88 Hilarious Slang Terms From the 20th Century To Sprinkle Through Your Writing Like You're Putting on the Ritz
Writers need slang like bearcats need giggle water, know what I mean? Sure, you could spend the rest of your writing life using pristine, multi-syllabic words from the 16th century that have been honed into Latinate diamonds by the passage of time — or you could give in to the joy of juice joints, Shebas, and spliffication, and have yourself a grand old time frolicking through the hilarious world of American slang.
Like fashion or music or poor Congressional choices, slang is a fantastic way to get a sense of another era. As you might expect, Prohibition slang is overflowing with references to speakeasies, flapper babes, and cocktails — not to mention about a million ways to say "I'm drunk." Marijuana references become more and more popular once the hippies burst onto the scene, '80s slang is as cheesy as aerobic-wear, and '90s slang borrows heavily from hip hop (bling-bling, homie, dawg).
The thing about slang is that it oozes over from generation to generation, occasionally changing spellings or meanings ("hep" used to mean "hip," until "hep" wasn't hip anymore). And of course, slang can quickly become really uncool, especially if your old man used to it. (Ex.: Anyone who says they're "hip to the jive" is definitely not hip to any jive whatsoever.) This list is by no means conclusive or blindingly accurate, just weird and funny. After all, who can really pinpoint the moment when a word becomes not just a word, but something that forever represents a moment in time? I know you feel me.
1. Bash: A drunken spree.
2. Goop: A stupid person.
3. Hanging: Excellent, outstanding ("Hanging new tie there, old man!").
4. Hep: Part of the current musical culture ("That cat is hep!").
5. Hawkshaw: A detective.
6. Wisenheimer: Someone who thinks he or she is smarter than everyone else.
7. Date: A stupid person.
8. Duck soup: Something easy.
9. Gas: A joke.
10. Grifter: A con artist.
11. Hoosegow: Prison.
12. Jake: Alright (e.g., "Is everything Jake out here?").
13. On the make: Flirting, making advances on people ("Sandra was really on the make last night.").
14. Meathook: A hand (preferably used while yelling at the police to stop dragging you to the hoosegow — "Get yer meathooks off me!").
15. Bank's closed: No kissing or making out ("Sorry babe, bank's closed.").
16. Butt me: Give me a cigarette.
17. Cash or check?: Do you kiss now or later?
18. Chassis: The female body.
19. Copacetic: Wonderful, fine, all right.
18. Dead soldier: An empty beer bottle.
19. Drugstore cowboy: A guy that hangs around on a street corner, trying to pick up girls.
20. "I have to go see a man about a dog": To go buy whiskey.
21. Fish: A college freshman or a first-timer in prison.
22. Get a wiggle on: To get going.
23. Giggle juice: Alcohol.
24. Glad rags: Going out clothes.
25. Horsefeathers!: An expletive.
26. Juice Joint: A speakeasy.
27. Moll: A gangster's girl.
28. Orchid: Something expensive.
29. Ossified: Drunk.
30. Scrooched: Drunk.
31. Splifficated: Drunk.
32. Zozzled: Drunk.
33. Abercrombie: A know-it-all.
34. Abyssinia: I'll be seeing you.
35. Blow your wig: To become really excited.
36. Bumping gums: To talk about nothing useful.
37. Butter and egg man: The man with the money.
38. Dog soup: A glass of water.
39. Dizzy with a dame: To be really in love with a woman, possibly at risk of danger for oneself.
40. Eggs in coffee: To run smoothly, or a general phrase of approval.
41. Snipe: A cigarette.
42. The kiss off: The final exit, as in death.
43. "You shred it, wheat!": You said it.
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives
44. Cook with gas: To do something right.
45. Dead hoofer: A bad dancer.
46. Ducky shincracker: A good dancer.
47. "Hi sugar, are you rationed?": Are you going steady?
48. Motorized freckles: Insects.
49. Pennies from heaven: Easy money.
50. Ankle-biter: A child.
51. "Are you writing a book?": You're asking too many questions.
52. Back seat bingo: Making out in a car.
53. D.D.T.: "Drop dead twice." (Appropriate response: "What, and look like you?")
54. Frosted: Angry.
55. Lay a patch: To accelerate so rapidly you leave a patch of rubber on the road.
56. Subterranean: A hipster.
57. All show and no go: Looks good superficially.
58. Bogart: To keep for yourself.
59. Fine as wine: Good looking.
60. Five finger discount: To steal something.
61. Foam domes: padded bras.
62. Mirror warmer: Woman who spends a lot of time looking in the mirror.
63. Submarine races: An excuse given for parking next to the water to make out — you're there to watch the "submarine races."
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives
64. Bogue: Used to describe something offensive or an unrealistic idea.
65. Bone jack: To steal a dead person's style.
66. Brick house: A well-built woman.
67. Decent: Cool.
68. "Does anybody remember laughter?": A popular joke phrase started by Robert Plant during a '70s performance of "Stairway to Heaven."
69. Sit on it: An insult, i.e., “Sit on it, creep!”
70. Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid: Get out of my business.
71. What a fry: Something or someone that blows your mind, is weird, or crazy.
72. Ash people: People who wore all black (goths).
73. Bag your face: Put a bag over your face, i.e., you're ugly.
74. Barf me out: Valley Girl expression used to express disgust.
75. "Cheeuh!": Yeah, totally, duh. Basically just a sound.
76. Clydesdale: A big all-American boy.
77. Kirk out: To freak out.
78. Mall-maggot: Kids hanging out at the mall who don't have anything better to do.
79. What's your damage?: What's your problem?
80. Zeek: A major geek.
81. Bone out: To leave.
82. Bugging: Freaking out.
83. Cheddar: Money.
84. Lurker: A person who enters electronic chat rooms without making a contribution.
85. Props: Short for "proper dues." To give someone credit.
86. Talk to the hand: Super sassy '90s phrase that just means you're ignoring someone.
87. Scrub: A loser guy.
88. Wacked: Used to describe someone who's totally weird or crazy.
Images: Wikimedia Commons