Monday, January 11, 2010


Note: This is a scattershot collection of common vernacular from the period. Some of these words are racist, and some sexist, several are vulgar or potentially obscene and offensive. They are slang.

Most were found in a book from the 80s on American slang, and a few I found in It Can't Happen Here.
alligator: dude, jive
all reet: all right, jive
angel: homosexual
apple: any large town or city, jazz
balling: black; "fun"
the berries: the best
Big Apple: popular dance, late
big moment: sweetheart, lover
big school: jail, hoboes & underworld
big trouble: The Depression, hoboes
bitchy: good-looking, classy
blanket stiff: hobo
bindlestiff: hobo
bodgie: male jitterbug, jive
body and soul: lover
boog: to dance
boomer: ladies man
boondoggle: spend public funds lavishly
bring down the house
brown Abe: penny, jive
browned off: angered
builder-upper: anything that builds confidence,
burn one: draw a glass of beer
carpetbag: to make a good impression, students
carry a load: to be drunk
carry the torch: to love sufferingly
carve: to give a thrill, jive
chinchy: cheap, squalor, black
clinch: to hug
clotheshorse: fashionably dressed person
cool: to kill
cow: young woman
cow-simple: in love with women
creep: jerk
cut a rug: dance, jive
cut the cackle: knock it off (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
demon: a dime
doozie: some superior person or thing,
fall down and go boom: to tumble heavily
fall up: to stop by, black
flivver: cheap car (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
foolish powder: heroin
from hunger: unpleasant, contemptible
fruit: homosexual
fuzz: police, black
gasser: anything amusing
gay: fun (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
gay: homosexual
gee: a guy, a man
get/take a hinge at: to examine
get down to cases: talk seriously
G-man: FBI agent
goof: one's cellmate
gorilla: ruffian/hired killer
gormless: stupid, slow
grab-joint: carnival, place that sells souvenirs, food, etc.
groaner: crooner
gun: hypodermic needle
hardware: badges, id jewelry
have one's ass in a sling: to be in trouble
have it off: have sex with
hod: black passenger, racist
hooey: nonsense
hoosier: prison guard
Hooverville: slum of makeshift shacks
hotcha: expressions of pleasure
hot short: stolen car
hustle: hurry (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
icky: oversentimental
it: sex appeal
it girl: young woman with sex appeal
jam: to play spontaneously (music)
jeff: white person, black
jerk: idiot
jitterbug: swing dance, also swing enthusiast
jive: swing music
john: toilet
junker: junkie
just one of those things
lead-pipe cinch: a certainty
loafer: slacker (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
natural-born: innate, black
nervous Nellie: nervous person
nice work if you can get it: (often w/sexual overtones)
nod: on the ..., drug induced stupor
oomph: sexually attractive
on the cuff: on my bill (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
out: way to escape (that's your out)
parlor pink: mildy radical socialist, political liberal
payola: graft, bribery
percolate: to run smoothly, to stroll, relaxed
: (also, to perc or perk)
pet peeve: cherished annoyance
phooey: exclamation
pin (someone’s) ears back: punish someone
pink chord: mistake in improvising music
pitch (or fling) woo: kiss and caress
plonk: bad wine
poop: info, data
poop sheet: data, instructions
previous: tight, snug
prowl car: police car
punchy: exhibiting brain damage due to blows to the head
put (someone) in the picture: to fill them in on information
quick: tight, snug
rent party: where one’s friends buy drinks & food to help pay the rent
roach: butt of a joint
rocket: a complaint or rebuke
rub: hugging and kissing session
rusty dusty: buttocks
scare, the: extortion based on menace
scatter-joint: nightclub
schmaltz: blatant sentimentality
score: share of the loot
scratch: mention of one’s name in the media (esp when its useful)
screwball: eccentric person
scrud / double scrud: disease, painful (vd)
scuttlebutt: gossip
send up: parody
shag: to tease and harass
Shangri La: ideal place
shit hits the fan: trouble breaks out
shoot the works: get it done (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
short end of the stick
Shorty George: a jitterbug dance: also the Big Apple, the Shag, the Lindy Hop
shot in the arm: invigorating influence
shovel shit: to lie, exaggerate
skate: to avoid a debt
slab: bed
slay: to impress powerfully
slick chick: attractive woman
slugfest: a baseball game where a lot of base hits are made
smoke-eater: firefighter
solid: wonderful, remarkable
squeeze one: prepare a glass of o.j.
stick (one’s) neck out: risk something
stud: a stylish man
student: newly addicted
swing: musical style
swish: homosexual
take someone for a ride: murder by kidnapping/also the swindle
talkie: talking movie
that’s all someone needs: ironic statement
that way: in love (he was that way about her)
tight as Kelsey’s nuts: stingy
Tommy man: gangster with tommy gun
too much: overwhelming
tops: superior
clueless: ignorant late
trigger: gunman
truck: to dance the jitterbug
turf: the street
twenty-one: an order of lemon or limeade
twerp: jerk
two and a half: small glass of milk
unhep: uncool
unlax: relax
up the wall: crazy
vines: stylish clothing, suit
viper: marijuana dealer
wail: to play jazz well
way out: original and bold musician
whodunit: mystery
with: lunch counter, assumed accompaniment (two coffees with, to go)
with bells (knobs/tits) on: empahtically
wolf: sexually agressive man
wooden kimono: pine overcoat
woof: talk idly
worry wart: worries excessively
zombie: vacant, strange person

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