The Language of The Jazz Age - 1920s Slang
"Sheik or sheba?" 1920s slang is one of the most colorful aspects of the Jazz Age.
"Why should life be work, when we all can borrow.
Let's think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow." --Zelda Fitzgerald
America's vocabulary expanded with the times. Many new words and figures of speech popped up around new technology like automobiles; fashion; fads; and new people like flappers, bootleggers, and gangsters.
Here's a glossary of 1920s slang. This is not everything, if you'd like to add a word please do so at the bottom of this page.
All wet - Full of crap
Applesauce - Nonsense, the stuff that comes out of someone who is "all wet's" mouth.
Baloney - Another word for nonsense. Are we noticing a trend here?
Banana Oil - See baloney and applesauce for reference.
Barney Mugging - To have sex.
Bee's Knees - Something or someone great. A term of affection.
Belly Laugh - Hahahahahahaha!!!! and you mean it.
Berries - Something you love.
Bible Belt - Location flappers felt there was a lack of belly laughs, and where the people were "all wet". The south and midwest where fundamentalist views pervail. (coined by H.L. Menken)
Big Cheese - An important dude.
Blind Date - A date set up with an unknown person. Same as it is today.
Bronx Cheer - To boo someone unmercifully. Usually done in Philadelphia today.
Bull Session - A gathering of people to talk, usually full of hot air.
Bunk - Nonsense. Short for the word "bunkum".
Cake-eater - A ladies man, a gigolo.
Carry a torch - To have a crush on someone who does not return your affection.
Cat's Meow - Something great and wonderful. Bee's knees.
Cheaters - Glasses.
Copacetic - Awesome. Super cool.
Darb - something or someone who is cool. Usually male.
Dogs - 1920s slang for feet. "Boy my dogs are barking."
Drugstore Cowboy - A wannabe gigolo. Usually dressed well with nothing better to do than try to pick up chicks.
Dumb Dora - Stupid girl. The girl who usually falls pray to the drugstore cowboys.
Egg - A man. "He's a good egg."
Fall Guy - The guy who takes the rap for something.
Flat Tire - Super boring person.
Frame - To set someone up to be blamed for something, like a crime. What is done to the "fall guy."
Gam - A sexy pair of legs. Female, from French "gambe".
Gatecrasher - Someone who sneaks into a party without an invitation.
Giggle Water - Alcoholic drink.
Gin Mill - A speakeasy.
Gold Digger - A woman who uses her sexuality to get money out of a man. I ain't saying she is one. ;)
Goofy - A silly person.
Gyp - To cheat someone out of something. From gypsy.
Hard Boiled - Someone without feeling. A tough "egg."
Heebie-jeebies - To get scared and shake. To be uncomfortable.
Hep - Smart, wise. "I'm hep to your jive."
High-hat - To ignore or snub someone. "I'm tired of always getting the high-hat from you guys."
Hokum - Nonsense, "Stop feeding me that hokum."
Hooch - Homemade booze, alcohol, bootlegged liquor. (comes from "Hoochinoo" a tribe of Alaskan Indians who produced liquor).
Hoofer - Chorus girl. A Ziegfeld Follies girl.
Horsefeathers - Crap, again.
Hotsy-totsy - A hot girl. Something attractive.
Jake - Cool. All is well. "Everything's jake."
Jalopy - A crappy old car.
Keen - Sharp, appealing.
Kiddo - A "off the cuff" way for a man to refer to a woman he knows.
Kisser - Mouth. "Boom, right in the kisser."
Line - Flattery to get a specific response. A pickup line.
Lounge Lizard - A ladies man. A cake-eater.
Lousy - Crappy.
Main Drag - Main street. A place for the kids to cruise their cars.
Neck - To make out. Often done in the back of a car.
Nerts (nuts) - Disgust. Like saying "Oh crap."
Ossified - Smashed drunk.
Peppy - Full of life.
Pet - To feel up. To neck with a girl. Done at "petting parties."
Petting Parties - Social get-together where young men and women neck and sometimes "go all the way".
Pinch - To get arrested. "Nerts, Al Capone just got pinched."
Pushover - Easily overcome. "Ahh, he's a pushover, don't worry about it."
Raspberry - To boo loudly, Bronx cheer.
Ritzy - Upscale, elegant. (From the hotel the "Ritz")
Real McCoy - The real thing, the real deal. Authentic. (Where 1920s slang word really comes from is disputed. Either it comes from a Scottish clan leader, McKay, or from "Kid" McCoy, who went to battle with another man named McCoy, or a bootlegger named McCoy who didn't water down his hooch, hence "The real McCoy")
Run-around - To confuse someone in order to waste time or buy time.
Scram - A way of saying, "get outta here."
Screwy - Weird, strange.
Sex appeal - Sexy. The 1920s slang way of saying, "That's hot."
Sheba - A young sexy flapper or lady.
Sheik - A young sexy man.
Smeller - Your nose.
Sob Sister - A woman newspaper reporter. She reports emotionally to evoke a reaction from her audience.
Speakeasy - A bar that sells illegal booze.
Spifflicated - Smashed, ossified, drunk, tanked.
Spiffy - 1920s slang term for "looking sharp," usually referring to a man's appearance.
Struggle-Buggy - A automobile. (The place where young sheiks struggle with young shebas).
Stuck On - To have a crush on someone.
Swanky - Upscale, Ritzy.
Swell - Awesome. The Bee's Knees, copacetic.
Torpedo - A 1920s slag term to describe a guy hired to kill someone.
Upchuck - To barf, throw up.
Whoopee - Loud fun. Often done at a "petting party."
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