20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing

Larry Holzwarth - August 9, 2018

Those who love history often think of what it would have been like to live in another era, eating its foods, enjoying its entertainments, absorbing its culture, and in general simply being part of another time. One thought that seldom, if ever, occurs is the difficulty that would be experienced communicating. Reading the correspondence of the eighteenth century or perusing one of its newspapers reveals that the people of that era spoke differently, their language was formal and stilted. Over time language became less formal, peppered with phrases which were pertinent to the day.

As youth culture in America exploded, beginning in the 1920s, idioms emerged among the young who began to speak a language of their own. Some of these terms remain in use today, albeit with entirely different meanings from those of their origin, while others are remembered as quaint relics of the days of the speakeasy, the flivver, the flapper, and the bee’s knees. The origins and meanings of many of these terms, as well as their meaning and use in later days, are part of the history of the American language.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Gibson Girls by Charles Dana Gibson became the model for the flappers of the 1920s in America. Wikimedia

Here are the origins and meanings of just a few of the idioms from the 1920s.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
A Life Magazine cover from 1922 depicting an artists vision of the Flapper. Wikimedia

The Fire Extinguisher

A time traveler to the 1920s might overhear someone say something along the lines of, “Yes, I’m going out with Susan tonight, but only if I can find a fire extinguisher. Otherwise Pops says no dice”. While modern ears would have no trouble understanding the meaning of no dice, the need to take a fire extinguisher on a date, equipment mandated presumably by the girl’s father, is curious. Unless the date is to attend a bonfire or some similar event, the need for protection against fire seems overly cautious, until one considers that there are different types of fire.

The popularity of the automobile changed the way American youth dated, with the car providing not only transportation, but a secluded setting for a young man to engage in amorous pursuits unobserved, and if the young man was acquainted with a bootlegger, assisted by alcohol. A father may reluctantly grant permission for his daughter to accompany a suitor of an evening, but concern for her virtue may cause him to tell the couple that they must have accompaniment in the form of an approved chaperone. A fire extinguisher in this case is the chaperone, along to ensure things didn’t get too hot. Fire extinguishers were also present at dances and most parties.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
23 Skidoo badges became a New York fad, sold in newspapers advertisements for two cents in the 1920s. Wikimedia

23 Skidoo

A traveler to the 1920s will have heard the idiom 23 skidoo, but knowledge of its origin would be vague at best. It is commonly attributed to policemen, who ordered idlers on New York’s 23rd street to move along rather than wait on the sidewalk for the winds around the unusually shaped Flatiron Building to cause the skirts of passing ladies to blow up in the air, revealing their otherwise unseen legs. This tale, though amusing, is dubious, since both 23 and “skidoo” were used to order people to move along before the Flatiron Building was built in 1906. The use of both terms appeared in print in the 1890s, and it is possible that 23 was used as early as the 1860s.

23 may have derived from the novel A Tale of Two Cities. When Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine he hears the number called, after which he is gone. A popular play based on the novel was performed in New York in the late 1890s, and the use of 23 in reference to going and being gone emerged around the same time. Skidoo, sometimes spelled skiddoo, most likely derived from skedaddle. The two expressions were used in a play by George M. Cohan in 1904, and in advertisements as early as 1906, so though the diligent cops protecting the virtue of lady pedestrians may have shouted the phrase in the 1920s, it didn’t originate with them.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
The idiom “know your onions” made an encore as part of food rationing during World War II. Wikimedia

Know your onions

An astute time traveler would likely assume that know your onions along with derivatives such as know your apples, know your oats and others refers to someone knowing their business. Know your beans, or phrases similar, such as she knows her onions refer to someone who is capable and knowledgeable. Why onions became a popular version of the idiom in the 1920s is anybody’s guess, although the word onion was often used to refer to a person’s head during the era, but all versions of the phrase likely derived from the expression know your ropes.

Knowing the ropes was a nautical expression, originating in the days of sailing ships (which were still fairly common in the 1920s) when the sails which propelled the vessel were handled through the use of ropes (called lines) known as running rigging. Those lines which supported the masts when the ship was not underway were called standing rigging. An experienced sailor was expected to know what every line did and how they worked together, as well as know how to repair them if necessary. A sailor who had accumulated such knowledge was said to know his ropes. In the 1920s this expression was changed as to what knowledge was of, but they all meant that the person had knowledge of which they spoke.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
The Flappers, an icon of the Roaring Twenties, took their name from the 1920 silent film starring Olive Thomas. Wikimedia


Although the flapper girl is symbolic of the Roaring Twenties, the origin of the word as referring to the image of Charles Dana Gibson’s Gibson Girl is obscure. Three centuries earlier the word flap referred to a young prostitute in England, by the 1890s flapper could refer to any active young girl, usually in her teens. In the United States it came to refer to the girls who emulated the Gibson Girl, first appearing as a style in the silent film The Flapper in 1920. Throughout the 1920s Clara Bow and Joan Crawford built their early careers around the style. Flappers were considered rebellious, pushing what was acceptable behavior by women in public, such as smoking and drinking.

Flappers were, because of their appearance and their more carefree, less restricted behavior, highly controversial among older generations who observed them with sniffing disapproval. Businesses, especially banks, received complaints from women – wives and mothers – who claimed that their sons and husbands were unduly attracted to transact business with the young women dressed as flappers, demanding dress codes be imposed. So many banks complied that the dress regulations spread to the Federal Reserve. In 1930 the flappers were immortalized by a cartoon caricature named Betty Boop.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Flivver usually referred to a Ford Model T, though it came to be used for any older car. Wikimedia

The Flivver

In the 1920s, teens in particular began referring to their automobiles, most often the Ford Model T but including any car, as a flivver. The origins of the term are open to speculation. What is known is that the word, which was mostly used to describe a used vehicle with modifications of paint and structure, first appeared in print only two years after the first Model T rolled off the Ford assembly line. Interestingly, at the same time flivver was used as a verb meaning to fail, as in, If I blow this exam I’ll flivver math this year. The term thus may have been descriptive of the reliability of a used car.

Flivver was not the only slang idiom used to describe the automobile, especially the Model T. Bone crusher and Bouncing Betty were terms which addressed the Ford’s less than elegant ride. More derogative terms included Henry’s Go-cart, the Spirit of Detroit (after 1927 and Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis), and Puddle jumper, which referred as much to the conditions found on streets and roads as it did the vehicle itself. The most famous reference to the Model T is the Tin Lizzie, derived from a Model T which raced up Pike’s Peak in 1922, under the name Old Liz.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
By 1924 the idiom “the cat’s meow” was firmly entrenched in the slang of American youth. Wikimedia

Cat’s Meow and Cat’s Pajamas

A visitor to the 1920s might overhear two flappers, after watching a flivver pass by, exclaim that the passing car was the cat’s pajamas, the driver the cat’s meow. While tone of voice may allow for some insight into the meaning of the strange phrases, the visitor would be understandably uncertain of their precise definition. Though similar, they do mean different things. Like much slang of any era, how they gained their meaning is wrapped in legend. The cat’s meow as an expression was created by cartoonist Thomas Dorgan, coiner of several slang terms.

In usage, the cat’s meow referred to something highly desirable, usually directed by a young lady towards a young man. The cat’s pajamas was a reference to the superiority of an event, person, place, or thing. Dorgan, who was known as Tad, a portmanteau of his initials, also coined the slang terms cheaters (eyeglasses), dumbbell (intellectually challenged), skimmer (a hat), and the expression for crying out loud. He has been credited with many other slang terms, some erroneously, and some questionably, including his own claim to have coined 23 skidoo.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
H. L. Mencken coined the word booticians to describe beauticians who offered liquor to their customers. Wikimedia

Calling the Embalmer

A popular figure of the 1920s was the man (or woman) from whom alcohol, officially illegal, could be obtained. Bootlegger, itself a slang term of indefinite origin, was one reference to them. Embalmer was another, and was not necessarily a negative aspersion on the product being provided, since being embalmed was slang for being intoxicated. H. L. Mencken coined the term booticians for the women bootleggers who sold illicit alcohol to patrons at beauty parlors. Women customers were boozettes, men were boozehounds.

Female bootleggers were also known as snake charmers, who delivered their hooch (liquor), to their scofflaws (customers unconcerned that they were breaking the law), collected their lettuce (cash), which could be a fin, sawbuck, or double-sawbuck (five, ten, or twenty dollar bill), and bloused out (left). If the scofflaw was lucky the hooch was the cat’s pajamas. A snake charmer whose hooch was the cat’s pajamas was the cat’s meow for scofflaws and their flappers who weren’t encumbered by a fire extinguisher and were looking forward to being embalmed.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Actress Joan Crawford in full flapper garb in 1927. Library of Congress

Talking about women

The young men of the 1920s, of course, had their own vocabulary when it came to the topic of women, particularly the flappers who were breaking all of the rules of staid society. A young lady of interest due to her physical qualities was a choice bit of calico. That may have been due to the shapeliness of her legs, which were called gams, more of which were on display than ever before. In the event that the well gammed choice bit of calico was shy or reserved, rare in the flapper era, she was a cancelled stamp. If she was determined to be too strait laced she was a Mrs. Grundy.

Even a Mrs. Grundy could be extremely attractive, a hotsy-totsy, though one approaching her was likely to be rejected, receiving from her the icy mitt. Mrs. Grundys were considered to be seeking a wedding ring, known as a manacle. Or it was possible that she was already involved in a relationship, making her a sheba, though shebas could also simply be hotsy-totsy, but uninterested. An engaged woman could be detected by the presence of an engagement ring, and was said to be handcuffed. All women were tomatoes, hotsy-totsy or not. A ripe tomato meant that a woman was considered to be old enough for adult dating.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
In the 1920s well-dressed men and boys wore jackets, neckties, and hats or caps. Wikimedia

Talking about men

The word bimbo was in vogue in the 1920s in an entirely different context than it is understood today. A bimbo was a man enamored with his macho. A bimbo believed himself to be darb (wonderful). Bimbos considered themselves to be ladies men, called cake-eaters. Bimbos could be incorrect in their self-assessment, making them all wet. Bimbo’s who loitered about hoping to attract a hotsy-totsy tomato were drug-store cowboys, and if they were unemployed they were called dewdroppers, particularly if they slept all day and prowled at night. Dewdroppers were not considered to be gentlemen of good character, and many were bootleggers, hence the name (dropping dew).

When bimbos, or anyone else, started to lose their temper they were getting in a lather. Particularly tough bimbos were hard-boiled, but so were some tough tomatoes. Some bimbos eschewed the flivver and went about using iron, a motorcycle. The opposite of a bimbo, a man who was mild of temperament, was called a milquetoast. They were seldom seen on iron. Milquetoasts were often considered by bimbos to be three-letter men, a twenties reference which equates to gay today, though in the twenties gay meant happy and cheerful and had no relationship to homosexuality.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Brazil’s Ambassador to the United States handcranks a Ford Model T, one of the most popular modes of transportation in the 1920s. Library of Congress


Flivver was a reference to an automobile, usually a Ford Model T, though there were many other terms which referred to that manner of conveyance. Teens especially drove jalopies, and often painted a name for the vehicle on its side. The car could also be a hayburner, a reference to poor mileage which was also applied to slow horses at the race track. The word chassis was common in the 1920s, but rather than applying to the automobile it referred to the female body, with classy chassis, when directed towards a girl in a car, referring to her and not the vehicle. Old cars were also called a bus.

A bus was called a jitney, which fit any vehicle designed to carry several people on a planned route. Open jitneys and convertible cars were called breezers. Jitneys usually charged a fare of five cents and were thus also called nickels. You’re on the nickel, along with you’re on the trolley, were both expressions which meant you are correct. Those who didn’t own a car and lacked the nickel for the nickel were forced to ankle (walk) to their destination, often arriving with dead dogs (tired feet).

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Actress and dancer Louise Brooks epitomized the flapper image and made bobbed hair popular for young American women. Library of Congress

More about women

Although any woman was a tomato some tomatoes were Janes, meaning that they were a more desirable tomato. An older tomato trying to conceal her age with makeup was a face stretcher. Particularly attractive younger women were skirts, and those practicing the oldest profession were quiffs. Quiffs often wore too much face powder, and other girls who did the same were called flour lovers. Attractive girls were also called dolls, while those considered unattractive were called chunks of lead, or bug-eyed Betty’s. Women wearing cheaters were considered to be in the latter category, and many refused to wear them in public.

A girl who possessed a fiery disposition was a bearcat, a not necessarily derogatory term, though a gentleman would need to be a big-six (strong man) in order to handle one, as in, It would take a big-six to deal with that bearcat. Women considered to be intellectually challenged were referred to as a dumb Dora. Those who were of a lively disposition but not to the extent that they could be considered bearcats were live wires, a term which could also be applied to men. A smarty was a skirt in flapper garb who was particularly attractive, whether or not she was also a bearcat.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
The popular 1921 film The Queen of Sheba led to young men and women calling themselves sheiks and shebas. Wikimedia


A sheba’s boyfriend was her sheik, though if he was wealthy her friends might have referred to him as her daddy. A girl who deliberately pursued wealthy men was a gold-digger, a term meant to be disparaging no matter how classy her chassis. Both men and women who were interested in each other but not yet at the level of sheik and sheba were said to be each other’s crush. A sheba did not necessarily need to be a flapper. The flapper style met with disapproval by many parents, who refused to let their daughters adopt the fashion.

A flapper’s father was her dapper, and a sheik meeting a dapper was likely to meet with the dapper’s disapproval if the sheik was a dewdropper. The condition of the sheik’s flivver was also often subject to the dapper’s discerning gaze. A sheik wanting to blouse off from the dapper as quickly as possible might tell his sheba to get a wiggle on, meaning let’s get going. Even when the sheik arrived at the door Joe Brooks (very well dressed) the dapper was an obstacle. A prepared sheik would know his onions when he picked up his sheba at her dapper’s door. Some dappers refused to let their daughters go out with a sheik who merely honked the horn for her when he arrived at her home.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Prohibition, described in the sign on the corner, added to America’s slang lexicon. Wikimedia


The 1920s was the decade of Prohibition, which introduced a slang of its own as the majority of Americans cheerfully broke the law. New names for alcohol, those who dispensed it, and the condition it caused by over-consumption emerged, some of them surviving through the decades. Hooch, giggle juice, giggle water, panther piss, rotgut, strike me dead, juice, coffin varnish, horse lineament, and many other names were used for illegal liquor, describing the product available from different bootleggers and speakeasies. High quality liquor was known as blue nose, or the Real McCoy. Homemade liquor had variety of names as well, including busthead and bathtub gin. Brown plaid referred to Scotch whisky, and was usually counterfeit, rather than the Real McCoy.

Liquor could be had from bootleggers, gin mills, speakeasies, gin joints, barrel houses, drums (a location, not a barrel), and the backseats of flivvers. Drinking too much led to one being blotto, baked, fried, half seas over, hoary-eyed, ossified, and splifficated. A drink was described as a snort, a jorum skee, a slug, a belt, or a blast, and many other names. If a person said that they had to go see a man about a dog, it meant that they were off to buy liquor, and a hair of the dog meant a blast taken for the purpose of dealing with a hangover. A lengthy drinking binge became known as being on a toot, and one on a toot was a rummy.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
A publication promoting the film Those Who Dance, a silent film dealing with Prohibition and law enforcement. Wikimedia

The criminal underworld

During the 1920s the criminal element became more visible and its language entered the mainstream, describing both criminals and the police. Police officers were bulls unless they were Irish in which case they were called mulligans, and attempting to elude them was called being on the lam. Detectives were dicks. Lying to an officer (or anyone else) was called feeding a line, as in; Mulligan found my blue nose but I fed him a line and he let me blouse off. Guns were gats, rods, and in the case of the machine gun, a chopper. The criminals were hoods, torpedoes, and thugs, the crimes they pulled off capers.

The doormen guarding illegal speakeasies, and other dens of iniquity such as gambling rooms, bookie joints, and brothels, were usually large men called baby grands. Most were hard-boiled bimbos. Irish doormen were usually called harps, and if one wished to engage them in fisticuffs the more derogatory mick. When someone was arrested he was pinched; if the evidence against him was false he was framed, which made him a fall guy. Killing someone was bumping him off, and robbing someone or something was knocking him or it over, as in, he knocked over the drum and now he’s on the lam.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing

Rudolph Valentino popularized the tango, and men who were considered heelers lost out to hoofers. Wikimedia


Dancing was a major entertainment of the 1920s, and many idioms and slang expressions emerged from it, including a hoofer (a good dancer) and a heeler (a bad one). Dances were sometimes called hops, especially when they were held for teens. More expensive or elaborate dances were said to be putting on the Ritz, emulating the Ritz Hotel in Paris, which had been praised for its luxuriousness by visiting servicemen during the First World War. Men who showed up at dances without partners were stags, single women usually brought fire extinguishers, who served the function of ensuring the liquid refreshments remained free of alcohol, in the case of the under-aged.

A dancer who refused to leave the dance floor was a floorflusher. In the case of invitation only dances, those who arrived without an invitation were known as gatecrashers. Gatecrashers were often escorted from the premises when their trespass was discovered, an eviction known as the bum’s rush. While at the dance, attendees often engaged in small talk (punching the bag) also known as beating the gums. A person who had a disappointing time at a dance, or at any other event, would say that it had been a flat tire. A person who had a great time would call it the bee’s knees, or the berries, or the cat’s pajamas.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Sheiks favored raccoon coats when attending sporting events and meeting with friends. Wikimedia

Describing a date

A sheik looking for a new sheba may describe a date the previous evening something like this; “We ankled to the drum, and I slipped the baby grand a sawbuck to get in. They said they had the real McCoy but it was horse lineament and when I beefed they gave me the bum’s rush. I tried to get her to the petting pantry, but she gave me the icy mitt. Didn’t know she was Mrs. Grundy. When I got her back to her crib dapper was waiting on the porch, and I didn’t get cash. Flat tire. Might have another stab though. Choice bit of calico. Great gams.”

To which his companion may well reply: “I took the nickel down to drop some busthead for a little lettuce, maybe pick up a couple of fins. Some drugstore cowboy bimbo took it off me. Some chunk of lead saw me and told a dick, and now I’m on the lam from the mulligans. Can’t use the jalopy because it’s a breezer and the bulls will see me. There’s a flat tire.” The entire conversation would make perfect sense to both parties, though neither tale of woe is indicative of the previous evening being the cat’s pajamas.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
American born Josephine Baker dances the Charleston, a popular dance of the 1920s, onstage in Paris in 1926. Wikimedia

Flapper’s affectations

In addition to their distinctive dress style, with its focus on the appearance of the Gibson Girl by Charles Dana Gibson, flappers developed an affectation in their manner of speech, in addition to the slang in common use. The addition of foreign sounding syllables tacked on to the end of English words, or added between words, became a part of their parlance. They were particularly fond of the eastern European sounding ski. They also favored the French a vous. A hard and fast rule among the flappers when beating their gums was that when asked a question containing a suffix, the reply had to also contain the same suffix.

For example, a flapper might ask a friend, “Are you going to the movies tomorrow nightski?” An affirmative reply could be something along the lines of, “Yes, but first we’re having dinnerski at Delmonico’s.” Or using the French, “Did you see the new bimbo working a vous at the market?” “No, I haven’t been to the market a vous for a while.” Truly sharp flappers could combine the two in the same sentence, in something like, “The radioski is much too loud a vous, don’t you agree?” “No, the volumeski is just right, but I’ll turn it down a vous if it bothers you”, proving that neither of them could possibly be a dumb Dora.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Flappers favored Cloche hats or turbans to cover most of their bobbed hair, and hose gartered below the knee. Wikimedia

The Language of romance

Baby was a term of endearment in the 1920s, cash referred to kissing, and cashing my baby meant kissing my sweetheart. A sheba would cash her sheik after he had dropped a load of lettuce on her. If a bearcat caught her sheik exchanging cash with another choice bit of calico she would likely give him the bum’s rush. The term cash for kissing was so common that fire extinguishers would inform those exchanging cash that the bank was closed. A necker was a woman who wrapped her arms around her companion’s neck, and necking connoted the same meaning as it does in the twenty-first century, more or less.

A baby vamp was an attractive young woman who enjoyed a high level of popularity with young gentlemen. Baby vamp was a term mostly used by women, and was not an indication of approval. While men might admire her gams, women could sniff at her stilts, a less complimentary term for slender legs, implying they were excessively thin. A baby vamp might promise a young man on the dance floor a check, which he could come back later and exchange for cash, when there were no fire extinguishers around to chill the mood. Male dancing partners with baby vamps for more than one dance were known as gigolos.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Barbara Stanwyck as a Ziegfeld girl in 1924. Much of the language of romance came from the entertainment industry. Wikimedia

More language of romance

Beginning with the crush, a relationship could grow into the stage when a couple were mutually attracted to each other, a point at which their friends referred to them as goofy. Flappers often referred to their boyfriends as goofs when beating their gums with their friendskis. Even those in the closest of relationships sometimes have arguments, and in the case of the 1920s a favorite retort during a lover’s spat was ish kabibble, used in substitution of I don’t care. Once agreement was achieved one would exclaim, Now you’re on the trolley, meaning that the point had been understood, and peace restored.

A sheik who decided that his sheba was the one forever would propose marriage, and sheik and sheba would become husband and wife (sheik and sheba came from the movie The Queen of Sheba). Public displays of affection were frowned upon in society circles in the 1920s, even among husband and wife, and cuddling and spooning, other terms for necking, were conducted in private for the most part, which led to another name for the automobile, or for the back seat of some automobiles, to be precise. It became known as the struggle buggy. Dappers in particular distrusted the sheik who possessed one.

20 Odd Slang Terms and Activities from the Roaring Twenties That Prove Young People Have Always Been Confusing
Cartoonist T. A. Dorgan created much of the 1920s slang in his work, some of which is still in common use. Wikimedia

Slang from the twenties

Much of the slang of the 1920s remained part of the American lexicon long after the days of silent films and speakeasies faded away. Some retain their original meaning while others remain in use though meaning something entirely different. Bimbo is no longer usually applied to a macho man. The phrase for crying out loud remains in fairly common use, and is used as an expression of exasperation, as it was in the 1920s. Beating the gums is used sometimes, and still means idle chatter. A flat tire now refers to an automotive inconvenience rather than a disappointing date or event. Some people still call reading glasses cheaters, but the term can’t be said to be in widespread use.

The colorful slang of the Roaring Twenties gave way to the slang of the Great Depression, which in turn faded into that of the fifties. The flivver became the hot rod, the crib became the pad (and then the crib once again), lettuce became cabbage, ish kabibble eventually was replaced with whatever. The term gin mill is still heard from time to time, and the speakeasy eventually returned in a nostalgic imitation, though its products were legal. Each succeeding generation changed the slang of its youth, and what was considered normal communication in the 1920s is today little more than a sourceski of amusement.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“How to Sound Like the Bee’s Knees: A Dictionary of 1920s Slang”, by Jen Doll, The Atlantic, October 19, 2012

“Twenty-three Skidoo Myth”, by Barry Popik, The Big Apple, July 13, 2004

“The Jazz Age. The 20s”, by the Editors of Time-Life Books, 1998

“Why the Model T is called the Tin Lizzie”, by Jennifer Rosenberg, ThoughtCo, June 4, 2018

“Sports Cartoons in Context: TAD Dorgan and Multi-Genre Cartooning in Early Twentieth-Century Newspapers”, by Amy McCrory, American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography, 2008

“These ten slang words from the 1920s are very, very, weird”, by Sam Benson Smith, Readers Digest, online

“Prohibition: America Makes Alcohol Illegal”, by Daniel Cohen, 1995

“Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang”, by Tom Dalzell, 1996

“The Roaring Twenties” by Stuart A. Kallen, 2001

“Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain”, by David E. Kyvig, 2002

“The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s”, by Liz Conor, 2004

“The Roaring Twenties”, by Edmund O. Stillman, 2015

“Our Times”, by Mark Sullivan, ed. by Dan Rather, 1995

“The It Girl”, by Gene Smith, American Heritage Magazine, July/August 1995

“What the Great Gatsby Got Right about the Jazz Age”, by Amy Henderson, Smithsonian Magazine, May 10, 2013

“Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II”, by Marc McCutcheon, 1995

“Setting a Course: American Women in the 1920s”, by Dorothy M. Brown, 1987

“Flappers: A Guide to an American Subculture”, by Kelly Boyer Sagert, 2010