historical coolness

442 1920s Slang Words And Phrases That Are The Cat's Pajamas

A blast from the past.

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
1920s slang and meaning, flapper girls
Bettmann / Getty

When someone mentions “the ‘20s” you probably think of flappers, speakeasies, and The Great Gatsby. And that’s all totally valid… but also, it’s the ‘20s again right now. Fun, right? Did you know the youth culture of today found its footing in this decade of progress and excess? Drinking alcohol was outlawed, sexuality was no longer hidden, and an artistic and cultural movement changed society forever.

The Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age as it’s also known, saw the first signs of the “liberated woman,” leading to the birth of the “flapper.” The flapper was outspoken, she had the right to vote, she was fun-loving, and demanded sexual freedom. She was not her mother or grandmother’s old-fashioned woman. Her fashion was glamorous and risky, she smoked, she went dancing, and some even made their own money. No wonder we are still fascinated by them 100 years later.

The 1920s also saw the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, a watershed moment that celebrated Black cultural voices in music, art, theater, literature, and more. Icons such as Langston Hughs, Zora Neal Hurston, and Louis Armstrong changed the American cultural conversation forever. We feel the impact of their work to this day.

Another important fact about the 1920s to keep in mind: As Prohibition forced the bar and club scene into hiding, the speakeasy was born and became a part of our vernacular. Faced with constant raids from law enforcement, pop culture and slang changed to include many words to describe and alert others about cops.

As we go roaring into this decade, let’s take a look back at how people spoke 100 years ago. Here are more than 400 swell 1920s slang words and phrases (and their meanings) that are the cat’s pajamas and the bee’s knees.


Best 1920s Slang

  1. Alderman: A man’s pot-belly.
  2. Ameche: Telephone.
  3. Ankle: (n) Woman; (v) To walk.
  4. Applesauce: Nonsense.
  5. Babe: Woman.
  6. Baby: A person, can be said to either a man or a woman.
  7. Baloney: Nonsense, something not to be believed.
  8. Be on the nut: To be broke.
  9. Bean-shooter: Gun.
  10. Beef: Problem.
  11. Bee’s knees: An extraordinary person, thing, or idea.
  12. Beezer: Nose.
  13. Behind the eight ball: In a difficult position, in a tight spot.
  14. Bent cars: Stolen cars.
  15. Berries: Anything wonderful; similar to bee’s knees.
  16. Big cheese, Big shot: The boss — someone of importance and influence.
  17. Big house: Jail.
  18. Big one: Death.
  19. Big sleep: Death.
  20. Bim: Woman.
  21. Bing: Jailhouse talk for solitary confinement.
  22. Bit: Prison sentence.
  23. Blip off: To kill.
  24. Blow: Leave.
  25. Blow one down: Kill someone.
  26. Blower: Telephone.
  27. Bluenose: A prude.
  28. Bo: Pal, buster, fellow.
  29. Boiler: Car.
  30. Bop: To kill.
  31. Box: A safe or a bar.
  32. Box job: A safecracking.
  33. Brace (somebody): Grab, shake up.
  34. Bracelets: Handcuffs.
  35. Breeze: To leave, breeze off; get lost.
  36. Broad: Woman.
  37. Bruno: Tough guy, enforcer.
  38. Bucket: Car.
  39. Bulge: The advantage.
  40. Bull session: An informal group chat or discussion.
  41. Bulls: Plainclothes railroad cops; uniformed police; prison guards.
  42. Bum’s rush/to get the: To be kicked out.
  43. Bump: Kill.
  44. Bump gums: To talk about nothing worthwhile.
  45. Bump off: Kill; also, bump-off; a killing.
  46. Bunk: Nonsense.
  47. Burn powder: Fire a gun.
  48. Bus: Big car.
  49. Butter and egg man: The money man, the man with the bankroll, a yokel who comes to town to blow a big wad in nightclubs.
  50. Button: Face, nose, end of jaw.
  51. Buttons: Police.
  52. Butts: Cigarettes.
  53. Buzz: Looks person up, comes to person’s door.
  54. Buzzer: Policeman’s badge.
  55. C: $100, a pair of Cs = $200.
  56. Cabbage: Money.
  57. Caboose: Jail.
  58. Cake-eater: A ladies’ man.
  59. Call copper: Inform the police.
  60. Can: Jail, car.
  61. Can house: Bordello.
  62. Can-opener: Safecracker who opens cheap safes.
  63. Canary: Woman singer.
  64. Carry a torch: Suffering from unrequited love.
  65. Case dough: Nest egg.
  66. Cat: Man.
  67. Cat’s meow: Something splendid or stylish.
  68. Cat’s pajamas: Term of endearment, as in “I think you are really really cool.”
  69. Century: $100.
  70. Cheaters: Sunglasses.
  71. Cheese it: Put things away, hide.
  72. Chew: Eat.
  73. Chicago lightning: Gunfire.
  74. Chicago overcoat: Coffin.
  75. Chick: Woman.
  76. Chilled off: Killed.
  77. Chin: Conversation; chinning, talking.
  78. Chin music: Punch on the jaw.
  79. Chippy: Woman of easy virtue.
  80. Chisel: To swindle or cheat.
  81. Chiv: Knife, “a stabbing or cutting weapon.”
  82. Chopper squad: Men with machine guns.
  83. Chump: Person marked for a con or a gullible person.
  84. Clammed: Close-mouthed (clammed up).
  85. Clean sneak: An escape with no clues left behind.
  86. Clip joint: In some cases, a nightclub where the prices are high and the patrons are fleeced.
  87. Clipped: Shot.
  88. Close your head: Shut up.
  89. Clout: Shoplifter.
  90. Clubhouse: Police station.
  91. Con: Confidence game, swindle.
  92. Conk: Head.
  93. Cool: To knock out.
  94. Cooler: Jail.
  95. Copacetic: All good, as it should be.
  96. Copped/ to be: Grabbed by the cops.
  97. Copper: Policeman.
  98. Corn: Bourbon (“corn liquor”).
  99. Crab: Figure out.
  100. Crate: Car.
  101. Croak: To kill.
  102. Croaker: Doctor.
  103. Crush: An infatuation.
  104. Crushed out: Escaped (from jail).
  105. Cut down: Killed.
  106. Daisy: None too masculine.
  107. Dame: Woman.
  108. Dance: To be hanged.
  109. Dangle: Leave, get lost.
  110. Darb: An excellent person or thing.
  111. Daylight (as in “fill him with daylight”): Put a hole in, by shooting or stabbing.
  112. Deck (as in “deck of Luckies”): Pack of cigarettes.
  113. Derrick: Shoplifter.
  114. Dib: Share of the proceeds.
  115. Dick: Detective, usually qualified with “private” if not a policeman.
  116. Dingus: Thing.
  117. Dip: Pickpocket.
  118. Dip the bill: Have a drink.
  119. Dish: Pretty woman.
  120. Dive: A low-down, cheap sort of place.
  121. Dizzy with a dame/to be: To be deeply in love with a woman.
  122. Do the dance: To be hanged.
  123. Dogs: Feet.
  124. Dope fiend: Drug addict.
  125. Dope peddler: Drug dealer.
  126. Dough: Money.
  127. Drift: Go, leave.
  128. Drill: Shoot.
  129. Drop a dime: Make a phone call, sometimes meaning to the police to inform on someone.
  130. Droppers: Hired killers.
  131. Drugstore cowboy: A fashionably dressed loiterer who hands around public places trying to pick up girls.
  132. Drum: Speakeasy.
  133. Dry-gulch: Knock out, hit on the head after ambushing.
  134. Duck soup: Easy, a piece of cake.
  135. Dumb Dora: A silly or stupid girl.
  136. Dummerer: Someone who pretends to be deaf and/or dumb to appear a more deserving beggar.
  137. Dump: Roadhouse, club; or more generally, any place.
  138. Dust out: Leave, depart.
  139. Egg: Man.
  140. Electric cure: Electrocution.
  141. Elephant ears: Police.
  142. Fade: Go away, get lost.
  143. Fakeloo artist: Con man.
  144. Fella: A man.
  145. Fin: $5 bill.
  146. Finder: Finger man.
  147. Finger/put the finger on: Identify.
  148. Flaming youth: Male counterpart to a flapper.
  149. Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman with short skirts and shorter hair.
  150. Flat Tire: A dull-witted or disappointing date.
  151. Flattie: Flatfoot, cop.
  152. Flimflam: Swindle.
  153. Flippers: Hands.
  154. Flivver: A Ford automobile.
  155. Flogger: Overcoat.
  156. Flop: Go to bed or fallen through, not worked out.
  157. Flophouse: A cheap transient hotel where a lot of men sleep in large rooms.
  158. Fog: To shoot.
  159. Frail: Woman.
  160. Frau: Wife.
  161. Fry: To be electrocuted.
  162. Fuzz: Police.
  163. Gal: Woman.
  164. Gams: A woman’s legs.
  165. Gasper: Cigarette.
  166. Gat: Gun.
  167. Get sore: Get mad.
  168. Getaway sticks: Legs.
  169. Giggle juice: Liquor.
  170. Giggle water: Liquor.
  171. Gin mill: Bar.
  172. Glad rags: Fancy clothes.
  173. Glaum: Steal.
  174. Goofy: Crazy.
  175. Goog: Black eye.
  176. Goon: Thug.
  177. Gooseberry lay: Stealing clothes from a clothesline.
  178. Gowed-up: On dope, high.
  179. Grab (a little) air: Put your hands up.
  180. Graft: Con jobs or cut of the take.
  181. Grand: $1000.
  182. Grift: Confidence game, swindle.
  183. Grifter: Con man.
  184. Grilled: Questioned.
  185. Gumshoe: Detective.
  186. Gumshoeing: Detective work.
  187. Gun for: Look for, be after,
  188. Guns: Pickpockets, hoodlums.
  189. Guy: A man.
  190. Hack: Taxi.
  191. Half: 50 cents.
  192. Hard: Tough.
  193. Hard-boiled: Tough; without feeling or sentiment.
  194. Harlem sunset: Some sort of fatal injury caused by a knife.
  195. Hash house: A cheap restaurant.
  196. Hatchet men: Killers, gunmen.
  197. Have the bees: To be rich.
  198. Head doctors: Psychiatrists.
  199. Heap: Car.
  200. Heat: Police.
  201. Heater: Gun.
  202. Heebie-jeebies: The jitters.
  203. Heeled: Carrying a gun.
  204. Hep: Wise.
  205. High-hat: To snub.
  206. High pillow: Person at the top, in charge.
  207. Highbinders: Corrupt politician or functionary.
  208. Hinky: Suspicious.
  209. Hitting the pipe: Smoking opium.
  210. Hitting on all eight: In good shape, going well.
  211. Hock shop: Pawnshop.
  212. Hogs: Engines.
  213. Hokum: Nonsense; something not to be believed.
  214. Hombre: Man, fellow.
  215. Hooch: Liquor.
  216. Hood: Criminal.
  217. Hoofer: Dancer.
  218. Hoosegow: Jail.
  219. Horn: Telephone.
  220. Horsefeathers: Nonsense; something not to be believed.
  221. Hot: Stolen.
  222. Hotsy-totsy: Pleasing.
  223. House dick: House/hotel detective.
  224. House peeper: House/hotel detective.
  225. Hype: Shortchange artist.
  226. Ice: Diamonds.
  227. Ing-bing (as in to throw an): A fit.
  228. Iron: A car.
  229. Jack: Money.
  230. Jalopy: An old car.
  231. Jam: Trouble, a tight spot.
  232. Jane: A woman.
  233. Java: Coffee.
  234. Jaw: Talk.
  235. Jerking a nod: Nodding.
  236. Jingle-brained: Addled.
  237. Jobbie: Man.
  238. Joe: Coffee, as in “a cup of joe.”
  239. Johns: Police.
  240. Johnson brother: Criminal.
  241. Joint: Place, as in “my joint.”
  242. Juice: Interest on a loanshark’s loan.
  243. Jug: Jail.
  244. Jump (the): A hanging.
  245. Kale: Money.
  246. Keen: Attractive or appealing.
  247. Kick off: Die.
  248. Kiss: To punch.
  249. Kisser: Mouth.
  250. Kitten: Woman.
  251. Knock off: Kill.
  252. Lammed off: Ran away, escaped.
  253. Large: $1,000; twenty large would be $20,000.
  254. Law (the): The police.
  255. Lead (“fill ya full of lead”): The term used for bullets.
  256. Lead poisoning: To be shot.
  257. Lettuce: Folding money.
  258. Lid: Hat.
  259. Line: Insincere flattery.
  260. Lip: (Criminal) lawyer.
  261. Looker: Pretty woman.
  262. Look-out: Outside man.
  263. Lounge lizard: A ladies’ man.
  264. Lousy with: To have lots of.
  265. Mac: A man.
  266. Made: Recognized.
  267. Main drag: The most important street in a town or city.
  268. Map: Face.
  269. Marbles: Pearls.
  270. Mark: Sucker; victim of swindle or fixed game.
  271. Maroon: Person marked for a con or a gullible person.
  272. Meat wagon: Ambulance.
  273. Mickey Finn: A drink drugged with knock-out drops.
  274. Mill: Typewriter.
  275. Mitt: Hand.
  276. Mob: Gang (not necessarily Mafia).
  277. Mohaska: Gun.
  278. Moll: Girlfriend.
  279. Moniker: Name.
  280. Mouthpiece: Lawyer.
  281. Mugs: Men (especially refers to dumb ones).
  282. Nailed: Caught by the police.
  283. Neck: To snuggle, kiss, or caress intimately.
  284. Nevada gas: Cyanide.
  285. Newshawk: Reporter.
  286. Newsie: Newspaper vendor.
  287. Nibble one: To have a drink.
  288. Nicked: Stole.
  289. Nippers: Handcuffs.
  290. Noodle: Head.
  291. Number: A person.
  292. Off the track: Said about a person who becomes insanely violent.
  293. Op: Detective.
  294. Orphan paper: Bad checks.
  295. Out on the roof: To drink a lot, to be drunk.
  296. Oyster fruit: Pearls.
  297. Packing heat: Carrying a gun.
  298. Pal: A man.
  299. Palooka: Man, probably not very smart.
  300. Pan: Face.
  301. Paste: Punch.
  302. Patsy: Person who is set up; fool, chump.
  303. Paw: Hand.
  304. Peaching: Informing.
  305. Peeper: Detective.
  306. Peepers: Eyes.
  307. Pen: Penitentiary, jail.
  308. Peterman: Safecracker who uses nitroglycerin.
  309. Piece: Gun.
  310. Pigeon: Stool-pigeon.
  311. Pinch: An arrest, capture.
  312. Pins: Legs.
  313. Pipe: See or notice.
  314. Pipes: Throat.
  315. Plant: Someone on the scene but in hiding, bury.
  316. Plug: Shoot.
  317. Plugs: People.
  318. Poke: Bankroll, stake.
  319. Pooped: Killed.
  320. Pop: Kill.
  321. Pro skirt: Prostitute.
  322. Puffing: Mugging.
  323. Pug: Pugilist, boxer.
  324. Pump: Heart.
  325. Pump metal: Shoot bullets.
  326. Punk: Hood, jerk.
  327. Pushover: A person easily convinced of something.
  328. Puss: Face.
  329. Put down: Drink.
  330. Put the screws on: Question, get tough with.
  331. Rags: Clothes.
  332. Ranked: Observed, watched, given the once-over.
  333. Rap: Criminal charge.
  334. Rappers: Fakes, set-ups.
  335. Rat: Inform.
  336. Rate: To be good, to count for something.
  337. Rats and mice: Dice, i.e. craps.
  338. Rattler: Train.
  339. Red-light: To eject from a car or a train.
  340. Redhot: Some sort of criminal.
  341. Reefers: Marijuana cigarettes.
  342. Rhino: Money.
  343. Right: Adjective indicating quality.
  344. Ringers: Fakes.
  345. Ritzy: Elegant.
  346. Rod: Gun.
  347. Roscoe: Gun.
  348. Rub-out: A killing.
  349. Rube: Bumpkin, easy mark.
  350. Rumble (the): The news.
  351. Sap: A dumb guy.
  352. Sap poison: Getting hit with a sap.
  353. Savvy: “Get me? Understand?”
  354. Sawbuck: $10 bill (a double sawbuck is a $20 bill).
  355. Schnozzle: Nose.
  356. Scram out: Leave.
  357. Scratch: Money.
  358. Scratcher: Forger.
  359. Screwy: Crazy; eccentric.
  360. Send over: Send to jail.
  361. Shamus: (Private) detective.
  362. Sharper: A swindler or sneaky person.
  363. Sheba: A woman with sex appeal.
  364. Sheik: A man with sex appeal.
  365. Shells: Bullets.
  366. Shiv: Knife.
  367. Shylock: Loanshark.
  368. Shyster: Lawyer.
  369. Sing: Make a confession.
  370. Sister: Woman.
  371. Skate around: To be of easy virtue.
  372. Skid rogue: A bum who can’t be trusted.
  373. Skirt: Woman.
  374. Slant (get a): Take a look.
  375. Sleuth: Detective.
  376. Smeller: The nose.
  377. Slug: A bullet or to knock unconscious.
  378. Smoked: Drunk.
  379. Snap a cap: Shout.
  380. Snatch: Kidnap.
  381. Sneeze: Take.
  382. Snitch: An informer, or to inform.
  383. Snooper: Detective.
  384. Speakeasy: An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor.
  385. Spiffy: Looking elegant.
  386. Soak: To pawn.
  387. Sock: Punch.
  388. Soup: Nitroglycerine.
  389. Soup job: To crack a safe using nitroglycerine.
  390. Spill: Talk, inform.
  391. Spinach: Money.
  392. Spitting: Talking.
  393. Square: Honest.
  394. Squeeze: A female companion or a girlfriend.
  395. Squirt metal: Shoot bullets.
  396. Step off: To be hanged.
  397. Stiff: A corpse.
  398. Sting: Culmination of a con game.
  399. Stool-pigeon: Informer.
  400. Stoolie: Stool-pigeon.
  401. Stuck on: Having a crush on.
  402. Sucker: Someone ripe for a grifter’s scam.
  403. Sugar: Money.
  404. Swanky: Ritzy.
  405. Swell: Wonderful.
  406. Tail: Shadow or follow.
  407. Take a powder: Leave.
  408. Take on: Eat,
  409. Take for a ride: Drive off with someone in order to bump them off.
  410. Take the air: Leave.
  411. Take the bounce: To get kicked out.
  412. Take the fall for: Accept punishment for.
  413. That’s the crop: That’s all of it.
  414. Three-spot: Three-year jail term.
  415. Throw lead: Shoot bullets.
  416. Ticket: P.I. license.
  417. Tiger milk: Some sort of liquor.
  418. Tighten the screws: Put pressure on somebody.
  419. Tin: Badge.
  420. Tip a few: To have a few drinks.
  421. Tomato: Pretty woman.
  422. Tooting the wrong ringer: Asking the wrong person.
  423. Torpedoes: Gunmen.
  424. Trap: Mouth.
  425. Trigger man: Man whose job is to use a gun.
  426. Trouble boys: Gangsters.
  427. Twist: Woman.
  428. Two bits: $25, or 25 cents.
  429. Under glass: In jail.
  430. Weak sister: A push-over.
  431. Wear iron: Carry a gun.
  432. Whoopee: Boisterous, convivial fun, sometimes referring to fun had with a romantic partner.
  433. Wise head: A smart person.
  434. Wooden kimono: A coffin.
  435. Worker (as in “She sizes up as a worker”): A woman who takes a guy for his money.
  436. Wrong gee: Not a good fellow.
  437. Wrong number: Not a good fellow.
  438. Ya follow: “Do you understand?”
  439. Yap: Mouth.
  440. Yard: $100.
  441. Yegg: Safecracker who can only open cheap and easy safes.
  442. Zotzed: Killed.

Fascinating Facts About the 1920s

  • In France, they refer to the Roaring Twenties as “années folles.” Translation? “Crazy years.”
  • Charles Lindbergh flew the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927.
  • The price of a Model T Ford car in 1925 was roughly $260.
  • Notable publications of the ’20s include Lila Bell and DeWitt Wallace’s Reader’s Digest (1922), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), A.A. Milne’s first collection of stories about Winnie the Pooh (1926), and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929).
  • Penicillin was accidentally discovered in the 1920s, by Alexander Fleming after he had contaminated an experiment.
  • On Sept. 16, 1920, there was an explosion on Wall Street that killed more than 30 people and injured around 300. There is still uncertainty around who was behind the attack.
  • A few incredible pieces in New York City were created during the roaring twenties, like the reinstallation of Madison Square Garden in 1925 and The Yankee Stadium in 1927.
  • Drug stores weren’t just places to pick up your prescription during the twenties. Customers would hang out and drink egg creams and root beer floats there, too.

This article was originally published on