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Words That Were: 1940–1949

No doubt, the first half of the 1940s had more than its share of tragedy, global losses and national turmoil. Of the million or so Canadians who served full-time in the army, navy and air force during the Second World War, 42,042 died.

On the brighter side, early in the decade, women in Quebec obtained the right to vote in provincial elections. And late in the decade, Canadians of Asian descent got to vote in federal elections. The year 1949 also saw Newfoundland join Confederation and Canada join NATO.

In the midst of all this, English got wacky, with the introduction of new military jargon and a hipster slang called vout. Inspired by jazz musician Slim Gaillard, trendsetters took to adding a little zipperoo to their speech. The vernacular got a little snapperoony. Ding dong-o-reeny! But if you're already hep to the 40s' jive talk, this is no news to you.

Definition: chicken, as referred to by World War II troops
Definition: jive slang for “all right”
battery acid
Definition: coffee, in army slang
Synonyms: black strap, bootleg
bobby soxer
Definition: teenage girl who wore white socks pushed down around the top of the shoe
Note: Bobby socks provided an alternative to stockings, which were in short supply during the war. Nevertheless, many saw them as a sign of rebellion.
bomb boogie
Definition: variation of the jitterbug
bubble dancing
Definition: washing dishes, in army slang
Synonym: pearl diving
burnt to a crisp
Definition: adjective describing the latest trend, i.e. so hot, it's "burnt to a crisp"
convertible suit
Definition: women's suit featuring a jacket, a short skirt and a blouse, which doubled as an evening ensemble when worn without the jacket
cooking with gas
Definition: jive slang for excelling
devil's piano
Definition: machine gun
Synonym: ack-ack
Eisenhower jacket
Definition: short military coat finished with a waistband, named after American General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Synonym: Ike jacket
folding lettuce
Definition: jive slang for paper money
Synonym: silent money
Definition: careless pilot
Synonym: flathatter
hell buggy
Definition: tank
Synonyms: galvanized gelding, iron horse, St. Vitus davenport
mellow man
Definition: attractive young man
Synonyms: glad lad, go giver, heaven sent, hunk of heartbreak, twangie boy
New Look
Definition: name given to Parisian fashion designer Christian Dior's spring collection of 1947
Note: The collection included mid-calf full skirts, frilly blouses and very high heels. This was an indulgent departure from the plain, square and even masculine designs of the earlier war years.
pancake turner
Definition: disc jockey
rusty hen
Definition: unattractive young woman
Definition: jive slang for terrible
tiger meat
Definition: beef, mess-hall style
victory garden
Definition: vegetable, fruit or herb garden planted at a private residence or occasionally in a public space
Note: These small gardens helped in the war effort by freeing up farmland for major crops, such as wheat.
void coupon
Definition: unattractive young man
Definition: attractive young woman
Synonyms: destroyer, dilly, rare dish, solid sender, zazz girl
zoot suit
Definition: men's outfit featuring a knee-length jacket with high shoulder pads and exaggerated lapels, as well as baggy pants tapered at the ankle
Note: Typical accessories included a wide tie, a broad-brimmed hat, pointed shoes and a long chain hanging from the front trouser pocket down the leg and reattaching at the back pocket.

Test yourself with this quiz: Circa 1940–1949.