Glossary

This is a short list of period slang and terms from the 1920s and 1930s which has made its way into some of my books.

1920’s

all wet: washed up.
And how!:  An expression of strong agreement.
Applesauce!: Nonsense!
attaboy/attagirl: Well done!
ax: Dismissal from work. To fire.
baby: Sweetheart.
balled up: Confused. Messed up.
baloney: Nonsense!
bearcat: A sexy or seductive woman.
beat one’s gums: To talk.
beef: A complaint.
bee’s knees: Something excellent, outstanding.
beeswax: Business.
bell-bottom: A sailor.
big cheese: An important person.
big shot: An important person.
big six: A strong man.
bird: An eccentric.
bluenose: A puritanical person, a prude.
bootleg: Illegal, smuggled.
bozo: A stupid or foolish person.
breezer: A convertible car.
Bronx cheer:  Blowing a raspberry.
bull session: Men gossiping, usually talking about their sexual exploits.
butt me: I’ll take a cigarette
bump off: To kill.
bum’s rush: Ejection by force.
canned: Drunk, intoxicated.
caper: A crime.
carry a torch: To be in love with someone or have a crush.
cat’s meow: Something excellent, outstanding.
chassis: The female figure.
cheaters: Eyeglasses.
clam: A dollar.
copacetic: OK, alright.
corked: Drunk, intoxicated.
crush: An infatuation.
daddy: A rich male protector who usually expects favors from his female charge.
dame: A female (offensive).
dead soldier: An empty beer bottle.
dick:  A private investigator.
dive: A cheap bar.
doll: An attractive female.
Don’t take any wooden nickels: Don’t do anything stupid.
dumb Dora: A stupid female.
dumps: Depressed, melancholy.
earful: get told off.
edge: State of drunkenness, intoxication.
fall guy: A scapegoat.
fire extinguisher: A chaperon.
fish: A college freshman.
fix: A bribe.
flapper: An exciting woman in short, stylish skirts and short hair.
flat: Out of air.
flat tire: Boring.
flivver: A Model T Ford.
fly boy: A glamorous term for an aviator, someone in the Air Force.
frame: a set up. To give false evidence.
fried: Drunk, intoxicated.
G: A grand, $1000.
gam: A woman’s leg.
get a wiggle on: Speed up.
giggle-water: Liquor or other alcoholic beverage.
gigolo: A kept man who lives off women.
gin mill: A bar.
glad rags: Dressy clothes.
gold-digger: A woman trying to marry a wealthy man.
goofy: Crazy, insane.
grand: A thousand dollars.
guy: A fellow.
handcuff: An engagement ring.
hard-boiled: Tough and cold.
hayburner: A gas-guzzling car.
hayburner: A horse that never wins a race.
heat: A gun.
heater: A gun.
heebie-jeebies: The jitters.
high-hat: To snub someone.
hit on all sixes:  To perform perfectly.
hit the road: To leave.
hood: A hoodlum, gangster.
hoofer: A dancer.
hooey: Nonsense.
horse feathers: Nonsense.
hot seat: The electric chair.
in hot water: In trouble.
it: Sex appeal.
jalopy: An old, beat-up car.
jane: Any female.
java: Coffee.
joe: Coffee.
john: The toilet.
juice joint: A speakeasy.
junkie: Drug addict.
kisser: Mouth.
left holding the bag: blamed for something
level: Honest, truthful.
line: Flirtatious talk designed to pick up a date.
make whoopee: To hug and kiss.
Now you’re on the trolley!: Phrase meaning now you’ve caught on.
off the deep end: To lose control, go crazy.
old man: Father.
on the lam: Fleeing from the law.
on the level: Honest, truthful.
on the up and up: Honest, truthful.
ossified: Drunk, intoxicated.
over the edge: Crazy, insane.
palooka: A strong male.
pet: To hug and kiss.
piker: A cheapskate.
pill: An unlikable person.
pinch: To capture or arrest.
pip: Something excellent, outstanding.
pipe down: Be quiet.
plastered: Drunk, intoxicated.
pop: To hit.
punk: A young hooligan.
pushover: A person easily convinced.
put on the Ritz: To do something in high style.
rag: Newspaper.
razz: To tease, make fun of.
ritzy: Luxurious.
rube: A clumsy, unsophisticated person from the country.
sap: To hit, to club.
sap: A stupid person.
Says you!: Expression of disbelief.
scram: To leave.
shack up: To sleep with someone at a hotel or motel.
Sheba: A sexy or seductive woman.
Sheik: A sexy man.
shiv: A knife.
sinker: A doughnut.
slay: Be very funny.
sleep around: To have love affairs.
slumming: To go to a bad side of town.
smoke: To kill.
speakeasy: An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor.
steady: Boyfriend or girlfriend.
struggle buggy: The backseat of a car.
stuck on: To be in love with.
swanky: Fancy, luxurious.
sweetie: A term of affection for a female.
swell: Excellent, outstanding.
take: To swindle or cheat.
take for a ride: To drive someone away to kill.
The bank is closed: No kissing or hugging.
the berries: Something excellent, outstanding.
the hair of the dog: A shot of an alcoholic drink to relieve a hangover.
the real McCoy: Something genuine.
torpedo: A hired killer.
twerp: Petty, immature brat.
washed up: Finished, done in.
What’s eating you?: Expression meaning What’s wrong with you?
yahoo: A clumsy, unsophisticated person.
you slay me: That’s funny.

 

1930s

bean-shooter: gun
behind the 8 ball: In trouble, in a tight spot.
bent: Upset, angry.
buddy: Form of address for a male in the South.
burn up: Make angry, mad.
cat house: A bordello.
certifiable: Crazy, insane.
cool: To kill.
cut: To dilute.
dead: Quiet.
drop: To knock down.
duds: Clothes.
fade: To leave.
flivver: A broken down car.
gasser: A great time, something hilarious.
goon: A stupid thug or bodyguard.
herb: Marijuana.
on the take: Taking bribes.
history: Over, done with.
horse: Heroine.
hot: Stolen.
hot seat: A critical position with great pressure for success.
Jeepers creepers!: Jesus Christ!
keister: The buttocks.
leave: Make tracks
lightweight: Someone who cannot get things done.
Mack: Form of address for a male.
malarkey: Nonsense. He said he aced the chem exam.
Mickey-Mouse: Minor, unimportant.
mind your potatoes: Mind your own business
odd ball: An eccentric.
on edge: Nervous.
P. I.: A private investigator.
piece of cake: Something easy.
pull the Dutch act: Commit suicide
punch-drunk: Crazy, insane.
riot: A great time, something hilarious.
savvy?: Understand? Get me?
slap-happy: Crazy, insane.
soused: Drunk, intoxicated.
spook: To scare, frighten.
spot: To loan.
squad car: Police car.
take a hike, take a powder: To leave.
the word: The latest news or gossip.
throw a bone: Help out with something small.
tied to an apron string: Dominated by the wife or a woman.
tomato: A female.
torch: An arsonist, someone who starts fires illegally for money.
torch: To commit arson, to burn down illegally.
twit: Petty, immature brat.
twit: Superficial person.
welch: To fail to meet an obligation.

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