1920s Jazz: Jive talking
Activity: write a paragraph describing the
popularity of jazz (and attitudes to it) using as
much 1920s jazz slang as you can
Each generation has their own slang and lingo, a language that
defines them. Each generation also has a purveyor of cool who
creates a language that only the initiated understand. During the
1950s and 60s, Frank Sinatra created a personal lingo that
influenced a generation of swanky and swaggering men.
But before Sinatra, there was Cab Calloway.
Calloway was an energetic singer and bandleader during the 1930′s and 1940′s. His big band gained fame
at Harlem‟s premier night club, The Cotton Club. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra became a nationwide
sensation with their weekly radio broadcast on NBC and their nationwide tours. Calloway wrote such hits
as “Minnie the Moocher” and “Jumpin‟ Jive.” He was also one of the first jazz musicians to make use of
“scat” in his performances. Here‟s Cab Calloway and His Orchestra performing Mini the Moocher.
In addition to writing and performing great swing music, Calloway created an entirely new lingo. He
never took his hepster slang too seriously; it was all about having fun and being unique. Soon lots of
people wanted to speak just like Cab. To help facilitate this, Calloway produced a Hepster Dictionary in
1940 that accompanied Cab Calloway sheet music.
Below are the definitions of Cab‟s jive. You‟ll notice that we still use many of them today. Learn a few
choice phrases and try peppering your speech with them. Just like Cab, you‟ll get a kick out of the
reactions you‟ll get from the ickies. Plus, using slang your grandpa might have used is a cool way to
connect with Gramps.
So are you ready to get hep to the jive?
Guitar: Git Box or Belly-Fiddle
Drums: Suitcase, Hides, or Skins
Piano: Storehouse or Ivories
Saxophone: Plumbing or Reeds
Trombone: Tram or Slush-Pump
Clarinet: Licorice Stick or Gob Stick
Accordion: Squeeze-Box or Groan-Box
Electric Organ: Spark Jiver
A hummer (n.) — exceptionally good. Ex., “Man, that boy is a hummer.”
Ain‟t coming on that tab (v.) — won‟t accept the proposition. Usually abbr. to “I ain‟t coming.”
Alligator (n.) — jitterbug.
Apple (n.) — the big town, the main stem, Harlem.
Armstrongs (n.) — musical notes in the upper register, high trumpet notes.
Barbecue (n.) — the girl friend, a beauty
Barrelhouse (adj.) — free and easy.
Battle (n.) — a very homely girl, a crone.
Beat (adj.) — (1) tired, exhausted. Ex., “You look beat” or “I feel beat.” (2) lacking anything. Ex,
“I am beat for my cash”, “I am beat to my socks” (lacking everything).
Beat it out (v.) — play it hot, emphasize the rhythym.
Beat up (adj.) — sad, uncomplimentary, tired.
Beat up the chops (or the gums) (v.) — to talk, converse, be loquacious.
Beef (v.) — to say, to state. Ex., “He beefed to me that, etc.”
Bible (n.) — the gospel truth. Ex., “It‟s the bible!”
Black (n.) — night.
Black and tan (n.) — dark and light colored folks. Not colored and white folks as erroneously
Blew their wigs (adj.) — excited with enthusiasm, gone crazy.
Blip (n.) — something very good. Ex., “That‟s a blip”; “She‟s a blip.”
Blow the top (v.) — to be overcome with emotion (delight). Ex., “You‟ll blow your top when you
hear this one.”
Boogie-woogie (n.) — harmony with accented bass.
Boot (v.) — to give. Ex., “Boot me that glove.”
Break it up (v.) — to win applause, to stop the
Bree (n.) — girl.
Bright (n.) — day.
Brightnin‟ (n.) — daybreak.
Bring down ((1) n. (2) v.) — (1) something
depressing. Ex., “That‟s a bring down.” (2) Ex.,
“That brings me down.”
Buddy ghee (n.) — fellow.
Bust your conk (v.) — apply yourself diligently,
break your neck.
Canary (n.) — girl vocalist.
Capped (v.) — outdone, surpassed.
Cat (n.) — musician in swing band.
Chick (n.) — girl.
Chime (n.) — hour. Ex., “I got in at six chimes.”
Clambake (n.) — ad lib session, every man for
himself, a jam session not in the groove.
Chirp (n.) — female singer.
Cogs (n.) — sun glasses.
Collar (v.) — to get, to obtain, to comprehend. Ex., “I gotta collar me some food”; “Do you collar
Come again (v.) — try it over, do better than you are doing, I don‟t understand you.
Comes on like gangbusters (or like test pilot) (v.) — plays, sings, or dances in a terrific manner,
par excellence in any department. Sometimes abbr. to “That singer really comes on!”
Cop (v.) — to get, to obtain (see collar; knock).
Corny (adj.) — old-fashioned, stale.
Creeps out like the shadow (v.) — “comes on,” but in smooth, suave, sophisticated manner.
Crumb crushers (n.) — teeth.
Cubby (n.) — room, flat, home.
Cups (n.) — sleep. Ex., “I gotta catch some cups.”
Cut out (v.) — to leave, to depart. Ex., “It‟s time to cut out”; “I cut out from the joint in early
Cut rate (n.) — a low, cheap person. Ex., “Don‟t play me cut rate, Jack!”
Dicty (adj.) — high-class, nifty, smart.
Dig (v.) — (1) meet. Ex., “I‟ll plant you now and dig you later.” (2) look, see. Ex., “Dig the chick
on your left duke.” (3) comprehend, understand. Ex., “Do you dig this jive?”
Dim (n.) — evening.
Dime note (n.) — ten-dollar bill.
Doghouse (n.) — bass fiddle.
Domi (n.) — ordinary place to live in. Ex., “I live in a righteous dome.”
Doss (n.) — sleep. Ex., “I‟m a little beat for my doss.”
Down with it (adj.) — through with it.
Drape (n.) — suit of clothes, dress, costume.
Dreamers (n.) — bed covers, blankets.
Dry-goods (n.) — same as drape.
Duke (n.) — hand.
Dutchess (n.) — girl.
Early black (n.) — evening
Early bright (n.) — morning.
Evil (adj.) — in ill humor, in a nasty temper.
Fall out (v.) — to be overcome with emotion. Ex., “The cats fell out when he took that solo.”
Fews and two (n.) — money or cash in small quatity.
Final (v.) — to leave, to go home. Ex., “I finaled to my pad” (went to bed); “We copped a final”
Fine dinner (n.) — a good-looking girl.
Focus (v.) — to look, to see.
Foxy (v.) — shrewd.
Frame (n.) — the body.
Fraughty issue (n.) — a very sad message, a deplorable state of affairs.
Freeby (n.) — no charge, gratis. Ex., “The meal was a freeby.”
Frisking the whiskers (v.) — what the cats do when they are warming up for a swing session.
Frolic pad (n.) — place of entertainment, theater, nightclub.
Fromby (adj.) — a frompy queen is a battle or faust.
Front (n.) — a suit of clothes.
Fruiting (v.) — fickle, fooling around with no particular object.
Fry (v.) — to go to get hair straightened.
Gabriels (n.) — trumpet players.
Gammin‟ (adj.) — showing off, flirtatious.
Gasser (n, adj.) — sensational. Ex., “When it comes to dancing, she‟s a gasser.”
Gate (n.) — a male person (a salutation), abbr. for “gate-mouth.”
Get in there (exclamation.) — go to work, get busy, make it hot, give all you‟ve got.
Gimme some skin (v.) — shake hands.
Glims (n.) — the eyes.
Got your boots on — you know what it is all about, you are a hep cat, you are wise.
Got your glasses on — you are ritzy or snooty, you fail to recognize your friends, you are up-
Gravy (n.) — profits.
Grease (v.) — to eat.
Groovy (adj.) — fine. Ex., “I feel groovy.”
Ground grippers (n.) — new shoes.
Growl (n.) — vibrant notes from a trumpet.
Gut-bucket (adj.) — low-down music.
Guzzlin‟ foam (v.) — drinking beer.
Hard (adj.) — fine, good. Ex., “That‟s a hard tie you‟re wearing.”
Hard spiel (n.) — interesting line of talk.
Have a ball (v.) — to enjoy yourself, stage a celebration. Ex., “I had myself a ball last night.”
Hep cat (n.) — a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive.
Hide-beater (n.) — a drummer (see skin-beater).
Hincty (adj.) — conceited, snooty.
Hip (adj.) — wise, sophisticated, anyone with boots on. Ex., “She‟s a hip chick.”
Home-cooking (n.) — something very dinner (see fine dinner).
Hot (adj.) — musically torrid; before swing, tunes were hot or bands were hot.
Hype (n, v.) — build up for a loan, wooing a girl, persuasive talk.
Icky (n.) — one who is not hip, a stupid person, can‟t collar the jive.
Igg (v.) — to ignore someone. Ex., “Don‟t igg me!)
In the groove (adj.) — perfect, no deviation, down the alley.
Jack (n.) — name for all male friends (see gate; pops).
Jam ((1)n, (2)v.) — (1) improvised swing music. Ex., “That‟s swell jam.” (2) to play such music.
Ex., “That cat surely can jam.”
Jeff (n.) — a pest, a bore, an icky.
Jelly (n.) — anything free, on the house.
Jitterbug (n.) — a swing fan.
Jive (n.) — Harlemese speech.
Joint is jumping — the place is lively, the club is leaping with fun.
Jumped in port (v.) — arrived in town.
Kick (n.) — a pocket. Ex., “I‟ve got five bucks in my kick.”
Kill me (v.) — show me a good time, send me.
Killer-diller (n.) — a great thrill.
Knock (v.) — give. Ex., “Knock me a kiss.”
Kopasetic (adj.) — absolutely okay, the tops.
Lamp (v.) — to see, to look at.
Land o‟darkness (n.) — Harlem.
Lane (n.) — a male, usually a nonprofessional.
Latch on (v.) — grab, take hold, get wise to.
Lay some iron (v.) — to tap dance. Ex., “Jack, you really laid some iron that last show!”
Lay your racket (v.) — to jive, to sell an idea, to promote a proposition.
Lead sheet (n.) — a topcoat.
Left raise (n.) — left side. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left raise.”
Licking the chops (v.) — see frisking the whiskers.
Licks (n.) — hot musical phrases.
Lily whites (n.) — bed sheets.
Line (n.) — cost, price, money. Ex., “What is the line on this drape” (how much does this suit
cost)? “Have you got the line in the mouse” (do you have
the cash in your pocket)? Also, in replying, all figures are
doubled. Ex., “This drape is line forty” (this suit costs
Lock up — to acquire something exclusively. Ex., “He‟s
got that chick locked up”; “I‟m gonna lock up that deal.”
Main kick (n.) — the stage.
Main on the hitch (n.) — husband.
Main queen (n.) — favorite girl friend, sweetheart.
Man in gray (n.) — the postman.
Mash me a fin (command.) — Give me $5.
Mellow (adj.) — all right, fine. Ex., “That‟s mellow, Jack.”
Melted out (adj.) — broke.
Mess (n.) — something good. Ex., “That last drink was a mess.”
Meter (n.) — quarter, twenty-five cents.
Mezz (n.) — anything supreme, genuine. Ex., “this is really the mezz.”
Mitt pounding (n.) — applause.
Moo juice (n.) — milk.
Mouse (n.) — pocket. Ex., “I‟ve got a meter in the mouse.”
Muggin‟ (v.) — making „em laugh, putting on the jive. “Muggin‟ lightly,” light staccato swing;
“muggin‟ heavy,” heavy staccato swing.
Murder (n.) — something excellent or terrific. Ex., “That‟s solid murder, gate!”
Neigho, pops — Nothing doing, pal.
Nicklette (n.) — automatic phonograph, music box.
Nickel note (n.) — five-dollar bill.
Nix out (v.) — to eliminate, get rid of. Ex., “I nixed that chick out last week”; “I nixed my
Nod (n.) — sleep. Ex., “I think I‟l cop a nod.”
Ofay (n.) — white person.
Off the cob (adj.) — corny, out of date.
Off-time jive (n.) — a sorry excuse, saying the wrong thing.
Orchestration (n.) — an overcoat.
Out of the world (adj.) — perfect rendition. Ex., “That sax chorus was out of the world.”
Ow! — an exclamation with varied meaning. When a beautiful chick passes by, it‟s “Ow!”; and
when someone pulls an awful pun, it‟s also “Ow!”
Pad (n.) — bed.
Pecking (n.) — a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1937.
Peola (n.) — a light person, almost white.
Pigeon (n.) — a young girl.
Pops (n.) — salutation for all males (see gate; Jack).
Pounders (n.) — policemen.
Queen (n.) — a beautiful girl.
Rank (v.) — to lower.
Ready (adj.) — 100 per cent in every way. Ex., “That fried chicken was ready.”
Ride (v.) — to swing, to keep perfect tempo in playing or singing.
Riff (n.) — hot lick, musical phrase.
Righteous (adj.) — splendid, okay. Ex., “That was a righteous queen I dug you with last black.”
Rock me (v.) — send me, kill me, move me with rhythym.
Ruff (n.) — quarter, twenty-five cents.
Rug cutter (n.) — a very good dancer, an active jitterbug.
Sad (adj.) — very bad. Ex., “That was the saddest meal I ever collared.”
Sadder than a map (adj.) — terrible. Ex., “That man is sadder than a map.”
Salty (adj.) — angry, ill-tempered.
Sam got you — you‟ve been drafted into the army.
Send (v.) — to arouse the emotions. (joyful). Ex., “That sends me!”
Set of seven brights (n.) — one week.
Sharp (adj.) — neat, smart, tricky. Ex., “That hat is sharp as a tack.”
Signify (v.) — to declare yourself, to brag, to boast.
Skins (n.) — drums.
Skin-beater (n.) — drummer (see hide-beater).
Sky piece (n.) — hat.
Slave (v.) — to work, whether arduous labor or not.
Slide your jib (v.) — to talk freely.
Snatcher (n.) — detective.
So help me — it‟s the truth, that‟s a fact.
Solid (adj.) — great, swell, okay.
Sounded off (v.) — began a program or conversation.
Spoutin‟ (v.) — talking too much.
Square (n.) — an unhep person (see icky; Jeff).
Stache (v.) — to file, to hide away, to secrete.
Stand one up (v.) — to play one cheap, to assume one is a cut-rate.
To be stashed (v.) — to stand or remain.
Susie-Q (n.) — a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936.
Take it slow (v.) — be careful.
Take off (v.) — play a solo.
The man (n.) — the law.
Threads (n.) — suit, dress or costuem (see drape; dry-goods).
Tick (n.) — minute, moment. Ex., “I‟ll dig you in a few ticks.” Also, ticks are doubled in
accounting time, just as money isdoubled in giving “line.” Ex., “I finaled to the pad this early
bright at tick twenty” (I got to bed this morning at ten o‟clock).
Timber (n.) — toothipick.
To dribble (v.) — to stutter. Ex., “He talked in dribbles.”
Togged to the bricks — dressed to kill, from head to toe.
Too much (adj.) — term of highest praise. Ex., “You are too much!”
Trickeration (n.) — struttin‟ your stuff, muggin‟ lightly and politely.
Trilly (v.) — to leave, to depart. Ex., “Well, I guess I‟ll trilly.”
Truck (v.) — to go somewhere. Ex., “I think I‟ll truck on down to the ginmill (bar).”
Trucking (n.) — a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933.
Twister to the slammer (n.) — the key to the door.
Two cents (n.) — two dollars.
Unhep (adj.) — not wise to the jive, said of an icky, a Jeff, a square.
Vine (n.) — a suit of clothes.
V-8 (n.) — a chick who spurns company, is independent, is not amenable.
What‟s your story? — What do you want? What have you got to say for yourself? How are tricks?
What excuse can you offer? Ex., “I don‟t know what his story is.”
Whipped up (adj.) — worn out, exhausted, beat for your everything.
Wren (n.) — a chick, a queen.
Wrong riff — the wrong thing said or done. Ex., “You‟re coming up on the wrong riff.”
Yarddog (n.) — uncouth, badly attired, unattractive male or female.
Yeah, man — an exclamation of assent.
Zoot (adj.) — exaggerated
Zoot suit (n.) — the ultimate in clothes. The only totally and truly American civilian suit .
Activity: Create a short play using 1920s slang.
The play should be between a traditional father and his modern daughter.
The topic of conversation is the flappers.
Try to include:
1) Why and how women’s lives changed
2) Attitudes to the flappers (you could name the professor from Florida University
3) A comment about groups that did not benefit from this change.
Slang of the 1920's
Ab-so-lute-ly - affirmative
All Wet - describes an erroneous idea or individual, as in, "he's all wet."
And How - I strongly agree!
Applesauce- an expletive same as horsefeathers, As in "Ah applesauce!"
Attaboy - well done!; also Attagirl!
Baby - sweetheart. Also denotes something of high value or respect.
Balled Up - confused, messed up
Baloney - nonsense!
Bank's Closed - no kissing or making out - i.e. - "Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed."
Bearcat - a hot-blooded or fiery girl
Beat it - scam or get lost
Beat one's gums - idle chatter
Bee's Knees - An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
Beef - a complaint or to complain
Beeswax - business, i.e. None of your beeswax."
Bell bottom - a sailor [up]
Berries - That which is attractive or pleasing; similar to bee's knees, As in "It's the berries."
Bible Belt - Area in the South and Midwest where Fundamentalism flourishes
Big Cheese - The most important or influential person; boss. Same as big shot
Big six - a strong man; from auto advertising, for the new and powerful; six cylinder engines
Bimbo - a tough guy
Bird - general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old
Blind Date - going out with someone you do not know
Bluenose - An excessively puritanical person, a prude, Creator of
"the Blue Nozzle Curse."
Bootleg - illegal liquor
Breezer - an convertible car
Bronx Cheer - A loud spluttering noise, used to indicate disapproval. [up]
Same as raspberry
Bull - (1) a policeman or law-enforcement officer including FBI (2) nonsense (3) to chat idly, to
Bum's rush - ejection by force from an establishment
Bump Off - To murder, To kill
Butt me - I'll take a cigarette
Caper - a criminal act or robbery
Carry a Torch - To have a crush on someone
Cash - a kiss
Cash or check? - Do you kiss now or later?
Cat's Meow - Something splendid or stylish; similar to bee's knees; The best or greatest,
Cat's Pajamas - Same as cat's meow
Chassis - the female body
Cheaters - Eyeglasses
Check - kiss me later
Clam - a dollar [up]
Copacetic - Wonderful, fine, all right
Crush - An infatuation
Daddy - a young woman's boyfriend, especially if he's rich
Dame - a female
Dapper - a Flapper's dad
Darb - An excellent person or thing (as in "the Darb" - a person with money who can be relied
on to pay the check)
Dead soldier - an empty bear bottle
Deb - an debutant
Dick - a private investigator
Dogs - feet
Doll - an attractive woman
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
Double-cross - to cheat, stab in the back
Dough - money
Drugstore Cowboy - a guy that hangs around on a street corner
trying to pick up girls
Dry up - shut up, get lost
Ducky - very good
Dumb Dora - a stupid female
Earful - enough
Edge - intoxication, a buzz. i.e. "I've got an edge."
Egg - a person who lives the big life
Fall Guy - Victim of a frame
Fire extinguisher - a chaperone, someone who kept an eye on girls who were on dates
Fish -(1) a college freshman
(2) a first timer in prison
Flat Tire - A dull witted, insipid, disappointing date. Same as pill, pickle, drag,
Flivver - a Model T; after 1928, could mean any old broken down car
Flapper - A stylish, brash, hedonistic young woman with short skirts & shorter
Fly boy - a glamorous term for an aviator
Frame - To give false evidence , to set up someone
Gams - A woman's legs
Get a wiggle on - get a move on, get going
Giggle Water - An intoxicating beverage; alcohol
Gin Mill - An establishment where hard liquor is sold; bar
Glad rags - "going out on the town" clothes
Gold Digger - A woman who associates with or marries a man for his wealth
Goofy - in love
Handcuff - an engagement ring
Hard Boiled - a tough, strong guy
Hayburner - (1) a gas guzzling car (2) a horse one loses money on
Heebie-Jeebies - The jitters
High-Hat - To snub
Hit on all sixes - to perform 100 per cent; as "hitting on all six cyclinders"
Hooch - Bootleg liquor
Hood - hoodlum
Hoofer - Dancer
Horsefeathers - an expletive ; same usage as applesauce
Hotsy - Totsy - Pleasing
It - Sex appeal
Iron - a motorcycle
Jack - money [up]
Jake - OK, as in , "Everything is Jake."
Jalopy - Old car
Jane - any female
Java - coffee
Jitney - a car employed as a private bus. Fare was usually five cents; also called a "nickel"
Joe - coffee
John - a toilet
Joint - an establishment
Juice Joint - a speakeasy
Joint - A club, usually selling alcohol
Keen - Attractive or appealing
Kisser - Mouth
Left holding the bag - (1) to be cheated out of one's fair share (2)
to be blamed for something
Level with me - be honest
Line - Insincere flattery
Live wire - a lively person
Middle Aisle - To marry
Mrs. Grundy - A priggish or extremely tight-laced person
Moll - A gangster's girl
Nifty - great, excellent
"Now you're on the trolley!" - Now you've got it, now you're right!
Nobody Home - Describes some one who is dumb
On the lam - fleeing from police
On the level - legitimate, honest
On the up and up - on the level
Orchid - an expensive item
Ossified - a drunk person
Owl - a person who's out late
Palooka (1) a below-average or average boxer (2) a social outsider, from the comic strip
character Joe Palooka
Piker - (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward
Pill - (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person
Pinch - To arrest
Pipe down - stop talking
Pushover - A person easily convinced or seduced
Putting on the Ritz - after the Ritz hotel in Paris; doing something in
high style [up]
Rag-a-muffin - a dirty or disheveled individual
Razz- to make fun of
Real McCoy - The genuine article
Ritzy - Elegant (from the hotel)
Rubes - money or dollars
Sap - a fool
Says you - a reaction of disbelief
Scram - Ask someone to leave
Sheba - A woman with sex appeal (from the move Queen of Sheba) or (e.g. Clara Bow)
Sheik - A man with sex appeal (from the Valentino movies)
Shiv - a knife
Sinker - a doughnut
Speakeasy - An illicit bar selling illegal booze
Spifflicated - Drunk. The same as canned, corked, tanked, primed, scrooched, jazzed, zozzled,
plastered, owled, embalmed, lit, potted, ossified or fried to the hat
Spiffy - An elegant appearance
Spoon - to neck, or at least talk of love
Struggle Buggy - the backseat of a car. A parent's worst nightmare
Stuck On - Having a crush on
Swanky - Ritzy
Swell - Wonderful. Also: a rich man
Take for a Ride - To drive off with someone in order to bump them off
Tin Pan Alley - the music industry in New York, located between 48th and 52nd street
Tomato - a female
Torpedo - A hired gun
Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy
What's eating you? - What's wrong
Whoopee - To have a good time
You slay me - that's funny