Slang, the informal words and phrases in common usage, is essential to setting the era and creating tone in your writing. Knowing the correct terms for the time period enables a writer to construct realistic settings, create authentic characters and strengthen their credibility as a writer.
Creating a world in correct historical context demands herculean effort. In order to create that world for her readers – to make it real –
Writers today are lucky to have the Internet at hand. It is a phenomenal research tool. Just type in most any phrase or question and websites pop up by the thousands, if not millions. The only downside is getting lost in the overwhelming amount of background information you'll discover. Past that bugaboo, researching on the Internet is like a treasure hunt – you never know what you’ll find.
Just type in “slang of the 1920s,” and over one million sites pop up, compiled by enthusiasts and historians of every degree. As with every era, dozens of terms came into use during the Roaring Twenties. While some of these terms disappeared through the years, others remain in common use today. With a little investigation, you’ll discover the perfect words to add spice and authenticity to your work.
Baloney - nonsense!
Cat's Meow (Cat’s pajamas) - something splendid or stylish
Corked, tanked, primed, jazzed, plastered, embalmed, or lit – drunk.
Dead soldier - an empty beer bottle
Glad rags - "going out on the town" clothes
Piker - (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward
Putting on the Ritz - for the Ritz Hotel in
doing something in high style Paris
Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy
What's eating you? - what's wrong
You slay me - that's funny
1920s slang that disappeared through time:
Applesauce- an expletive same as horsefeathers; as in "Ah applesauce!"
Bank's Closed - no kissing or making out - i.e. - "Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed."
Bee's Knees - an extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
Breezer - a convertible car
Butt me - I'll take a cigarette
Flivver - a Model T; after 1928, could mean any old broken down car
Mrs. Grundy - a priggish or extremely tight-laced person
"Now you're on the trolley!" - now you've got it, now you're right
Spifflicated, corked, scrooched, zozzled, owled, ossified or fried to the hat - drunk
Struggle Buggy - the backseat of a car. A parent's worst nightmare.
Hmm ... 1920s: struggle buggy; 1970s: shaggin’ wagon – some things never change – but you still have to know the correct terminology or you will lose your reader.
From recipes for making Sham-Champagne – A Purely Temperance Drink, to How to Cure the Vapors, this tattered tome of home remedies offers a peek into the life of real people living in the 1880s; and invaluable terminology for a writer.
One word of warning, don’t trust your memory too far. You may have lived through the early 1980s, but do you really remember what year home computers became popular or whether or not anyone had cell phones back then? What television shows were popular, what movies, what bands were playing and what were the big stories of the day? Trusting your memory may be a shortcut to a mistake that could have been avoided.
Hey, don’t have a cow, man. It’s a bummer that your foxy mama freaked out. Chill.
If you want to be a hep cat, the next time you flap your lips, use some of these slang terms, and you will be cooking with gas.