The Roaring 20's

20's Slang

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Some interesting terms and expressions...

ab-so-lute-ly: affirmative
all wet: wrong
And how!: I strongly agree!
ankle: to walk, i.e.. "Let's ankle!"
Attaboy!: well done!; also, Attagirl!

baby: sweetheart.
baby grand: heavily built man
baby vamp: a pretty or popular female, student.
balled up: messed up.
baloney: Nonsense!

beat it: get lost.
beat one's gums: idle talk
bee's knee's: great; a fad expression. Dozens of "animal anatomy" variations existed: elephant's eyebrows, gnat's whistle, eel's hips, etc.
beef: a problem
beeswax: business, i.e. "None of your beeswax." Student.
bell bottom: a sailor
bent: drunk
berries: (1) perfect (2) money
big shot: important person
big six: a strong man
bimbo: a tough guy
bird: general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old bird."
blotto (1930 at the latest): drunk, especially to an extreme
blow: (1) a wild party (2) to leave
bohunk: a derogatory name for an Eastern European immigrant. Out of use by 1930, except in anti-immigrant groups, like the KKK.
bootleg: illeagal liquor
breezer (1925): a topless automobile
bubs: breasts
bug-eyed Betty (1927): an unattractive girl, student.
bull: (1) a law-enforcement official, including FBI. (2) nonesense, bullshit (3) to talk idly, to exaggerate
bump off: to kill
bum's rush, the: to eject from an establishment
bunny (1925): a term of endearment applied to the lost, disoriented. Often coupled with "poor little."
bus: any old or worn out automobile.
bushwa: a euphemism for "bullshit"
Butt me.: I'll take a smoke

daddy: a young woman's wealthy boyfriend or lover
daddy-o: a term of address; mainly a negro term.
dame: a female. Did not gain widespread use until the 1930's.
dapper: a Flapper's dad
darb: a great person or thing. "That movie was darb."
dead soldier: an empty beer bottle.
deb: a debutant.
dewdropper: a young man who sleeps all day and doesn't have a job
dinge: a derogatory term for a negro. Out of use by 1930.
dogs: feet
doll: an attractive woman.
dolled up: dressed up
don't know from nothing: doesn't have any information
don't take any wooden dimes: don't do anything stupid.
dope: drugs
dough: money
dry up: shut up, get lost
dumb Dora: an absolute idiot, a dumbbell

earful: enough
edge: a buzz. i.e. "I've got an edge."
egg: a person who lives the big life
Ethel: an effeminate male.


fag: a smoke. Also, starting around 1920, a homosexual.
fella: fellow. as "man," "dude," or "guy" is today. "That John sure is a swell fella."
fish: (1) a freshman (2) a first timer in prison
flat tire: a bore
flivver: a Model T; after 1928, also any broken down automobile.
fly boy: a glamorous term for an aviator
four-flusher: a person who feigns wealth while mooching off others.
fried: drunk

gams (1930): legs
gay: happy or lively; no connection to homosexuality. See "fag."
get-up (1930): an outfit.
get a wiggle on: get a move on, get going
get in a lather: get worked up, angry
giggle water: booze
gimp: one who walks with a limp. Gangster Dion Bannion was called Gimpy due to his noticeable limp.
gin mill: a seller of hard liquor; a speakeas
gold-digger (1925): a woman who pursues men for their money.
goods, the: (1) the right material, or a person who has it (2) the truth, i.e. "Make sure the authorities don't get the goods on you."
goof: (1) a stupid or bumbling person, (2) a boyfriend, flapper.
goofy: in love
grummy: depressed
grungy: envious

hair of the dog (1925): a shot of booze.
half seas over: drunk, also "half under."
hard-boiled: tough, as in, a tough guy, ie: "he sure is hard-boiled!"
harp: an Irishman
hayburner: (1) a gas guzzling automobile (2) a horse one loses money on
heavy sugar (1929): a lot of money
heebie-jeebies (1926): "the shakes," named after a hit song.
high hat: a snob.
hip to the jive: trendy
hood (late 20s): hoodlum
hooey: bullshit, nonsense. Very popular from 1925 to 1930, used somewhat thereafter.
hop: (1) opiate or marijuana (2) a teen party
hopped up: under the influence of drugs
Hot dawg!: Great! Rarely spelled as shown outside of flapper groups until popularized in 1940s

"I have to go see a man about a dog.": "I've got to leave now," often meaning to go buy whiskey.
insured: engaged

jack: money
Jake: great, ie. "Everything's Jake."
Jalopy: a dumpy old automobile
Jane: any female
jerk soda: to dispense soda from a tap; thus, "soda jerk"
jigaboo: a derogatory term for a negro
jitney: an automobile employed as a private bus.
Joe Brooks: a well dressed person; student.
john: a toilet
joint: establishment
juice joint: a speakeasy

kale: money
keen: appealing
kike: a derogatory term for a Jewish person
killjoy: a solemn person
knock up: to make pregnant
know one's onions: to know one's business or what one is talking about

left holding the bag: to be blamed for something
let George do it: a work evading phrase
level with me: be honest
limey: a British soldier from World War I
line: a false story, as in "to feed one a line."
live wire: a lively person
lollapalooza (1930): a humdinger
lollygagger: (1) a young man who enjoys making out (2) an idle person

mazuma: money
milquetoast (1924): a very timid person
mind your potatoes: mind your own business.
moonshine: homemade whiskey


nifty: great
nookie: sex
Not so good!: I personally disapprove.
"Now you're on the trolley!": Now you've got it, now you're right.

ofay: a negro expression for Whites
Oh yeah!: I doubt it!
old boy: a male term of address, used with other males. Also "old man" "old fruit." "How's everything old boy?"
on a toot: a drinking binge
on the lam: fleeing from authorities
on the level: legitimate, honest
on the up and up: on the level
ossified: drunk
owl: a person who's out late

palooka: (1) a below-average or average boxer (2) an outsider
panther sweat (1925): whiskey
pet: making out
petting pantry: movie theater
piffle: baloney
piker: a coward
pill: (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person
pinko: liberal
pipe down: stop talking
pos-i-lute-ly: affirmative, also "pos-i-tive-ly"
punch the bag: small talk
putting on the ritz: after the Ritz Hotel in Paris; doing something in high style. Also "ritzy."

quiff: a slut

rag-a-muffin: a dirty or disheveled individual
razz: to make fun of
regular: normal, typical, average; "Regular fella."
Reuben: a country bumpkin. Also "rube"
Rhatz!: How disappointing!
rub: a student dance party
rubes: money or dollars
rummy: a drunken bum

sap: a fool, an idiot. Very common term in the 20s.
says you: disbelief
sheba: one's girlfriend
sheik: one's boyfriend
shiv: a knife
simolean: a dollar
sinker: a doughnut
sitting pretty: in a prime position
skirt: a female
smarty: a flapper
smoke-eater: a smoker
so's your old man: a reply of irritation
spade: yet another derogatory term for a negro
speakeasy: a bar selling illegal liquor
spill: to talk
stilts: legs
sugar daddy: older boyfriend who showers girlfriend with gifts in exchange for sex
swanky: (1) good (2) elegant
swell: (1) good (2) high class

take someone for a ride: to take someone to a deserted location and murder them.
tasty: appealing
tell it to Sweeney: tell it to someone who'll believe it.
tight: attractive
tomato: a "ripe" female
torpedo: a hired thug or hitman

upstage: snobby

vamp: (1) an aggressive flirt (2) to seduce
voot: money

wet blanket: see Killjoy
wife: dorm roomate, student.
What's eating you?: What's wrong?
whoopee: wild fun
Woof! Woof!: ridicule


You slay me!: That's funny!

zozzled: drunk