Slang of the 1920's

The twenties were the first decade to emphasize youth culture over the older generations, and the flapper sub-culture had a tremendous influence on main stream America; many new words and phrases were coined by these liberated women. Many of these are still used today!

Below you will find an alphabetical listing of slang words used in the "Jazz Age" (generally taken to mean the years of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression). The Jazz Age was the first modern era to emphasize youth culture over the tastes of the older generations; the flapper sub-culture had a tremendous influence on main stream America--many new words and phrases were coined by these liberated women. These are the most common words and phrases of the time, many of which you may be surprised to note are still very much in use today!

Some entries were the exclusive domain of students (or rather, those of student age; only a very small percentage of the population attended college) or flappers and have been indicated as such with italicized monikers. Also, the words that emerged in a particular year are noted appropriately.

Note: the majority of the entries were gleaned from a great slang dictionary called Flappers 2 Rappers, written by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster, 1996). This is the resource for those interested in slang from any decade of the 20th century. The reader will find more Jazz Age slang, along with literally hundreds of other words and selected etymologies.

Many entries have also been added from The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition through World War II, by Marc McCutcheon. This book is an indispensable guide to all those minutiae of life during one of the most story rich periods in history. A must have for those interested in the Twenties! Check it out (along with all the other books in the Writer's Guide series) here.


-ski, -avous - these are two suffixes (derived from Russian and French, respectively) used in flapper parlance to “dress up” normal words.  The suffix could be added to any word.  There was only one hard and fast rule: if you responded to a question containing a suffix, you had to use the same part of speech somehow.  Example: “Would you like a drink-avous?” “No thanks, I’m on the wagon-avous.” “The sun-ski is so bright!” “Put on a hat-ski.”


Ab-so-lute-ly - affirmative

Abe's Cabe - five-dollar bill

Ace - one-dollar bill

All wet - incorrect

And how! - I strongly agree!

Ankle - to walk, i.e.. "Let's ankle!"

Applesauce - flattery, nonsense, i.e.. "Aw, applesauce!"

Attaboy! - well done!; also, Attagirl!


Baby - sweetheart. Also denotes something of high value or respect.

Balled Up - confused, messed up

Baloney - nonsense!

Bank's Closed - no kissing or making out - i.e. - "Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed."

Bearcat - a hot-blooded or fiery girl

Beat it - scam or get lost

Beat one's gums - idle chatter

Bee's Knees - An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate

Beef - a complaint or to complain

Beeswax - business, i.e. None of your beeswax."

Bell bottom - a sailor

Berries - That which is attractive or pleasing; similar to bee's knees, As in "It's the berries."

Bible Belt - Area in the South and Midwest where Fundamentalism flourishes

Big Cheese - The most important or influential person; boss. Same as big shot

Big six - a strong man; from auto advertising, for the new and powerful; six cylinder engines

Bimbo - a tough guy

Bird - general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old bird."


Cake-eater - a lady's man

Caper - a criminal act or robbery

Cat's meow = great, also "cat's pajamas" and "cat's whiskers"

Сash: a kiss

Сash or check?: Do we kiss now or later?

Cast a kitten/have kittens - to have a fit. Used in both humorous and serious situations. i.e. "Stop tickling me or I'll cast a kitten!"

Celestial - derogatory slang for Chinese or East Asians

Chassis (1930) - the female body

Cheaters - eye glasses

Check - kiss me later

Chewing gum - double-speak, or ambiguous talk

Chicago typewriter: Thompson submachine gun

Choice bit of calico - attractive female; student

Chopper - a Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, due to the damage its heavy .45 caliber rounds did to the human body

Chunk of lead - an unnattractive female; student

Ciggy - cigarette

Clam - a dollar

Coffin varnish - bootleg liquor, often poisonous

Copacetic - excellent, all in order

Crasher - a person who attends a party uninvited

Crush - infatuation

Cuddler - one who likes to make out


Daddy - a young woman's boyfriend or lover, especially if he's rich

Dame - a female

Dapper - a Flapper's dad

Darb - An excellent person or thing (as in "the Darb" - a person with money who can be relied on to pay the check)

Dead soldier - an empty bear bottle

Deb - an debutant

Dick - a private investigator

Dogs - feet

Doll - an attractive woman

Dolled up - dressed up

Don't know from nothing - don't have any information

Don't take any wooden nickels - Don't do anything stupid

Double-cross - to cheat, stab in the back

Dough - money

Drugstore Cowboy - a guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up girls

Dry up - shut up, get lost

Ducky - very good

Dumb Dora - a stupid female


Earful - enough

Edge - intoxication, a buzz. i.e. "I've got an edge."

Egg - a person who lives the big life

Ethel - an effeminate male.


Face stretcher - an old woman trying to look young

Fag - a cigarette; also, starting around 1920, a homosexual.

Fella - fellow. as common in its day as "man," "dude," or "guy" is today, i.e. "That John sure is a swell fella."

Fire extinguisher - a chaperone

Fish - (1) a college freshman (2) a first timer in prison

Flat tire - a bore

Flivver - a Model T; after 1928, could mean any broken down car

Floorflusher - an insatiable dancer

Flour lover - a girl with too much face powder

Fly boy  a glamorous term for an aviator

For crying out loud! - same usage as today

Four-flusher - a person who feigns wealth while mooching off others

Fried - drunk

Futz - a euphemism for "fuck;" i.e. "Don't futz around."


Gams (1930) - legs

Gasper - cigarette

Gatecrasher - see "crasher"

Gay - happy or lively; no connection to homosexuality; see "fag"

Get Hot! Get Hot! - encouragement for a hot dancer doing his or her thing

Get-up (1930) - an outfit

Get a wiggle on - get a move on, get going

Get in a lather - get worked up, angry

Giggle water - booze

Gigolo - dancing partner

Gim - cripple; one who walks with a limp; gangster Dion O’Bannion was called Gimpy due to his noticeable limp

Gin mill - a seller of hard liquor; a cheap speakeasy

Glad rags - "going out on the town" clothes

Go chase yourself - get lost, scram.

Gold-digger (1925) - a woman who pursues men for their money

Goods, the - (1) the right material, or a person who has it (2) the facts, the truth, i.e. "Make sure the cops don't get the goods on you."

Goof - (1) a stupid or bumbling person, (2) a boyfriend; flapper.

Goofy - in love

Grummy - depressed

Grungy - envious


Hair of the Dog - a shot of alcohol

Handcuff - an engagement ring

Hard Boiled - a tough, strong guy

Hayburner - (1) a gas guzzling car (2) a horse one loses money on

Heebie-Jeebies - The jitters

High-Hat - To snub

Hit on all sixes - to perform 100 per cent; as "hitting on all six cyclinders"

Hooch - Bootleg liquor

Hood - hoodlum

Hoofer - Dancer

Horsefeathers - an expletive ; same usage as applesauce

Hotsy - Totsy - Pleasing


"I have to go see a man about a dog." - "I've got to leave now," often meaning to go buy whiskey

Іcy mitt - rejection

Indian hop - marijuana

Insure - engaged

Iron (1925) - a motorcycle, among motorcycle enthusiasts

Iron one’s shoelaces - to go to the restroom

Ish kabibble (1925) - a retort meaning "I should care," from the name of a musician in the Kay Kayser Orchestra


Jack - money

Jake - OK, as in , "Everything is Jake."

Jalopy - Old car

Jane - any female

Java - coffee

Jitney - a car employed as a private bus. Fare was usually five cents; also called a "nickel"

Joe - coffee

John - a toilet

Joint - an establishment

Juice Joint - a speakeasy

Joint - A club, usually selling alcohol


Kale - money

Keen - appealing

Kike - a derogatory term for a Jewish person

Killjoy - a solemn person

Knock up - to make pregnant

Know one's onions - to know one's business or what one is talking about


Lay off - cut the crap

Left holding the bag - (1) to be cheated out of one's fair share (2) to be blamed for something

Let George do it - a work evading phrase

Level with me - be honest

Limey - a British soldier or citizen; from World War I

Line - a false story, as in "to feed one a line"

Live wire - a lively person

Lollapalooza (1930) - a humdinger

Lollygagger - (1) a young man who enjoys making out (2) an idle person


Middle Aisle - To marry

Mrs. Grundy - A priggish or extremely tight-laced person

Moll - A gangster's girl


Neck - Kissing with passion

Nifty - great, excellent

"Now you're on the trolley!" - Now you've got it, now you're right!

Nobody Home - Describes some one who is dumb


Ofay - a commonly used Black expression for Whites

Off one's nuts - crazy

"Oh yeah!" - "I doubt it!"

Old boy - a male term of address, used in conversation with other males as a way to denote acceptance in a social environment; also: "old man" or "old fruit"

Oliver Twist - a skilled dancer

On a toot - a drinking binge

On the lam - fleeing from police

On the level - legitimate, honest

On the up and up - on the level

Orchid - an expensive item

Ossified - drunk

Owl - a person who's out late


Palooka (1) a below-average or average boxer (2) a social outsider, from the comic strip character Joe Palooka

Pet - Same as neck, but more so

Piker - (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward

Pill - (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person

Pinch - To arrest

Pipe down - stop talking

Pushover - A person easily convinced or seduced

Putting on the Ritz - after the Ritz hotel in Paris; doing something in high style


Quiff: a slut or cheap prostitute


Rag-a-muffin - a dirty or disheveled individual

Razz- to make fun of

Real McCoy - The genuine article

Ritzy - Elegant (from the hotel)

Rubes - money or dollars


Sap - a fool, an idiot; very common term in the 20s

Sawbuck - ten-dollar bill

Says you - a reaction of disbelief

Scratch - money

Screaming meemies - the shakes

Screw - get lost, get out, etc.; occasionally, in pre 1930 talkies (such as The Broadway Melody) screw is used to tell a character to leave: one film features the line "Go on, go on--screw!" 

Screwy - crazy; "You're screwy!"

Sheba - one's girlfriend

Sheik - one's boyfriend

Shine box - a bar or club for black patrons

Shiv - a knife

Simolean - a dollar

Sinker - a doughnut

Sitting pretty - in a prime position

Skee - Scotch whiskey

Skirt - an attractive female

Smarty - a cute flapper

Smoke-eater - a smoker

Smudger - a close dancer

Snort - a drink of liquor

Sockdollager - an action having a great impact

So's your old man - a reply of irritation

Spade - yet another derogatory term for an African-American

Speakeasy - a bar selling illeagal liquor

Spill - to talk

Splifficated - drunk

Spoon - to neck, or at least talk of love

Static - (1) empty talk (2) conflicting opinion

Stilts - legs

Strike-me-dead - bootleg liquor

Struggle - modern dance

Stuck on - in love; student.

Sugar daddy - older boyfriend who showers girlfriend with gifts in exchange for sex

Swanky - (1) good (2) elegant

Swell - (1) good (2) a high class person


Take for a Ride - To drive off with someone in order to bump them off

Tin Pan Alley - the music industry in New York, located between 48th and 52nd street

Tomato - a female

Torpedo - A hired gun


Unreal - special

Upchuck - to vomit

Upstage - snobby


Vamp - (1) a seducer of men, an aggressive flirt (2) to seduce

Voot - money


Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy

What's eating you? - What's wrong

Whoopee - To have a good time


You slay me - that's funny


Zozzled - drunk

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