Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Words That Were: 1930–1939

The stock market crash was only the beginning of the extreme shift from the roaring twenties to the dirty thirties. An abrupt economic downturn, marked by the agricultural disaster of the Dust Bowl, unemployment and labour unrest, prompted progressive reforms in parts of the world and more radical measures elsewhere. By the end of the decade, the first Canadian troops were sailing for Britain to take part in the Second World War.

Still, there were bright spots. Canada appointed its first woman to the Senate. The CBC, the National Film Board and The Globe and Mail were founded. And some of this country's greatest luminaries were born, including Glenn Gould, Leonard Cohen, David Suzuki and Margaret Atwood.

barrel of black mud
Definition: chocolate milkshake
Note: A barrel of red mud would be a strawberry milkshake.
black blizzard
Definition: massive, sky-darkening dust storm
Synonym: black roller
bossy in a bowl
Definition: beef stew
cackle berries
Definition: eggs
Synonym: hen fruit, biddies
café society
Definition: socialites who frequent amusing and fashionable cafés and restaurants
Note: Until the 1930s, most entertaining was done in the home.
Definition: female vocalist
cat beer
Definition: milk
Synonym: bovine extract
Definition: failed radio program
Note: Originally, a clambake simply meant a jam session. Later, it was used to refer to a jam session or an arranged session that had failed. These days, in musicians' slang, a clam refers to a missed note, especially in reference to trumpet players. By extension, a clambake refers to a concert or piece with many wrong or missed notes.
cross talk
Definition: radio interference
dog soup
Definition: water
Synonym: Adam's ale, tin roof
Definition: radio waves
Note: In amateur radio jargon, ether was the elastic, massless medium once believed to fill all space and to conduct electromagnetic (radio) waves.
flip a rattler
Definition: jump aboard a moving boxcar
go by hand
Definition: walk
Note: This may have been a reference to hitchhiking or to travelling the hard way.
hang a dilly
Definition: make a large lime-flavoured cola
Note: Other flavours that could be hung (or shot, if the customer ordered a small size) include fresh (lemon), honest (cherry) and mud (chocolate).
hounds on an island
Definition: wieners and beans
kick out
Definition: spontaneously improvise music
Synonym: swing out
motor court
Definition: motel
paper man
Definition: musician who does not improvise
rent party
Definition: party where guests donate money to help pay rent
Definition: showy dancers
sit-down strike
Definition: work stoppage during which employees put down their tools but stay at their workstation
Synonym: crossed-arms strike, folded-arms strike, stay-in strike, sit-in strike
Note: The first of this type of labour action took place at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, and lasted 44 days.
splash or red noise
Definition: bowl of tomato soup
sugar band
Definition: band that does not improvise
touring car
Definition: car with ample luggage and seating space designed for long-distance travel

Test yourself with this quiz: Circa 1930–1939.