A Cat’s Meow

In college, I wasn’t particularly fond of linguistics. Although I gladly admit, sociolinguistics was an exception. I really loved comparing cultural influences on language and vice versa. Politeness was my favorite topic and it still amazes me how perceptions differ even in the same language area. My second favorite topic has always been American slang. Today, I’m not particularly up-to-date and an excessive usage of words such as epic and awesome tickles my risble muscles. Like as a filler word on the other hand drives me up the walls. What I prefer is slang from bygone eras, from the 1930s through 50s to be exact. Words, abbreviations, euphemisms – they are my secret vice. Here’s a list of my favorite expressions and their meaning. You may be surprised how many words date back to the era of Jazz, screwball and noir.

1930s

  • Blow your wig – become very excited
  • Blinkers, peepers – eyes
  • smooth, sweet, swell – very good
  • Cats or alligators – fans of swing music
  • Curve – disappointment
  • Cute as a bug’s ear – very cute
  • Dead hoofer or cement mixer – bad dancer
  • Dick, shamus, gumshoe, flatfoot – detective
  • Dig – think hard or understand
  • Dollface – name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
  • Hard boiled – tough
  • Honey cooler – a kiss
  • Hop, rag, jolly up, romp, wingding – dance or party
  • Pill – disagreeable person
  • Scrub – poor student
  • Shake a leg – hurry up
  • Whacky – crazy
  • What’s your story, morning glory? – What do you mean by that?
  • You and me both – I agree

Do you want to learn more about slang from the 1930s? Check these two websites here and here.

1940s

  • Above my pay grade – Don’t ask me
  • Bad news – Trouble.
  • Beat – Tired, exhausted.
  • Be-bop – A dance to fast big band jazz.
  • Blah – Apathetic, indifferent.
  • Blow a fuse – Lose your temper.
  • Bonkers – Crazy, insane.
  • Book – To register an arrest.
  • Brainchild – Someone’s creative idea
  • Doll dizzy – girl crazy
  • freak – A fanatic.
  • freebie – Something that costs nothing.
  • Gay – light-hearted or carefree
  • Gone with the wind – run off (with the money)
  • Hi sugar, are you rationed? – are you going steady?
  • hipster – A member of the counterculture of the 40s (Origin of ‘hippie’).
  • hitch – To marry
  • honey – An attractive female.
  • in the know – Knowledgeable, aware.
  • jitterbug – A dance to fast big band jazz.
  • knocked out – Asleep.
  • Let someone have it – To shoot someone.
  • line – An untrue story or statement.
  • lulu – Something excellent, outstanding.
  • make a pass – To flirt with, try to seduce.
  • nerve – Audacity.
  • Nice going! – Interjection of congratulations.
  • Old lady – Mother.
  • On the nose – Exactly.
  • Pain in the neck – Annoyance.
  • Pass the buck – pass responsibility for
  • Paw – Hand.
  • Peanuts – Little money.
  • Pennies from heaven – easy money
  • Pistol – A dynamic person.
  • Pull – Influence.
  • Sappy – Gullible, or overly sentimental.
  • Shut-eye – Sleep.
  • Smooch – To hug and kiss.
  • Snap your cap – get angry
  • Take a powder – To leave.
  • Unmentionables – Women’s underwear.
  • What’s buzzin’, cousin? – How’s it going?
  • What’s cooking? – What is going on?
  • What’s eating you? – What’s annoying or bothering you?
  • What’s up? – What is going on?
  • What of it? – What concern is it of yours?
  • Wrack your brain – Think hard.

1940s.org offers more information for anyone who’s interested in this particular period. And so does Nineteen40s.

1950s

  • Actor- show-off
  • ankle-biter – child
  • Are you writing a book?! – You are asking too many questions.
  • Back seat bingo – kissing in a car
  • Bad news – depressing person
  • Big Daddy – older person
  • big tickle – really funny
  • blast – a good time
  • bug – bother
  • cast an eyeball – to look
  • chrome-plated – dressed up
  • closet case – someone to be ashamed of
  • cloud 9 – really happy
  • Come on snake, let’s rattle! – May I have the next dance?
  • Committed – engaged to be married
  • cool – cool
  • D.D.T.: initials for “Drop Dead Twice”. The response: What, and look like you?
  • Dig – understand, approve
  • drag – a bore
  • earthbound – reliable
  • flick – a movie
  • flip-top – convertible
  • gig – work, job
  • give me five – let’s shake hands
  • go ape – get really mad or excited
  • hang – to hang out
  • heart – good teacher
  • I’ll clue you – I’ll tell you about it
  • ice it – tell someone to forget something
  • illumniations – good ideas, thoughts
  • keeper – parent
  • knuckle sandwich – a fist in the face
  • kookie – nuts, in the nicest possible way
  • Later, gator (See you later, alligator) – After a while, crocodile.
  • Make out – a kissing session
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch
  • No sweat – no problem
  • Noweheresville – a boring place
  • on the hook – in love
  • paper shaker – cheerleader
  • party pooper
  • passion pit – drive-in movie theater
  • rattle your cage – get upset
  • razz my berries – impress me
  • real gone – very much in love
  • tight – good friends
  • word from the bird – the truth

Lists of slang terms from the 50s are also available online. You can find them here and here.

If you are looking for a specific word or meaning, you can also try your luck here. More general information about the history of slang is available on this site.

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