All That Jazz

Speakeasies, bathtub gin … swells, flappers … tuxedos, fringed smocks … letter sweaters, raccoon coats … trumpets, ukeleles… the Charleston, the Lindy Hop… Betty Boop lips, manicured hands waving cigarette holders. Images from the Roaring Twenties, also known as the Jazz Age, echo down the years through literature and drama and film.

We also have a passing acquaintance with some of the era’s words and expressions, relics of a time gone by. Or do we? Truth be told, we only think almost all Jazz Age lingo has faded into obscurity, and and much of it has indeed: flat tire for a bore; clam for a dollar, ossified for drunk; and so on ad infinitum. Nevertheless, word after word commonly heard today either first came from the mouths of (or was popularized by) denizens of that fabled age.

Following, in alphabetical order, are 30-odd examples.

      • baloney  nonsense, bunk
      • beef  complaint, complain
      • big cheese  boss, VIP
      • the cat’s pajamas*  excellent, hot
      • the bee’s knees*  ditto
      • bootleg  distill liquor illegally
      • bump off  kill
      • bum’s rush  ejection, usually from a bar
      • caper  capricious escapade, illegal act
      • crush  infatuation
      • cut to the chase  get to the point; get on with it
      • dolled up  dressed up
      • earful  outpouring of gossip or complaints
      • fall guy  a scapegoat of either sex
      • for crying out loud!  exclamation of anger or disagreement
      • gold digger  charmer intent on extracting money or gifts from others
      • hair of the dog  small alcoholic drink sipped to ease a hangover
      • heebie-jeebies  jitters, the creeps
      • hopped up  high on drugs
      • hot dog!  great!, awesome!
      • java, joe  coffee
      • john  toilet
      • joint  small bar or eatery
      • killjoy  one who spoils pleasure for others
      • left holding the bag  left in the lurch in some way
      • live wire  exceptionally active or peppy person
      • on the lam running from the law
      • pushover person who is easily defeated or overcome
      • ragamuffin  poorly clothed, disheveled child
      • screwy  crazy
      • sitting pretty  successful, financially well off
      • snort  a drink of alcohol
      • sugar daddy  man who spends lavishly on his object of affection
      • unreal  incredible, fantastic
      • upchuck  vomit
      • wet blanket  one who spurns enjoyment or enthusiasm

*These were only two animal-related nonsense terms of the time. Equivalents that bit the dust include the elephant’s ankles, the monkey’s eyebrow, and the sardine’s whiskers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *