20 Pieces of 1920s Slang to Make You Long for the Jazz Age
We sure know our onions!
The English language might follow a strict set of rules, but that isn’t to say that the dialects from every decade sound the same, too. Rather, each period in time has its own specific subset of slang terms that are typically quite indicative of the goings-on during said aeon. Take the 1920s, for instance. The second decade of the 20th century was a period of significant social and political change and economic growth, and this is evidently reflected in 1920s slang terms like glad rags, kale, and alarm clock. Not sure what these terms meant way back when? Keep reading to learn about some of the coolest and craziest 1920s slang from the Roaring Twenties. Whether you need a few words to throw out at your next ’20s party or are simply interested in the era, these 1920s slang terms are sure to surprise and delight.
An alarm clock is the last person you want around when you’re trying to have fun. Synonymous with another 1920s slang term, a fire extinguisher, this noun is used to refer to a chaperone who’s killing the party vibe.
In the 1920s, people would throw this phrase around as a synonym for the bee’s knees or the cat’s meow. Basically, anything that’s the berries is the best.
Nowadays, people simply ask for a cigarette when they want to smoke. However, in the 1920s, the go-to phrase when asking for a cigarette was butt me.
Most men would be pretty proud to be called a cake-eater. In the early 1900s, this adjective was used to describe someone like Hugh Hefner—in other words, a playboy or lady’s man.
In the ’20s, cheaters weren’t just adulterous individuals. Rather, they were also something simpler and much less aggressive: a pair of spectacles. The word cheaters came to be associated with eyeglasses as, according to Jonathon Green’s Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, glasses “help the eyes…cheat their own inadequacies.”
Chewing gum is something you hear quite often in the world of politics. Basically, it’s all that double-speak coming out of representatives’ mouths that means nothing.
Most people already know what a flapper is, but what about a dapper? According to an unofficial dictionary created in 1922, this piece of 1920s slang is what people would use to refer to a flapper’s father. Seriously!
For some reason, people in the 1920s needed a word to refer to a half-smoked cigarette or cigar—and that word was dincher.
According to PBS‘ KCTS9, the phrase Father Time was used in the Roaring Twenties to refer to any man over the age of 30. Ouch.
Those are some nice gams you got there. Don’t worry, it’s a compliment. Gams are just legs, silly!
When you’re getting ready for a night out on the town, the first thing you usually do is change out of your work clothes and into your glad rags. These garments are the ones specifically reserved for parties and formal social events. It’s the 1920s slang term for party pants—and honestly, we’re kind of into it.
Just before the Disney character of the same name was created, this word was used as an adjective to mean “obsessed and “in love” or, in other instances, “crazy” and “foolish.” In the 1920s, there was even a song written about putt-putt called “I’ve Gone Goofy Over Miniature Golf.”
This 1920s slang term is pretty savage. Believe it or not, the word handcuff was used back then to refer to an engagement ring. Oof!
When someone says that everything is Jake, they probably don’t mean that everything is currently revolving around a specific person named Jake. Rather, they are likely using the 1920s version of the word, which is used to mean that everything is A-OK and in order.
In the 1920s, everyone loved kale. No, folks in the second decade of the 20th century weren’t particularly healthy; rather, back then the word was used synonymously with the word money.
To Know One’s Onions
To know your onions is—or really, was—to know what you’re talking about and to be knowledgable about a particular subject.
Let’s get moving! Let’s blouse! These are just a few of the 1920s slang phrases you can throw out there when you’re ready to head out and get a move on.
In the morning, it’s quite possible that you often brew yourself a nice cup of noodle juice. In the 1920s, this is the word that folks would use to refer to tea.
Tell It to Sweeney!
The popular 1920s phrase “Tell it to Sweeney!” is a slight variation on the older phrase “Tell it to the Marines!”, and both are used as a way to express disbelief in what someone is saying. The original phrase came to be in the early 1800s as Royal Navy sailors used it to imply that their rivals were more gullible and less intelligent than them. Evidently, the iteration that replaces Marines with Sweeney is a reference to the various nicknames that English folks had for the stereotypical Irishman.
As a girl, you do not want to be called a tomato. When someone refers to you as the juicy red vegetable, they are essentially saying that you are all beauty and no brains.
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