Comeback-Worthy 1920s Slang That Only Rag-a-Muffins Won't Appreciate

, Staff Writer
Updated December 15, 2021
Art Deco Golden Woman as 1920s slang examples
    Art Deco Golden Woman as 1920s slang examples
    Background: MrsWilkins / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Woman: vgorbash / iStock / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

1920s slang might seem like baloney, but only if you’re a Mrs. Grundy. If you know your onions, it can be duck soup to avoid getting balled up. What does any of this mean, you may be asking? Check out some swell 1920s slang words we should bring back to make the 2020s the new roaring twenties. Now you’re on the trolley!

1920s Slang Words That Can Be the Bee’s Knees Again

Some 1920s slang terms haven’t stood the test of time, and we think that’s a real shame. Here are some slang terms that we think should be brought into modern usage. Don’t let them ball you up, mister — they’re the cat’s pajamas!

  • applesauce - an expletive (Applesauce! My cryptocurrency is way down!)

  • baloney - nonsense (Everyone loves that new podcast, but I say it’s a load of baloney.)

  • balled up - confused, messed up (That last episode of Succession was so much to take in, it left me all balled up.)

  • bee’s knees - the best (No one likes that new artisanal pizza place, but I think it's the bee’s knees.)

  • bluenose - killjoy (Stop talking about politics during dinner — you’re being a real bluenose.)

  • breezer - convertible car (I hopped in my breezer and drove off, wind in my hair.)

  • caboose - jail (They threw him in the caboose for drunk driving.)

  • cat’s meow - stylish or cool (My new Nike shoes are the cat’s meow!)

  • cat’s pajamas - really cool (We just saw Hamilton. It was the cat’s pajamas!)

  • cheaters - eyeglasses (Let me grab my cheaters so I can read your texts.)

  • corn-shredder - someone who dances badly (My boyfriend thinks he can dance, but actually he’s a real corn-shredder.)

  • duck soup - easy (Cooking may be difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s duck soup!)

  • flat tire - a bad date (How was your date? It was a flat tire.)

  • know one’s onions - well-informed on a subject (We’re learning about Einstein now. He really knew his onions.)

  • Mrs. Grundy - someone who is prudish (My friend grew up really sheltered, so she can be a bit of a Mrs. Grundy.)

  • rag-a-muffin - dirty or disheveled (My dog’s such a little rag-a-muffin. We can never keep him clean!)

  • ritzy - elegant (My new penthouse apartment is really ritzy.)

  • the real McCoy - the real thing (That Louis Viton bag is the real McCoy.)

  • swell - great; excellent (I just think Taylor Swift’s new album is swell.)


Old Drinking Slang Worth Bringing Back

As you may know, the roaring 20s was the era of prohibition, meaning the production, sale and purchase of alcoholic beverages was illegal. So it’s no surprise that many slang words for alcohol, intoxication and bootlegging came out of the 1920s. Expressions for booze and/or getting drunk never go out of style, so why not bring back the classics?

  • coffin varnish - alcohol (What a day. I’m ready for a tumbler of coffin varnish.)

  • dip the bill - have a drink (He invited me to go the bar and dip the bill.)

  • giggle juice - liquor (Got some giggle juice? It’s been a long day.)

  • juice joint - a bar (Let’s head to the juice joint. I’m craving a good beer!)

  • old pal - cocktail (I’ll take an old pal, shaken not stirred.)

  • ombibulous - lover of alcohol (He's not a drunk, just an ombibulous fellow.)

  • whale - heavy drinker (I’m gonna pass on drinks. I can be a whale and I’m trying to limit my alcohol intake.)

  • zozzled - drunk (I’m zozzled! Can you come pick me up?)


Some of these may ring a bell while others will sound like a foreign language. Either way, these expressions were fun back then and we think it’s high time they came back. After all, couldn’t we use a little fun right now?

  • Bank’s closed! - Stop making out!

  • Go chase yourself! - Get lost!

  • I’m gonna go iron my shoelaces - I’m going to go use the bathroom

  • Let’s blouse! - Let’s go!

  • Now you’re on the trolley! - Now you’ve got it!

  • Putting on the Ritz - Do it in style

  • Tell it to Sweeney - Tell it to someone gullible

1920s Slang That Never Left

While bringing back old slang is a great way to recycle language, don't forget to keep using the terms that never went out of style! Tons of terms we use today are actually from the 1920s. While many 1920s slang words and phrases are typically only found in old movies or period pieces, these terms are still going strong.

  • babe - attractive person; significant other
  • baby - term of endearment for a significant other
  • beef - problem
  • belly laugh - loud laugh
  • bunk - nonsense
  • carry a torch - to have unrequited feelings for someone
  • crush - to have romantic interest in someone
  • dough - money
  • gold digger - woman who uses a man for his wealth
  • goofy - crazy or silly
  • goon - thug
  • grift - swindle
  • grifter - con man
  • grill - question
  • guy - man
  • hard-boiled - tough
  • heebie-jeebies - the creeps
  • java - coffee
  • joe - coffee
  • looker - good looking person
  • nailed - caught
  • nicked - stolen
  • noodle - head
  • owl - person who’s up/out late
  • pushover - easily influenced person

Study Up on Historical Slang

The 1920s gave us countless colorful slang words, but it’s not the only decade to do so. Diversify your slang with these timeless terms.