33 Old Slang Terms Kids Born After 2000 Will Never Understand

These vintage slang terms from the 20th century are sure to go over the younger generation's head.

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When it comes to millennial and Gen Z vocabulary, there's a lot to take in. Your partner is your bae? And if something slaps, that's a good thing? Got it… kind of. But just like their slang terms can seem like a foreign language to the older generations, if they traveled back to a time before the year 2000, they might have no idea what anyone was talking about either. When referring to shade these days, it's not such a good thing. But back in the day, you actually wanted to be made in the shade. Whether you once used these old slang terms and need a refresher, or you've never heard them before, these are the vintage slang words and phrases people born after 2000 will never understand.

1
Jake

portrait of a smiling senior man showing his thumbs up
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Good news to all the Jakes out there—you're all right, literally! Back in the 1910s, jake wasn't just a name, but also a slang term that meant "all right" or "fine." We hope you're happy, Jake Gyllenhaal!

2
Bank's closed

man and woman, senior Taiwanese couple sitting on blanket in park, they are having a picnic.
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Sure, kids these days probably know that banks are closed on holidays and Sundays. But in the 1920s, the slang phrase bank's closed had nothing to do with where you got your money from. Instead, this meant "no kissing" or "no making out." So you could tell that guy you're not interested in or that couple getting a little too into PDA, "Hey, bank's closed!"

3
Glad rags

a multi-ethnic group of five seniors enjoying a night out, hanging out together at the bar counter of a restaurant, talking and laughing. They are well-dressed, wearing suits and dresses. The woman in the middle is in her 70s and her friends are in their 60s.
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The phrase glad rags draws forth visions of old clothes you're happy and comfortable to be in, like a pair of raggedy sweats on a weekend morning. But actually, this meant the complete opposite. In the 1920s, your glad rags were your "nice, dressy clothes" that you typically wore "to a party or other social event."

4
Humdinger

man and woman, senior married couple standing on terrace at home together.
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Humdinger may sound like a foolish word, but it's not meant as such, by any means. This Scottish-based word became slang in the mid-20th century as a way to describe something as "striking" or "extraordinary."

5
Duck soup

serious senior man sitting on a library bench writing in his book. Senior man sitting in a university classroom.
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If you were around in the '30s, you would know all about duck soup—and it's got nothing to do with food. Instead, the popular slang term—which was also the name of a beloved 1930s movie featuring the Marx Brothers—describes something that is "easy to do" or "an easily accomplished task."

6
Hoosegow

warder's silhouette, prison walls outside the window.
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Slammer. Hole. Joint. There are plenty of nicknames these days for being behind bars. But back in the day, the main slang term for "jail" was hoosegow, which was a word first used in 1909, according to Merriam-Webster.

7
Fracture

mother, father and daughter taking a walk together outdoors.
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These days, you might think of fracture in terms of injuring a bone. But in the 1940s, this term was all about smiles and laughter. If you fractured someone, it meant you made them "laugh," or "amused" them greatly.

8
The sticks

sunset draws closer on a road running towards the Southern Alps, on New Zealand's South Island.
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If you're someone who prefers the finer things in life, you don't want to get stuck in the sticks. This '40s slang term was another way to say "the boondocks" or "country," meaning a "remote, rural area" that is greatly "removed from civilization."

9
Whistling Dixie

senior man having trouble with his phone.
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The slang phrase whistling Dixie was often used negatively to describe "being mistaken" or "engaging in unrealistic, hopeful fantasizing." As in, if you think you can get through rush-hour traffic in less than 30 minutes, you're whistling Dixie. The phrase comes from the Confederate war song "Dixie," and their unrealistic hope to win the Civil War.

10
Natch

mature and young women colleagues sitting at desk talking about project startup ideas, sharing thoughts, solve currents issues, make research, discuss growth strategy, think how generate more revenue (Mature and young women colleagues sitting at desk
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Natch is a simple slang term, yet not used much anymore. The 1940s word means exactly what it sounds like: a shortened version of the word "naturally," used in place of "of course."

11
Church key

close up of unrecognizable men pouring beer from a can into beer glasses.
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There's nothing "church-like" here. Instead, in the '50s, if you were asking someone for a church key, you were looking for a beer can opener. After pop tops were manufactured, the use of this tool—and subsequent slang term—steadily declined.

12
Plugola

retro style radio on an old table
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Plugola is all about trying to "plug" someone or something, in ways that aren't by the rules. The slang term, commonly used in the '50s, specifically referred to "incidental advertising on radio or television that is not purchased like regular advertising."

13
Buy it

senior father and adult son going on vacation
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In terms of this '60s slang, you're not actually "buying" anything—unless you mean buying an early trip to the grave. The phrase buy it actually means "to die." For instance, if you don't slow down when you drive, you're gonna buy it in a wreck.

14
Hip-shooter

serious senior male office manager points to a female employee while reprimanding her.
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No reference to guns here: Hip-shooter is all about about shooting off at the mouth. This slang term from the mid-20th century refers to someone who "acts or talks in a rash, impetuous way."

15
Out to lunch

confused group of business workers staring at a screen
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We would love to be out to lunch in the modern sense, perhaps at McDonalds or Olive Garden—but, back in the day, it wasn't exactly something you were aiming for. If someone said you were out to lunch, it meant you were "confused" or "clueless" as to what was going on.

16
Barnburner

two-generation family is watching a sports game and cheering
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Putting the words "barn" and "burner" together doesn't exactly bring forth good images. However, this old slang term actually means something good—referring to "something that is highly exciting" or "impressive." Typically, many people would refer to a close and well-played sports game as a barnburner.

17
Frosted

man and woman with glasses of wine at home
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Frosted in a slang sense has nothing to do with cold weather or decorating a delicious cake. Instead, this '80s slang term meant you made someone "angry" or "mad."

18
Scenester

group of seniors traveling together
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If you're a scenester, you're always "in the scene." This '80s slang term described someone who would either try extremely hard or bounce from group to group just to fit a specific, popular "social culture." These days, you might describe this person as a "phony" or "fake."

19
Caramello

shot of a businesswoman working at her desk
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No, we're not talking about the delicious chocolate bar of the same name. In the '90s, if you said you were caramello, it meant you were extremely "busy" with a "full schedule."

20
Cheese-balled

serious asian couple looking stressed and annoyed overpaper work
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This, unfortunately, has nothing to do with food either. This '90s slang term derives from the notion of being "cheesed off" or "annoyed." If you were cheese-balled, you were annoyed because you were "under a great deal of stress."

21
Circle

closeup of elderly couple holding hands while sitting on couch. Husband and wife holding hands and comforting each other. Love and care concept.
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Married. Tied the knot. Circled. They all mean the same thing. If you were to circle someone back in the day, you were marrying them. This most likely derives from the idea that you're connected to your partner after marriage, like in a literal circle.

22
Get bent

shot of a mature couple having a serious conversation at home
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Get bent was another way to say "Absolutely not!" or "Are you crazy?" This popular old slang phrase was a simple, concise way to end a conversation and dismiss what someone was saying or asking.

23
Dragon

asian woman in purple nightgown use both hands close mouth for Not commenting or refusing against gray background
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The term dragon was used a lot in '90s slang, like in phrases such as "got the dragon." But the word itself simply described "bad breath." So, if someone told you that you "got the dragon," they were telling you your breath smelled.

24
Hit me on the hip

pager on a wooden table reading happy valentine's day
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Hit me on the hip is an example of old slang not making sense anymore in modern terms. If you told someone to "hit me on the hip," you were telling them to "page me," since pagers were placed on the hip. But since pagers aren't around anymore, this slang phrase lost usage and meaning.

25
See the dinosaur

mature couple talking at home
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If you are seeing the dinosaur, it means you're seeing things that aren't there, like dinosaurs. This '90s slang term specifically described the act of "completely misunderstanding" something.

26
Made in the shade

old woman relaxing in home
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Shade these days is not a good thing. However, back in the '90s, people strived to be made in the shade. This slang expression meant "to have a very easy life" or "to be in a very good situation." For instance, many people think celebrities have it made in the shade.

27
Clyde

thoughtful senior man sitting on couch. Depressed sad man sitting with hand on head thinking while looking away. Elderly man suffering from alzheimer.
iStock

All those named Jake may be happy about their slang counterpart, but there may be a reason you don't see many Clydes anymore. Back in the day, clyde was actually a slang term used to describe a "stupid, inept, or boorish person." And that's not exactly something you want associated with your name.

28
Monet

artist introducing arts to visitors in Beijing,China.
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Ah, there's nothing more beautiful than a Claude Monet painting—that is, until you look up close. Just like a Monet painting is beautiful from far away, but a little rough around the edges when looked at more closely, the slang phrase monet was used to describe a "person who is attractive from a distance, but unattractive on closer inspection."

29
Cut the mustard

Hands making thumbs up and down
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Sorry ketchup, it's all about cutting the mustard. This slang phrase, often used in the 20th century, references someone "reaching or surpassing the desired standard or performance" for something. More commonly, however, people would use it in a negative way—saying someone couldn't cut the mustard.

30
Gasper

group of business people smoking outdoors on a break, talking to each other
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This old slang term comes from a British background. If you had a gasper, it meant you were smoking a cheap cigarette, something that would typically cause you to "gasp."

31
A bear

shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed out in an office
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You don't want to be in front of a literal bear, but you don't want to be in a bear either. The slang phrase describes something that is "very difficult" or the act of "being in a tough or unfortunate situation." So, say you were taking a hard test, you could say it was a real bear.

32
Egghead

senior Chinese man holding a book and looking at camera.
iStock

Being called an egghead doesn't necessarily sound like a good thing. However, if you consider that the slang term means someone who is "brainy" or has "intellectual interests," you might think differently. To be fair, though, people would often use the term egghead to speak negatively about smart people.

33
Hank Marvin

cropped shot of a senior man making lunch in his kitchen at home
iStock

Hank Marvin was a British musician in the '60 and '70s. But the slang term doesn't really have anything to do with him—unless he's starving. This British-based slang word was used to say you were "hungry" or "ravenous." For instance, you could say: "What's for lunch? I'm Hank Marvin!"

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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