Aces! 1930s Slang and Phrases From the Dirty Thirties

From booze to goons, the 30s had some interesting slang terms that would blow your wig today.

, Staff Writer
Updated February 9, 2024
1930s slang bumping gums
    1930s Slang
    LoveToKnow Creative

Dive into the vibrant world of the 1930s, an era where jazz, flappers, and speakeasies brought about a unique slang as spirited as the times. Amidst the Great Depression and the golden age of Hollywood, the 30s slang was a mix of rebellion, resilience, and sheer elegance. From "hooch" to "swell," let's swing back to a time when words painted a picture of defiance and innovation. Buckle up for a nostalgic journey through the language that defined a remarkable decade!

Everyday 1930s Slang That Defined the Era

Much of the popular slang of the 1930s consists of widely recognizable words that are used today, some in the same way they were used back in the day. These words and phrases were very common then, but you'll notice that some have a different meaning today.

  • abyssinia - quick way of saying "I'll be seeing you." 
  • aces - excellent
  • ackamarackus - nonsense
  • apple - a large city 
  • bash - an attempt
  • blow your wig - get excited
  • boondoggle - an extravagant and useless project
  • booshwa/booshwash - empty talk; "bullshit"
  • bread - money
  • brodie - to take a chance and lose; a mistake
  • bumping gums - making conversation, but of no substance
  • cheaters - glasses or sunglasses
  • city juice - a glass of water; used to refer to city water
  • cockamamie - children's slang for a decal applied to the skin (like a temporary tattoo)
  • copacetic - performing well
  • dil-ya-ble - a phone call
  • dime a dozen - anything very common, not valuable
  • dog soup - a glass of water; used to refer to those who can’t afford to drink anything else
  • dough - money
  • eighty-six - a sold out item (food service)
  • five spot - five dollars
  • gobsmacked - flabbergasted; surprised
  • honey cooler - a kiss
  • horn - telephone
  • iron - a car or motorcycle
  • kibosh - put a stop to something
  • lincolns - five dollar bills 
  • low down - all the information
  • make tracks - to leave; putting distance between yourself and where you were
  • nitiwttery - stupidity
  • off the cob - corny
  • piss or get off the pot - stop wasting time and make a decision
  • sawbuck - $10 bill
  • shake a leg - hurry up
  • slip me five - "shake my hand"
  • slugburger - hamburger patty made with ground beef mixed with slightly stale bread
  • squat - zero, nothing
  • whacky - crazy
  • you and me both - a way of vocalizing agreement

People and Places of the 1930s

Descriptors have been a staple of the English language for decades, and it was no different in the 1930s. The slang to describe both the people and the places that surrounded the era was absolutely booming. 

  • big butter and egg man - a rich man who spends his money on women
  • broad/dame/doll - woman
  • canary - a female singer
  • cats/alligators - swing music fans
  • cave - one's house or apartment
  • cement mixer - a person who is terrible at dancing
  • clip joint - establishment where customers get scammed
  • crooner - a smooth singer
  • crumb - unsuccessful or unreliable person
  • dead hoofer - bad dancer
  • gold digger - woman who marries for money
  • grifter - a con artist of swindler
  • hep cat - someone who loves jazz music
  • hot mama/looker/tomato/dish/sweet patootie - good-looking woman
  • joe - an average guy
  • juke joint - an informal establishment featuring music and dancing
  • moll - a gangster's girlfriend
  • motor court - a motel
  • nogoodnik - a bad or worthless person
  • screwball - an eccentric person, originally from baseball slang
  • stool pigeon - an informer, "snitch"
  • tightwad - a stingy person
  • wise guy - a smart aleck

Slang and Terminology for Drugs and Alcohol in the 30s

Following closely on the heels of prohibition, alcohol use came out of the shadows in the 1930s. A number of interesting slang terms for drugs and alcohol became part of the vernacular during this era.

  • booze - whiskey
  • cadillac - an ounce of cocaine or heroin
  • giggle juice - whiskey
  • hooch - whiskey
  • jive - marijuana
  • muggles - marijuana
  • rotgut - bad or cheap liquor
  • weed - marijuana

Law Enforcement and Crime Slang

Quite a bit of slang related to coppers and criminals originated during the 1930s. A lot of slang terminology that is still used in law enforcement and to refer to criminal activities can be traced back to this era.

  • big house - prison 
  • bust out - to escape from jail or prison
  • buzzer - police badge
  • Chicago overcoat - a coffin
  • Chicago typewriter/Tommy gun - Thompson machine gun
  • convincer/gat/heater/rod - gun
  • copper - police officer 
  • dick/gumshoe/flatfoot - a detective 
  • goons - enforcers, tough guys
  • on sus - suspected of committing a crime
  • on the lam - fleeing from law enforcement
  • take for a ride - to drive someone away to murder them
  • taking the rap/fall - taking responsibility for someone else's crime
  • trigger men - hired gunmen

A Long, Complicated History Decoded By Slang

It has been long said that if the 1930s were a book, it would begin with the Great Depression and end with the beginning of the second World War. A dark spot in history for many, it was also one of the most social decades.

Despite the toll taken by the Great Depression, the spirit of the times fused the tension of the era with social realism. As a result, there evolved the slang of the 1930s - a now lost treasure, or dissonant charm, this was the slang that encouraged lost minds to awaken to new hope and forge ahead toward their dreams. For more insights about this decade, review a selection of quotes about the 1930s. If you’re more interested in slang itself, explore the history of American slang words.