager – knock out punch
So’s Your Old Man – reply showing irritation from 1915 onwards
Speakeasy – Irish word to describe an illicit, undercover bar selling bootleg liquor also called blind pig and scatter
Spifflicated – Drunk. The same as canned, corked, tanked, primed, scrooched, jazzed, zozzled, plastered,owled, embalmed, lit, potted, ossified or fried to the hat
Spoon – to neck, or at least talk of love
Stuck On – infatuated, in love with
Struggle buggy – the backseat of a car (where young couples made out)
Stuck On – Having a crush on
Swanky – Ritzy
Swell – Wonderful. Also: a rich man – more in later 1930’s
Talkies – movies with sound
Tin Pan Alley – the music industry in New York, located between 48th and 52nd street
Tomato – a female
Toot, on a – drinking spree
Up and up – on the level, legitimate
Wet – stupid, unsophisticated also can be someone who is against Prohibition and for the legalization of alcohol
Wet Blanket – a solemn person, a killjoy
Whisper Sister – female proprietor of a speakeasy
Whoopee – To have a good time
Wife – affectionate term to describe college dorm roommate
Wooden nickels, don’t take any – a fad expression of 1920, that meant “don’t do anything stupid – takecare of yourself.”
Bleary-eyed, bent, blind, blotto, boiled, boiled as an owl, burning with a blue flame, canned, corked, corned, crocked, edged, embalmed, fried, four sheets in the wind, full, ginned, half-cocked, half seas over, half-screwed, half-shot, happy, high, hoary-eyed, jazzed, jingle, lathered, liquored, lit, lit up like a Christmas tree, lit up like a store window, lit up like the commonwealth, loaded, loaded for beer, loaded to the muzzle, lubricated, oiled, over the bay, ossified, owled, paralyzed, plastered, pie-eyed, pickled, piffed, piped, polluted, potted, primed, saturated, slopped, sloppy, stiff, stinko, soused, squiffy, stewed, sprung, tanked, tight, lit,under the table, wall-eyed, wet, woozy