The Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age
The twenties was the first modern era to emphasize youth culture over the tastes of older generations. Many new words and phrases came to be during this time period. This new “language” set the tone for the period of youth known as both the “Roaring Twenties” and the “Jazz Age.”
Youth culture became popular during this time due to events such as post-war prosperity and rejection to Prohibition. With Prohibition, new slang needed to be developed in order to make illegal transactions possible: both secretive and without detection by the authorities. Speakeasy language was much more evocative and if you didn’t use the slang of the time, you were doing something wrong. Additionally with new flapper culture, liberated young women create many new words and phrases associated with their party lifestyles.
Why is Slang Used?
It was mainly used to keep secrets amongst certain groups. It conceals meaning from parents, identifies you as part of a specific group, defies authority (talking like a rebel), and excludes other peer groups that don’t know what the slang words translates too.
7 Topics That Every Generation Uses Slang For:
Then: Doll/Bo Now: Babe/Bro
Then: Bent Now: Hammered
Then: Hey Doll Now: Yo
4. Sex (sex appeal)
Then: Ginchy Now: Fine
5. Popular Kids
Then: Help Cats Now: Cliques
6. Unpopular Kids
Then: Saps Now: Losers
Then: Jack Now: Dough
Technological Advances Added New Words
As the car industry was on the rise and nearly every family owned a car, new car-specific slang was created. For example, in 1923, “step on it” as in “to go faster” was created. Later in 1924, “jalopy” as in “an old, run down car” was made, and following suit in 1927, “back seat driver” as in “a person who constantly nags, addresses or corrects the driver” was produced.
Likewise, with the rise of motion pictures and the film industry, new slang was introduced into everyday language. In the 1920’s you could see a “flick” on the “silver screen.”
Examples of 1920s Slang
Abe's Cabe: five-dollar bill
Ankle: to walk, i.e.. "Let's ankle!"
Bank's Closed: no kissing or making out i.e.. "Sorry, mac, bank's closed."
Cash or Check?: Do we kiss now or later?
Dewdropper: a young man who sleeps all day and doesn't have a job
Fire Extinguisher: a chaperone
Fivver: a Model T; after 1928, could mean any broken down car
Ish Kabibble: a retort meaning "I should care," from the name of a musician in the Kay Kayser Orchestra
Jalopy: a dumb old car
Know One's Onions: to know one's business or what one is talking about
Putting on the Ritz: after the Ritz Motel in Paris; doing something in high style; also, "ritzy"
Rag-A-Muffin: a dirty or disheveled individual
Razz: to make fun of
Screaming Meemies: the shakes
Sheib: one's girlfriend
Sheik: one's boyfriend
Sockdollager: an action having an impact
Teenager: not a common term until 1930; before then, the term was "young adult"
Tell It To Sweeny: tell it to someone who'll believe it
Trip for Biscuits: wild goose chase
Vamp: a seducer of men; an aggressive flirt
Speakeasy: a bar selling illegal liquor
Darb: a great person or thing
Egg: a man
Bimbo: a tough guy
Drugstore Cowboy: a well-dressed man who loiters in public areas trying to pick up women
Dry Up: shut up; get lost
Phonus Balonus: nonsense
Says You: reaction of disbelief
Baby Vamp: an attractive or popular female
Cake-Eater: a lady's man
Hooey: bullshit; nonsense
Mind Your Potatoes: mind your own business
Jeepers Creepers: "Jesus Christ!"
Handcuff: engagement ring
Petting: kissing; making out
Smarty: a cute flapper
Skirt: an attractive female
"You Slay Me!": "That's funny!"