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The following is a list of vernacular and slang in use in the 1920's and 1930's.


18th (amendment) - Amendment to the US Constitution that started National Prohibition.

Abercrombie - A know-it-all.

Ab-so-lutely - Affirmative.

Abyssinia - I'll be seeing you.

All the Way - Chocolate cake or fudge with ice cream.

All Wet - describes an erroneous idea or individual, as in, "he's all wet."

Ameche/Horn/Blower - Telephone

And How - I strongly agree!

Apple - Any big town or city.

Applesauce - An expletive in the same vein as "horsefeathers," as in "Ah applesauce!"

Attaboy/Attagirl - Well done!

Babe/bim/broad/chick/dame/doll/frail/twist/muffin/kitten - Woman.

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

Balled Up - Confused, messed up.

Baloney - Nonsense!

Bangtails - Racehorses.

Bank's Closed - No kissing or making out ("Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed.").

Bathtub Gin - A form of homemade liquor mixed in a bathtub.

Be on the nut - To be broke.

Bean-shooter - Gun

Bearcat - A hot-blooded or fiery girl.

Beat it/Breeze off - Go away, get out of here.

Beat one's gums/Bump gums - Idle chatter.

Beef - Problem ("You got a beef with me?").

Bee's Knees/Berries/Cat's Meow/Cat's Pajamas - An extraordinary or pleasing person, thing, or idea ("it's the _____!").

Beeswax - Business ("none of your beeswax.").

Beezer - Nose.

Behind the eight ball - In a difficult position, in a tight spot, especially due to an earlier misjudgment or a lack of information.

Bell bottom - Sailor.

Big Cheese - The most important or influential person. 

Big House/Caboose/Cooler - Jail.

Big One/Big Sleep - Death.

Bing - Jailhouse talk for solitary confinement.

Bird - Man, sometimes meaning "odd man."

Bit - Prison sentence.

Blind tigers - The illegal saloons, speakeasies during prohibition.

Blip off/Blow (someone) down/Bop/Bump off/Croak - To kill.

Blow - Leave.

Blow your wig - To flip out or panic.

Bluenose - An excessively puritanical person, a prude.

Boob - Idiot.

Bootlegger - A person who illegally makes or imports alcohol.

Boozehound - Drunkard.

Box - A safe or a bar.

Box job - A safecracking.

Brace (somebody) - Grab, shake up.

Bracelets - Handcuffs.

Break it up - Stop that, quit the nonsense.

Breezer - A convertible car.

Brodie - A mistake.

Bruno - Tough guy, enforcer.

Bucket - Car.

Bulge, The - The advantage.

Bulls - Plainclothes railroad cops; uniformed police; prison guards.

Bum's rush - Ejection by force from an establishment.

Burn powder - Fire a gun.

Bus - Big car.

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.

Butt me - I'll take a cigarette.

Button man - Professional killer.

Buttons/Coppers - Police.

Butts - Cigarettes.

Buzz - Looks person up, comes to persons door.

Buzzer - Policeman's badge.

C - $100, a pair of C's = $200.

Cabbage - Money.

Call copper - Inform the police.

Can - Jail or Car.

Can house - Bordello.

Can-opener - Safecracker who opens cheap safes.

Canary - Woman singer.

Carry a Torch - Suffering from an unrequited love.

Cash - A kiss.

Cash or check? - Do you kiss now or later?

Cat/Alligator - Fan of swing music.

Chassis - The female body.

Cheaters - Eyeglasses.

Check - Kiss me later.

Cheese it - Put things away, hide.

Chicago lightning - Gunfire.

Chicago overcoat - Coffin.

Chicago typewriter - A Thompson Sub-Machine Gun.

Chilled off - Killed.

Chin - Conversation; chinning: talking.

Chin music - Punch on the jaw

Chippy -  Woman of easy virtue.

Chisel - To swindle or cheat.

Chiv - Knife.

Chopper squad - Men with machine guns.

Chump - Person marked for a con or a gullible person.

Cinder dick - Railway detective.

Clam - $1.

Clammed - Close-mouthed (clammed up).

Clean sneak - An escape with no clues left behind.

Clip joint - In some cases, a nightclub where the prices are high and the patrons are fleeced.

Clipped - Shot.

Close your head - Shut up.

Clubhouse - Police station.

Con - Confidence game, swindle.

Conk - Head.

Cool - To knock out.

Cop - Detective, private or otherwise.

Copped, to be - Grabbed by the cops.

Corn - Bourbon ("corn liquor").

Crab - Figure out.

Crate - Car.

Croaker - Doctor.

Crushed out - Escaped (from jail).

Cut down - Killed.

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

Dance - To be hanged.

Dangle - Leave, get lost.

Dapper - A flapper's "daddy."

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

Daylight, as in "fill him with daylight" - Put a hole in, by shooting or stabbing.

Dead soldier - An empty bear bottle.

Deck, as in "deck of Luckies" - Pack of cigarettes.

Derrick - Shoplifter.

Dib - Share (of the proceeds).

Dick - Detective (usually qualified with "private" if not a policeman).

Dingus - Thing.

Dip - Pickpocket.

Dip the bill - Have a drink.

Dish/Doll - Pretty woman.

Dive - A low-down, cheap sort of place.

Dizzy with a dame, To be - To be deeply in love with a woman.

Dogs - Feet.

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.

Dope fiend - Drug addict.

Dope peddler - Drug dealer.

Dough - Money

Drift - Go, leave.

Drill - Shoot.

Drop a dime - Make a phone call, sometimes meaning to the police to inform on someone.

Droppers - Hired killers.

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

Drunkard - An alcoholic.

Drys - The supporters of the Prohibition Amendment.

Dry Agents - The agents who worked for the Prohibition Bureau in order to enforce Prohibition, including the corrupt ones.

Dry up - Shut up, get lost.

Duck soup - Easy, a piece of cake.

Ducky - Very good.

Dumb Dora - A stupid female.

Dump - Roadhouse, club; or, more generally, any place.

Dust out - Leave, depart.

Edge - Tntoxication, a buzz ("I've got an edge.").

Egg - A person who lives the big life.

Electric cure - Electrocution.

Elephant ears - Police.

Fade - Go away, get lost.

Fall Guy - Victim of a frame.

Fella - A man.

Fin - $5.

Finder - Finger man.

Finger, Put the finger on - Identify.

Fire extinguisher - A chaperone.

Fish - A newcomer, to prison or to university.

Flaming Youth - Male counterpart to a flapper.

Flapper - A stylish, brash young woman with short skirts and shorter hair.

Flat Tire - A dull-witted or disappointing date.

Flattie - Flatfoot, cop.

Flat Tire - A dull insipid, disappointing date. Same as pill, pickle, drag, rag, oilcan.

Flimflam - Swindle.

Flippers - Hands.

Flivver - A Ford automobile.

Flogger - Overcoat.

Flop - To go to bed (see: Flophouse) or to fall through/fail.

Flophouse - A cheap transient hotel where a lot of men sleep in large rooms.

Fly boy - A glamorous term for an aviator.

Fog - To shoot.

Frame - To give false evidence, to set up someone.

Fry - To be electrocuted.

Fuzz - Police.

Gal - Woman.

Gams - A Woman’s Legs.

Gasper - Cigarette.

Gat - Gun.

Getaway sticks - Legs.

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

Get Sore - Get mad.

Giggle juice - Liquor.

Giggle Water - Still liquor.

Gin mill - Bar.

Glad rags - Fancy clothes.

G-men (government men) - FBI special agents.

Gold Digger - A woman who associates with or marries a man for his wealth.

Goofy - Crazy in love.

Goog - Black eye.

Goon - Thug.

Gooseberry lay - Stealing clothes from a clothesline.

Gowed-up - On dope, high.

Grab (a little) air - Put your hands up.

Graft - Con jobs or cut of the take.

Grand - $1000.

Grift - Confidence game, swindle.

Grifter - Con man.

Grilled - Questioned.

Gumshoe - Detective.

Gumshoeing - Detective work.

Gun for - Look for, be after.

Guns - Pickpockets, hoodlums.

Guy - A man.

Hack - Taxi.

Half, a - 50 cents.

Hard Boiled - a tough, strong guy.

Harlem Sunset - Some sort fatal injury caused by knife.

Harrison Narcotics Act - A bill passed in 1914 making narcotics prescribed by a doctor legal. However doctors were not allowed to prescribe narcotics to addicts.

Hash House - A cheap restaurant.

Hatchet men - Killers, gunmen.

Have the Bees - To be rich.

Hayburner - A gas guzzling car or a horse one loses money on.

Hays Code - Also known as the “Motion Picture Production Code”. This was a code created by Will Hays. It was the standard for what movies would and would not show.

Head doctors - Psychiatrists.

Heap - Car.

Heat - Police.

Heater - Gun.

Heebie-Jeebies - The jitters.

Heeled - Carrying a gun.

High-Hat - To snub.

High Pillow - Person at the top, in charge.

Highbinders - Corrupt politician or functionary.

Hinky - Suspicious.

Hitting the pipe - Smoking opium.

Hitting on all eight - In good shape, going well.

Hock shop - Pawnshop.

Hooch - Bootleg liquor.

Hood - Criminal.

Hoofer - Dancer.

Hoosegow - Jail.

Hot - Stolen.

Hotsy-Totsy - Pleasing.

House dick/House peeper - House/hotel detective.

Hype - Shortchange artist.

Ice - Diamonds.

Ing-bing, as in to throw an - A fit.

Iron - A car.

Jack - Money.

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

Jake-Foot - An illness that paralyzed at least one limb in the body.  The disease was spread by “Jamaican Ginger”, a popular type of homemade alcohol.

Jalopy - Old car.

Jam - Trouble, a tight spot.

Jane - A woman.

Java - Coffee.

Jaw - Talk.

Jerking a nod - Nodding.

Jingle-brained - Addled.

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

Jobbie - Man.

Joe - Coffee, as in "a cup of joe."

Johns - Police.

Joint - A club, usually selling alcohol.

Juice - Interest on a loanshark's loan.

Jug - Jail.

Jump, The - A hanging.

Keen - Attractive or appealing.

Kibosh - To quell ("He put the kibosh on that.").

Kick off - Die.

Kiss - To punch.

Kisser - Mouth.

Knock off - Kill.

Lammed off - Ran away, escaped.

Large: $1,000 - twenty large would be $20,000.

Law, the - The police.

Lead - Bullets.

Lead poisoning - To be shot.

Left holding the bag - To be cheated out of one's fair share, or to be singularly blamed for something perpetrated as a group.

Level with me - Be honest.

Lid - Hat.

Line - Insincere flattery.

Lip - A criminal lawyer.

Live wire - A lively person.

Looker - Pretty woman.

Look-out - Outside man.

Lounge Lizard - A guy that is sexually active.

Lousy with - To have lots of.

Mac - Generic pronoun for a man ("Hey Mac, spare a gasper?").

Made - Recognized.  One whose cover has been blown has been "made."

Map - Face.

Marbles - Pearls.

Mark - Sucker, victim of swindle or fixed game.

Maroon - Person marked for a con or a gullible person.

Meat wagon - Ambulance.

Mickey Finn - A drink drugged with knock-out drops.

Mill - Typewriter.

Mitt - Hand.

Mob - Gang (not necessarily Mafia).

Moll - A gangster's girl.

Monicker - Name.

Moonshine - Illegal alcohol, usually in context with homemade alcohol.

Mouthpiece - Lawyer.

Mugs - Men (especially refers to dumb ones).

Nailed - Caught, especially by the police.

Neck - Kissing with passion.

Nevada gas - Cyanide.

Newshawk - Reporter.

Newsie - Newspaper vendor.

Nibble one - To have a drink.

Nicked - Stole.

Nifty - Great, excellent.

Nippers - Handcuffs.

Noble Experiment - Another name for Prohibition.

Nobody Home - Describes some one who is dumb.

Noodle - Head.

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

Number - A person.

Off the track - Said about a person who becomes insanely violent ("He comes off the track.").

On the lam - To be a fugitive from justice.

On the level/On the up-and-up - Legitimate, honest, legal.

Op - Detective.

Orchid - An expensive item.

Orphan paper - Bad checks.

Ossified - A drunk person, especially falling-down drunk.

Out on the roof - To drink a lot, to be drunk.

Owl - A person who's out late.

Oyster fruit - Pearls.

Packing Heat - Carrying a gun.

Pal - A man.

Palooka - Man, probably physically imposing but not very smart; a below-average or average boxer.

Pan - Face.

Paste - Punch.

Patsy - Person who is set up; fool, chump.

Paw - Hand.

Peaching - Informing.

Peeper - Detective.

Peepers - Eyes.

Pen - Penitentiary, jail.

Penal System - The court system.

Peterman - Safecracker who uses nitroglycerin.

Piece - Gun.

Pigeon - Stool-pigeon.

Piker - A cheapskate or coward.

Pill - A teacher or someone who's unpleasant to be around.

Pinch - To arrest.

Pins - Legs.

Pipe - See or notice.

Pipe down - Stop talking.

Pipes - Throat.

Plant - Someone on the scene but in hiding, or to bury.

Plug - Shoot.

Plugs - People.

Poke - Bankroll, stake.

Pooped - Killed.

Pop - Kill.

Pro skirt - Prostitute.

Puffing - Mugging.

Pug - Pugilist, boxer.

Pump - Heart.

Pump metal - Shoot bullets.

Punk - Hood, thug.

Pushover - A person easily convinced, seduced, or otherwise circumvented.

Puss - Face.

Put down - Drink.

Put the screws on - Question, get tough with.

Putting on the Ritz - Doing something in high style.

Rag-a-muffin - A dirty or disheveled individual, especially a child.

Rags - Clothes.

Ranked - Observed, watched, given the once-over.

Rap - Criminal charge.

Rappers - Fakes, set-ups.

Rat - Inform.

Rate - To be good, to count for something.

Rats and mice - Dice, i.e. craps.

Rattler - Train.

Razz - To make fun of.

Real McCoy - The genuine article.

Red-light - To eject from a car or train.

Redhot - Some sort of criminal.

Reefers - Marijuana cigarettes.

Rhino - Money.

Right - Adjective indicating quality.

Ringers - Fakes.

Ritzy - Elegant (from the hotel).

Rod - Gun.

Rub-out - To kill.

Rube - Bumpkin, easy mark.

Rubes - Money or dollars.

Rumble, the - The news.

Rum runner - Someone who smuggles alcohol: bootlegger.

Saloon - A bar type organization, operated before prohibition.

Sap - A naive person.

Sap poison - Getting hit with a sap (a small baton).

Sawbuck - $10 bill (a double sawbuck is a $20 bill).

Says you - A reaction of disbelief.

Schnozzle - Nose.

Scram - Ask someone to leave immediately.

Scratch - Money.

Scratcher - Forger.

Send over - Send to jail.

Shamus - (Private) detective.

Sharper - A swindler or sneaky person.

Sheba - A woman with sex appeal.

Sheik - A man with sex appeal.

Shells - Bullets.

Shiv - Knife.

Shyster - A corrupt or dishonest lawyer.

Sing - Make a confession.

Sinker - A doughnut.

Sister - Woman.

Skate around - To be of easy virtue.

Skid rogue - A bum who can't be trusted.

Skirt - Woman.

Slant, Get a - Take a look.

Sleuth - Detective.

Slug - A bullet, or to punch someone, especially if they are rendered unconscious.

Smoked - Drunk.

Snap a cap - Shout.

Snatch - Kidnap.

Sneeze - Take.

Snitch - An informer, or to inform.

Snooper - Detective.

Soak - To pawn.

Sock - Punch.

Soup - Nitroglycerine.

Soup job - To crack a safe using nitroglycerine.

Speakeasy - The illegal saloons during prohibition.

Spifflicated - Drunk. The same as canned, corked, tanked, primed, scrooched, jazzed, zozzled, plastered, owled, embalmed, lit, potted, ossified or fried to the hat.

Spiffy - A dapper appearance.

Spill - Talk, inform.

Spinach - Money.

Spitting - Talking.

Spoon - To neck, or at least talk of love.

Square - Honest.

Squeeze - A female companion or girlfriend.

Squirt metal - Shoot bullets.

Step off - To be hanged.

Stiff - A corpse.

Sting - Culmination of a con game.

Stool-pigeon/Stoolie - Informer.

Struggle Buggy - The backseat of a car. A parent's worst nightmare.

Stuck On - Having a crush on.

Sucker - Someone ripe for a grifter's scam.

Sugar - Money.

Swanky - Ritzy.

Swell - Wonderful. Also: a rich man.

Tail - Shadow or follow.

Take a powder - Leave.

Take on - Eat.

Take for a Ride - To drive off with someone in order to kill them at another location.

Take the air - Leave.

Take the bounce - To get kicked out.

Take the fall for - Accept punishment for.

Temperance - Self restraint or abstinence in the use of alcoholic beverages.

That's the crop - That's all of it.

Three-spot - Three-year jail term.

Throw lead - Shoot bullets.

Ticket - P.I. license.

Tiger milk - Some sort of liquor.

Tighten the screws - Put pressure on somebody.

Tin - Badge.

Tip a few - To have a few drinks.

Tomato - Pretty woman.

Tooting the wrong ringer - Asking the wrong person.

Torpedo - A hired gun.

Trap - Mouth.

Trigger man - Man whose job is to use a gun.

Trouble boys - Gangsters.

Twist - Woman.

Two bits - $25, or 25 cents.

Under glass - In jail.

Upchuck - To vomit when one has drunk too much.

Volstead Act - The act implementing the 18th amendment. It made the 18th amendment enforceable.

WCTU - Woman’s Christian Temperance Union: a group against saloons and alcohol.

Weak sister - A push-over.

Wear iron - Carry a gun.

Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy.

Wets - The opponents of Prohibition.

What's eating you? - What's wrong?

Whoopee - To have a good time.

Wise head - A smart person.

Wooden kimono - A coffin.

Wood Alcohol - A dangerous form of alcohol made during prohibition.

Wrong gee/Wrong number - Not a good fellow.

Ya Follow? - Do you understand?

Yak-Yak Bourbon - A type of homemade liquor that became extremely popular in Philadelphia.  This was one of the types of alcohol that was fermented in old whisky barrels.

Yap - Mouth.

Yard - $100.

Yegg - Safecracker who only opens cheap and easy safes.

"You shred it, wheat" -    You said it.

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