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Words That Were: 1920–1929

In much of the world, the 1920s roared with post-war prosperity. Youth culture became a driving force with its penchant for promiscuity, rejection of Prohibition and devotion to all things jazz. Meanwhile, Charles Lindbergh piloted the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic; Howard Carter unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamen; and Warner Bros. brought sound, and then speech, to the cinema.

Here in Canada, while Banting and Best discovered insulin, the Group of Seven drew inspiration from the wilderness to produce some of our most recognizable and beloved works of art. It wouldn't be all glamour and discovery, though: the twenties also saw the outbreak of war in Ireland, Central and Eastern Europe and Turkey; the rise of communism and fascism; and the crash of the stock market. With so much going on, it's no wonder so many colourful expressions came out of the twenties.

aerobat
Definition: stunt flyer
alligator
Definition: jazz musician or person with an appreciation for the genre
banana oil
Definition: nonsense
Synonyms: applesauce, horse feathers
big butter-and-egg man
Definition: affluent man
Note: This would be said of a man who could afford to buy his sweetheart butter, eggs and anything else she desired.
bobatorium
Definition: hair salon, particularly one specializing in the bob hairstyle (evenly short all around)
Synonym: bobber shop
Related terms: Eton crop (very short, boyish woman's haircut), shingle (short, blunt woman's haircut)
bootlegger
Definition: supplier of illegal liquor
Note: In the Colonial era, traders smuggled liquor in their tall boot legs.
Synonyms: boozeheister, pour-out ma
brawl
Definition: party
Synonyms: drag, rub, struggle, work out
crab the wind
Definition: steer a plane by flying sideways into the wind
Note: The term alludes to the image of the crab's sideways walk.
creep joint
Definition: illegal drinking place or a gambling den that changes location nightly
Synonyms: blind pig, blind tiger, booze foundry, gin mill, gin palace, jinny, moonlight inn, sample room, scatter, speakeasy, whoopee parlour
dudd
Definition: studious person
Synonym: grind
Related terms: skulldragging (intense studying), stay in the buggy (keep studying)
flinging woo
Definition: kissing or other romantic behaviour
Synonym: pitching woo
giggle water
Definition: alcohol
Synonyms: hooch (still in use), nose paint
great on the shindig
Definition: expression used in reference to a very good dancer
Related terms: march, rag, struggle, wrestle (different names for dance)
gun moll
Definition: female gangster
handcuff
Definition: engagement ring
Related terms: speak piece (propose marriage); send to the showers, show the gate, give the air (reject marriage proposal)
hipped on
Definition: enthusiastic about
jellybean
Definition: inferior person
Note: Many food words were used to describe different types of people, including biscuit (licentious young woman), egg (someone who let his girl pay her own admission to a dance), sardine or smelt (girl), and tomato (attractive young woman who liked to dance).
knickerbockers
Definition: short, baggy men's pants that fit tightly below the knee
Related terms: plus-fours (similar garment but even baggier), Oxford bags (wide, full-length men's trousers)
lindy
Definition: fly as a passenger
Note: Also refers to a dance.
Rock of Ages
Definition: woman over the age of 30
Related term: Father Time (male equivalent)
rubber cow
Definition: aircraft, such as a balloon or dirigible, kept aloft by gas
skiboo
Definition: gunman
Synonyms: rod, torpedo
Related terms: gat, heater, long rod, roscoe (names for different types of guns)
smoking suit
Definition: flowing women's trousers outfit, often worn with a turban
wiper
Definition: paid killer
Synonym: dropper

Test yourself with this quiz: Circa 1920–1929.