The more things change…

Even in the Twenties, teenagers were just as apt to have their own style, music, and language as they are today. Creating a vocabulary that one had to be "cool" to know much less understand is certainly nothing new. Of course, the Twenties saw the rise of the "leisure class," and as the general population became ever more affluent (thanks to a booming stock market) children were no longer expected — or necessary — to work to help the family stay afloat. And so as the Jazz Age fizzed and popped and rushed headlong into the future, a new code for the Bright Young Things was born: slang.

Want to talk like the "kids" did back in the day? Then you'd better use the right lexicon, or risk being wet...


All six, hit on: to hit on all six cylinders, perform 100 percent
Applesauce: baloney, foolishness, nonsense
Attaboy! Way to go, well done
Baby: one’s sweetheart; something of value or highly esteemed
Baby vamp: attractive or popular female
Balled up: confused, mixed up
Bearcat: attractive, hot-blooded or fiery girl
Beef: a complaint
Bee’s knees: someone or something excellent, first-rate
Bent: drunk
Bimbo: tough guy
Blotto: drunk
Breezer: automobile with an open or convertible top
Bug-eyed Betty: unattractive or unpopular female
Bull: a policeman; nonsense; shoot the breeze or exaggerate
Bum’s rush: to be kicked out
Bunny: someone who is lost, confused, hurt, etc.
Bus: old, worn out, large car
Butterfly’s boots: same as the bee’s knees
Cake-eater: a ladies’ man
Canned: drunk
Caper: robbery or other criminal act
Cast a kitten: have a fit
Cat’s meow: same as the bee’s knees
Chewing gum: double talk, ambiguous or confusing
Choice bit of calico: attractive or popular female
Chunk of lead: unattractive or unpopular female
Drag: college dance
Darb: great person or thing
Dead soldier: empty beer or whisky bottle
Dick: private eye
Dope: drugs
Dough: money
Edge: a good buzz
Eel’s hips: same as bee’s knees
Ethel: an effeminate male
Fish: college freshman
Flat tire: unattractive or unpopular female
Flivver: originally, a Model T. After 1928, any old, broken-down car
Fly boy: aviator
Four-flusher: someone who pretends to have money but sponges off others
Fried: drunk
Frosh: first year high school or college student
Gin mill: speakeasy
Goods: the right stuff
Goof: stupid or bumbling person
Gordon water: Gordon’s gin
Hair of the dog: drink of alcohol
Half seas over: thoroughly drunk
Hayburner: car that uses a lot of gas or oil or is expensive to run
Heebie jeebies: the willies, the creeps
He-man: macho man
Hep: hip, savvy
High hat: a snob
Hokey-pokey: cheap candy or ice cream
Hood: hoodlum
Hoofer: stage dancer, particularly vaudeville
Horsefeathers: baloney, nonesense
Hot sketch: a character, a card
Iron: motorcycle
Ish kabibble: “I don’t care”
Jack: money
Jake: cool
Jitney: a nickel
Joe Brooks: someone who is perfectly or fashionably dressed
Joe Zilsh: male college student
Juice joint: speakeasy
Kale: money
Know (one’s) onions: to know what’s going on
Live wire: wild or lively person
Mazuma: money
Milquetoast: timid or mild person
Mind your own potatoes: mind your own business
Necking: kissing
Old boy, old man: male term of address for other males
Panic: one who produces a big reaction
Panther sweat: whiskey
Percolate: run well or smoothly
Petting party: one or more couples making out together in a room or automobile
Pig’s coattail: unattractive or unpopular female
Pull a Daniel Boone: to throw up
Pin: to go steady or announce an engagement
Pinko: liberal
Pip: outstanding or extraordinary person or thing; usually used sarcastically
Prom-trotter: gregarious student who attends all school social functions
Razz: giving someone the raspberry – heckle, put down
Rub: student dance party
Sap: a fool, an idiot
Says you: reaction of disbelief
Screaming meemies: the heebie jeebies
See a man about a dog: the act of going out to buy bootleg whisky
Sheik: boyfriend
Sheba: girlfriend
Sinker: doughnut
Sitting pretty: prime position
Snake’s hips: same as the bee’s knees
Snoot full: drunk
Sockdollager: a knockout punch; an action with a great impact
Spoon: make out
Stuck on: infatuated with
Tell it to Sweeney: go tell someone who will believe you
Toot: a drinking spree
Up and up: on the level
Washout: unattractive or unpopular female
Wet: stupid, idiotic, ridiculous, unsophisticated
Wife: college student’s affectionate term for a dormitory roommate
Wooden nickels (don’t take any): don’t do anything stupid

More pages of facts…

Silent Era Trivia
A list of the most popular movies in 1922-27
A very brief and not so thorough history of animation in the silent era
More facts from the 1924 Film Daily Yearbook
What silent stars have their prints in Grauman's (Mann's) "Forecourt of the Stars?"
Want to talk like a Shiek or a Sheba? Learn the lingo of the teenagers of the Twenties
A list of directors' salaries in 1926
The typical cost of a big-budget production in 1920

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