The 20th century was a truly special time. One day we were “cruisin’ for a bruisin'” with some “greasers” at the “passion pit,” the next we’re saying telling a Valley Girl to “talk to the hand”—or shouting “booyah!” to our best buddies. That’s right: It was a killer century for slang. But slang—just like all fads—is something that falls out of favor all too quickly.
So please hop in our time machine as we take you through the greatest slang terms of the 20th century—from the tough-guy 1950s to the totally rad 1990s—which were once all that and a bag of chips, but have sadly been kicked to the curb. And for more great words to add to your lexicon, learn the One Word That Will Boost Your Mood By 25 Percent Just By Saying It.
Saying “haircut” is just so obvious and self-explanatory. But a “wig chop” makes people stop and wonder what you’re telling them. You have a hairpiece and want it… sliced in half? To get an actually good upgrade, check out the 15 Men’s Haircuts For Looking Instantly Younger.
Example: “Gonna head down to the barbershop and get a wig chop.”
Back seat bingo
We don’t know what kind of weird stuff they were up to in the ’50s, but apparently being intimate with somebody in the back seat of a car meant you were engaging in some “back seat bingo.” You sickos.
Example: “Sally and I did a little back seat bingo, if you know what I mean.”
When you’ve got to get away fast, usually because you’ve done something wrong, it’s time to beat feet the heck out of there. Just think of your feet like they’re the hands of a jazz drummer.
Example: “Let’s beat feet before the cops get here!”
Cruisin’ for a bruisin’
The ’50s had their own version of “a face that’s just begging to be punched.”
Example: “That dude is so annoying, he’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”
Your daddy is your actual father, but your daddy-O is just a generally cool dude … Who for some reason you’re calling daddy.
Example: “Whatever you say, daddy-O!”
Made in the shade
Today, being in the shade means you’re avoiding sun damage to your skin. But in the ’50s, being made in the shade meant things are going well for you and you don’t have a care in the world. Remember: Shade is a good thing. It’s also one of our 20 Best Ways to Erase Wrinkles.
Example: “Now that I’ve got a new job, I’m made in the shade!”
A way to tell somebody you admire their appearance or personality.
Example: “Baby, you’re the ginchiest!”
No point in having a hot rod if you’re not going to show off its speed. And when you press that pedal to the metal, your tires are gonna burn some rubber. Which is a good thing… if you like buying new tires every year. Stupid kids!
Example: “Let’s burn rubber and show ‘em what this car can do!”
People in the 50s possibly thought they were frogs. Or they envied the amphibious lifestyle. We can’t think of a better explanation for why they’d call their homes or apartments their “pad.” And speaking of sweet pads: Give yours a facelift with these 30 Best Stylish Home Upgrades.
Example: “Let’s go back to my pad and have some drinks, daddy-o!”
If it’s small, crawls near your feet, and has teeth, it’s an ankle-biter. That includes everything from pets to children. Which begs the question, did all Baby Boomers grow up gnawing on their parents’ ankles?
Example: “You’ve got some cute ankle-biters. How old are they?”
It could mean someone who uses an excessive amount of hair products, or just a tough guy you might want to stay away from. Avoid becoming a modern day greaser after reading—and internalizing—these 10 Reasons Why Hair Gel Must Die.
Example: “You don’t want to mess with them, they’re greasers.”
Cut the gas
Pretend your face is a car. And your mouth is the gas pedal. Or something. Yeah, this is a weird one. Basically, it means to shut up.
Example: “Cut the gas, I’m tired of listening to you.”
The drive-in, which Baby-Boomers went for some back seat bingo while pretending to watch a movie.
Example: “Nah, I haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause yet, but I’m catching it tonight at the passion pit.”
Razz My Berries
This really does sound like it should be dirty, doesn’t it? But it’s not. When something excites you (but in a non-filthy way), it’s razzed your berries.
Example: “Chuck Berry songs sure do razz my berries!”
We don’t want to get all judgy, but if anything funny is described as a “big tickle,” it sure does seem like people in the ’50s were obsessed with tickling.
Example: “That movie was so funny, it was a big tickle.”
So you want to tell a lady she’s got a great body but you don’t want to sound like a pig? Just compliment her classy chassis. Unless she’s your grandmother, she’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. And if she is your grandmother, maybe you’re not the right perfect to be complimenting her figure.
Example: “Don’t take this the wrong way, Lucy, but you’ve got a classy chassis.”
Word from the bird
If someone doubts that you’re telling them the truth, you can assure them that it’s the “word from the bird.” Because as everybody knows, feathered and egg-laying creatures are never dishonest. Oh, and speaking of honesty: Truth is often overrated. For proof, see these 13 Secrets You Should Always Keep from Your Partner.
Example: “I saw Johnny necking with your best girl, man, word from the bird.”
Another one of those disses that could only have existed in the ’50s. If a wet rag is somebody who’s no fun, does that mean a dry rag would be a party animal? We’re not sure.
Example: “Don’t be a wet rag, let’s go hit the clubs!”
Well when you put it that way, your closed fist that’s heading towards my face sounds almost appealing. Don’t date yourself, ladies, and ditch the 40 Sayings Women Over 40 Should Stop Using.
Example: “Get ready, jerk, I’m about to give you a knuckle-sandwich!”
Not exactly referring to a feline companion, in certain circles of artistic types and musicians, “cat” became a catch-all term for any kind of hip person.
Example: “That Miles Davis is one hip cat!”
If something is far out or “out of sight,” it’s meant as a compliment. You approve of it. But only in the figurative sense. It’s not literally outside your field of vision or defying gravity.
Example: “Have you listened to the new Beatles record? It is far out, baby!”
When things aren’t going your way and you’re a little sad about it, that’s a bummer. It comes from the phrase “bum rap,” which means to be treated unfairly. A bummer is never deserved.
Example: “She cancelled our date again. What a bummer.”
Applicable to either a man or woman, “foxy” denotes an undeniable sex appeal. Why are foxes sexier than, say, coyotes or wolves? Why not “Hey baby, you’re looking wolfy?” We have no idea. Foxy may not be a go-to compliment today, but don’t worry: Here are 30 Things Women Always Want to Hear.
Example: “You are one foxy lady. Can I have your number?”
Gimme some skin
Don’t get any crazy ideas. If someone asks you to give them some skin, they’re merely asking you to shake hands.
Example: “Good to see you again! Gimme some skin!”
What’s your bag?
We’re not talking about luggage. Your bag symbolizes your problems, the mysterious annoyance that’s making you so obviously upset.
Example: “Dude, you don’t have to yell at me! What’s your bag?”
Your rear end, or posterior. It originated from the TV show Laugh-In, back when television was still the most influential media in the world.
Example: “You bet your sweet bippy I’m interested.”
Can you dig it?
Don’t worry, nobody’s asking you to grab a shovel and dig a hole. Digging something means you understand what’s being said.
Example: “I get the last piece of pizza. Can you dig it?”
It may sound like a pet name for your grandma, but old lady is actually a term of endearment for your girlfriend or wife. And if you want to show your old lady how much you care, check out these 30 Ways to Be a (Much) Better Husband.
Example: “Nah, can’t hit the clubs tonight. My old lady is waiting for me at home.”
When Jimi Hendrix declared in the song “If 6 Was 9” that he was “gonna wave my freak flag high,” he created a whole new way of announcing that you’re the weirdest one in the room.
Example: “Oh, it’s going to get wild tonight. I’m going to let me freak flag fly.”
If you’ve opted to spend your day taking it easy and relaxing, then you are officially hanging loose. If you haven’t had a hang-loose day in way too long, here are 30 Easy Ways to Fight Stress.
Example: “I was going to go to the office today, but I think I’ll just hang loose instead.”
Why policemen were called the Fuzz during the ’60s is anybody’s guess. Could it be the military style crew cuts that cops preferred during that decade? Possibly, but we may never know.
Example: “You better put that away unless you want to get busted by the fuzz.”
Lay it on me
It may sound like an invitation to be used as a human mattress, but the “it” being laid on you is actually more conversational than physical. “Lay it on me” is a groovy way of saying, “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Example: “Do I want to hear your thoughts the Cold War? Lay it on me!”
If you’ve been hogging all the good stuff and not giving anybody else a turn, you’re bogarting it. Inspired by actor Humphrey Bogart’s tendency to let a cigarette dangle in his mouth for way longer than was necessary.
Example: “Don’t bogart all the popcorn, let the rest of us get a chance.”
It’s a gas
The Rolling Stones probably weren’t talking about 19th century nitrous oxide parties—the slang’s origin—when they sang about “a gas gas gas” in their hit song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” During the ’60s, a gas was any activity likely to inspire laughter.
Example: “You gotta make it to my party tonight. It’s gonna be a gas.”
This is the Animal House-era reference to the act of putting Kleenexes in one’s bra.
Example: “You won’t catch me ever wearing foam domes!”
Yes, it’s a shorthand for marijuana. And for more about marijuana and its health effects, here’s everything you need to know about what it does to your body.
Example: “You want to smoke some grass before the show?”
It has nothing to do with somebody’s weight. This kind of heavy is all about emotional weight. The Beatles “She’s So Heavy” was meant as a compliment, not as a suggestion to start dieting. If you’re worried about the other kind of heavy, here’s the Secret to Avoiding Winter Weight Gain.
For some reason, this was a slang term for people being intimate in a parked car. Who knew?
Example: “The cops nearly busted all of the submarine races at Lookout Point last night.”
Money. Cash. Dinero. The green stuff. You gotta have some on you at all times. Don’t believe us? Here’s Why Real Men Carry Cash.
Example: “I need a job, man. I’m almost out of bread.”
When you’re done and ready to get out of there, it’s time to split. Not in a literal sense, of course. Your body isn’t being ripped in half. We hope not, anyway.
Example: “Wish I could stick around, fellas, but I gotta split.”
Catch you on the flip-side
The other side of today is tomorrow, so to catch you on the flip side means to see you again tomorrow. Yeah, we know, it doesn’t make sense to us either.
Example: “I got to run, but I’ll catch you on the flip side.”
Do me a solid
A solid is a favor because, um… favors aren’t liquid? When you do someone a solid, you’re helping them out in a big way.
Example: “Would you do me a solid and give me a ride to the airport?”
To dance, but to do so in an especially enthusiastic way. Ideally, while being accompanied by disco music.
Example: “That ABBA song makes me want to boogie down.”
When something is presented, and then quietly taken away. A taunting word for a jovial denial.
Example: “Oh, you want a piece of gum? Sure, here you go. (pulls it away.) Psyche!”
If you find a woman’s body especially attractive, you might say she was built like a brick house. As in: Well put together, proportionally perfect. If you want a brickhouse body, find out What Celebrities with Perfect Bodies Do Every Day.
Example: “That girl is so fine, she’s a brick house.”
Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid
When somebody is up in your business and they won’t leave you alone, just tell them to stop dipping in your Kool-Aid. Your Kool-Aid, in this equation, is your business, and the dipper is the person who won’t leave you alone.
Example: “I told you I don’t want to talk about my divorce. Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid.”
What a fry
If someone is acting unusual or wacky, you could accuse them of being a fry. Were French fries especially kooky during the ’70s? It appears so.
Example: “Did you hear that Steve went streaking last weekend? What a fry!”
An authority figure. It could mean the police, the government, or even your parents. Anyone with the power to take your fun away. And speaking of the Man, here are 20 U.S. Government Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know.
Example: “I wish I was doing better, but the Man is keeping me down.”
He’s not just a lovable dorky character in Meatballs. Being a spaz is a state of awkward, spastic, bumbling energy. If you’re spazzing out, you have lost all control of your limbs and anything approaching rational thinking.
Example: “Whoa, I think you’ve had too much coffee. Don’t be such a spaz!”
You’re not ordering a side dish at a barbecue place. Rather, it’s expression of approval.
Example: “Sure, I’d love to see a movie tonight. That’d be cool beans.”
10-4, good buddy
When you’re talking to somebody on a CB radio and you want them to know you’ve heard what they just said. During the ’70s, an actual CB radio was not required to use this slang. It wasn’t just truckers who wanted to talk like truckers.
Example: “10-4, good buddy. I hear you loud and clear.”
Take a chill pill
No such drug existed. The “chill pill” mentioned here is entirely figurative. However you do it, you need to calm down! If you need to chill, try this 24-Hour Guide to Stress Relief.
Example: “Hey, hey, take a chill pill, dude. You’re going to get us all killed!”
Sit on it
This insult from Fonzie on Happy Days pretended the slang’s origins were in the ’50s. But actually, “sit on it”—a nicer way of saying “shut up”—didn’t catch on until the ’70s.
Example: “I’ve had about enough from you. Sit on it!”
If someone isn’t all there, and their attention span is the equivalent of somebody floating through space, staring at nothing in particular, then they definitely qualify as a space cadet.
Example: “Take a look at that space cadet. He’s in his own little world.”
Out to lunch
Again, not a slang term to be taken literally. There’s no eating involved. Instead, it connotes confusion. Whatever they’re trying to understand makes no sense to them. They must’ve been out to lunch when it was explained.
Example: “I have no idea what any of that means. I’m out to lunch.”
You want to call something bogus, but you don’t have time or energy to pronounce the “gus” part. It’s like Millennial speak, but with more chest hair.
Example: “He blew you off again? That’s bogue.”
When you want the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you ask for the skinny. Because, well, apparently the truth had a high metabolism in the ’70s.
Example: “Yes, I want to know who she was with last night. Give me the skinny!”
Lay a gasser
Yes, more slang for that.
Example: “You might want to leave the room. I just laid a gasser.”
To the max!
When something is taken to the extreme, and it couldn’t possibly be more wild or crazy, you have reached the maximum level of awesomeness.
Example: “We’re gonna have some fun tonight to the max!”
Meant as an insult to disco dancers. Calling them Stella means you think they’re arrogant and full of themselves. Unless their name really is Stella, then your insult is just a friendly hello.
Example: “Naw, don’t invite her to the party. She’s a total Stella.”
Gag me with a spoon
We have the San Fernando Valley to thank for this gem. An expression for when you want to show disgust or disappointment and it’s not enough just to say “I disapprove.” You’re so disturbed that you literally want to test your gag reflex.
Example: “I can’t believe she wore those shoes. Gag me with a spoon!”
A sign of approval and possibly even envy. If something is “choice,” you have made the right decision.
Example: “Your mullet is looking choice today, my man.”
It has nothing to do with being overweight. When phat is spelled with a “ph” in the beginning, it means something is exceptional. To be called phat is a compliment.
Example: “That velour sweatsuit is phat!”
It’s opposite day! But only with this one word. If something’s bad, that means it’s good. But, confusingly, good does not mean bad. Good still means good, but bad means really good.
Example: “Just saw the baddest Trans Am down the block”
Bag your face
If your facial appearance leads something to be desired, perhaps you’d feel more comfortable with a brown paper bag on your head. Another contribution from the California Valley, who somehow became linguistic leaders during the ’80s.
Example: “I have so many zits, my god I should just bag my face.”
When surfers describe something as gnarly, it means especially difficult or even dangerous. But in the ’80s, gnarly became a shorthand for anything cool and exciting.
Example: “That Bill Murray movie was so gnarly!”
Have a cow
When you’re getting a little too emotional or upset about something, you’re having a cow. How exactly this cow is being had is open to interpretation. Are you giving birth to a cow? Well then, we would have to agree with Bart Simpson when he says, “Don’t have a cow.” Seriously. Don’t do that. Today, of course, this is totally something that only older people say.
Example: “I’m just teasing you. Don’t have a cow, man!”
What something has been uttered that is so obvious and apparent, there will be no duhs given.
Example: “Do you think growing a rat tail was maybe not my best life choice?”
Barf me out
What is it with the ’80s and regurgitation slang metaphors? Was “gag me with a spoon” not enough to express contempt? If you really want people to know your level of physical revulsion, you can’t do better than this.
Example: “He’s wearing jam shorts to church? Barf me out!”
You disagree with somebody, but have declined to go into details. “Not even” is a quick way of saying, “I think you’re wrong, but I’m too lazy to get into a whole thing where I list my reasons.” They may retort with “even,” and the argument is officially over.
Example: “She’s totally into you, dude.” “Not even.”
What’s your damage?
This is not a sincere question. It’s asked only when a person’s “damage” has already been assessed and diagnosed. It’s a mildly nicer way of saying, “You’re not all there.” Oh, and speaking of dumb, here’s Why Men Are Terrible Risk Takers.
Example: “You ate that whole bag of chips by yourself? What’s your damage?”
A sort of punctuation, either to what you’ve said or what somebody else said. Shouting “word” essentially means “I rest my case.” If you add “…to your mother,” well, that settles it. Word has been delivered to your mother, so don’t even bother with a counter-argument!
Example: “This Cold War is making me really tense. Word to your mother!”
When something is gross but with a little extra—a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will—it’s crossed over into grody territory. And when something is really grody, that’s when it becomes grody to the max. You can’t get more grody than that. We’ve reached maximum grodiness.
Example: “You’re eating so much nacho cheese. It’s grody to the max!”
The opposite of grody. To be tubular (or better still, totally tubular) is to be remarkable and breathtaking. More surfing slang, because as trucker slang was to the ’70s, surfers were to the ’80s. If you want to get a surfer’s body without a surfboard, here are 10 Surefire Ways to Get Your Best Body in Your 40s.
Example: “The way he looks in parachute pants is totally tubular!”
Especially delicious food that you intend to chow down on with extreme enthusiasm. This slang was gifted to our culture by Pauly Shore, so use with extreme caution.
Example: “Mind if I help myself to the grindage in your fridge?”
An acknowledgement that something is true. It’s not so much a word as an expulsion of random letters from your mouth. To pronounce it, pretend you’re trying to say “cheetah” after consuming a bottle of vodka.
Example: “You wearing your Frankie Say Relax T-shirt tonight?” “Chee’uh!”
Just like the yellowish butterfat spread on your morning toast, something is “butter” if it’s smooth.
Example: “Naw, man, you gotta peg your pants. That’s butter!”
On Muscle Beach in LA, it wasn’t enough to have a nice body. You had to have a great bod. And if you need tickets to the gun show, here are 10 Ways to Gain Muscle Fast.
Example: “You’d wear muscle tees all the time too if you had a bod like that.”
When a geek has an undeniable sex appeal, he’s elevated to zeek level.
Example: “Don’t tell anybody I said this, but I think Urkel is a total zeek.”
We’ve reached the end. Time to leave, and by leave we mean “bounce.”
Example: “Let’s bounce!”
All that and a bag of chips
A compliment of sorts. The person or thing being described is everything one could possibly hope for, and they come with a side dish. Because who doesn’t want a snack for later?
Example: “She’s not just cool. She’s all that and a bag of chips.”
Kick him to the curb
When it’s not enough just to break up with somebody. You need to let them know, in the strongest possible terms, why you want them out of your life. Oh, and don’t let a breakup catch you by surprise, here are 20 Signs Your Relationship Is Doomed.
Example: “He did what? Oh girl, you’ve got to kick him to the curb.”
Your best bud and closest confidant. The guy or girl you count on and trust above all others. But not, ironically, the person most likely to make you dinner on a skillet.
Example: “Home skillet! It’s about time you got here.”
Talk to the hand
Whatever the other person is trying to tell you has been rejected. You are no longer interested in conversing with them. If they want to continue anyway, well, they are welcome to direct their grievances towards your open palm. And if you don’t recognize this expression, maybe you’ll remember the slang words from the 1960s that no one uses anymore?
Example: “Can I please explain why you’re wrong about Tonya Harding?” “Talk to the hand!”
A sarcastic retort to a preposterous suggestion. “As if” imagines a ridiculous alternate reality in which the subject being discussed could actually happen. We can thank Clueless for this one.
Example: “She thinks we’re going to get married and have a bunch of kids together. As if!”
When you’re feeling so much exuberance but no real word in the English language seems sufficient enough to capture the full scale of your emotions.
Example: “I’m finally moving out of my parent’s basement. Booyah!”
A guy with no money, no job, no prospects, and no class. Pretty much the lowest of the low. Also, they won’t be getting any love from the R&B girl group TLC. Sorry, fellas. Don’t be a scrub and avoid the 17 Worst Things a Man Can Say to a Woman.
Example: “I appreciate the offer for a date, but I have a strict no scrubs policy.”
It’s the ’90s version of “psych.” You think somebody is telling you the truth or agreeing with you, and then blammo, they hit you with the ol’ reversal!
Example: “I think Spin Doctors are the best band of all time… NOT!”
A more confusing way to insult somebody. Just say it with a Beavis and Butthead voice and leave it at that.
Example: “I’m not going anywhere with that fart-knocker.”
Someone or something seems attractive from a distance, but when you get up close for a better look, it’s a hot mess. Not unlike the paintings of French impressionist Claude Monet. For more fun with slang, know the words from the 80s that are ancient history now.
Example: “You actually think he’s hot? You better look again, he’s a total Monet.”
It’s just the words “all right,” but, you know, said by a cool kid.
Example: “Nah, I’m cool. I know it looks like I slept in a dumpster, but I’m aiight.”
A celebration that’s gotten so wild and crazy, Snoop Dogg himself might very well show up.
Example: “Don’t come till at least midnight. That’s when the party really gets crunk.”
When you’re just done with somebody and you want out of the conversation immediately. “Whatever” doesn’t declare a winner or loser, just that you don’t care anymore.
Example: “Okay, okay, I get it, you think you’ve got the best soul patch on the eastern seaboard. Whatever!”
If it’s fly, it must be dope. Or as your grandfather might say, “The bee’s knees.” The dancers on In Living Color weren’t called Fly Girls because they could levitate. They were just that awesome.
Example: “Your Vanilla Ice dance moves are totally fly!”
When your sentence need a little extra emphasis, this word will do the trick. It’s an adjective that automatically adds three exclamation points.
Example: “I just watched the O.J. Simpson verdict, and I am hella surprised!”
This phrase comes from a popular meme at the time. Sorry, no, just kidding. We mean music video. Remember those? Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” taught the world that the only way to dance was like you’d just downed two pots of coffee. Put on those dancing shoes, cause getting jiggy is one of the 100 Ways to Live to 100.
Example: “It’s been a tough week at work. I need to get jiggy with it.”
A greeting. When you mean to say “wassup” (i.e. “what’s up with you?”) but that just seems like too much mouth exercise.
“Nuthin’. Sup with you?”
“Nuthin, just playing Sega.”
Weirdly, it’s not (usually) meant as an insult. If somebody is bugging, they’re behaving in unfamiliar ways that concern you. You want them to stop, or at least explain why they’re acting so darn crazy. If you’ve been bugging out lately, you may need one of these 20 Ways Smart Workers Keep Cool Under Pressure.
Example: “You okay? Why are you bugging out?”
Open up a can of…
Somebody got on your wrong side and they’re going to regret it. It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical scuffle is on the horizon. That can of butt-kicking might just translate as a verbal lashing.
Example: “He broke my GameBoy, so I’m about to open up a can on him.”
You go, girl!
It sounds like you’re throwing somebody out of your house, but it’s really a celebratory cheer. It’s the hip person’s way to say, “I’m so proud of you!!”
Example: “You got that job promotion at Blockbuster? You go, girl!”
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