1940s Slang

, Staff Writer
Updated January 2, 2018
man using gangster slang with arms folded
    man using gangster slang with arms folded
    peepo / E+ / Getty Images

The 1940s slang came out of a unique time when the United States was rebounding from the Great Depression and becoming embroiled in World War II, a situation that would actually help set up the economic growth the country enjoyed at the end of the decade. Many new slang words became part of everyday dialogue during this decade.

Examples of 1940s Slang for People

A lot of slang terms that became popular in the 1940s are still in use today. These terms were commonly used to describe people, based on certain characteristics or behaviors. Some are merely descriptive terms while others are slang insults.

  • ace - a person with a high level of expertise
  • anchor clanker - a sailor
  • broad - a woman
  • chicken - a person who is a coward
  • chrome dome - a bald man
  • cold fish - boring person; someone who isn’t very responsive
  • cookie - a girl who is cute
  • crack up - to burst out laughing
  • dame - a woman
  • dead hoofer - bad dancer
  • dish - an attractive person
  • doll dizzy - a boy who is crazy about girls
  • dreamboat - very handsome man
  • drip - someone who is boring
  • ducky shincracker - a really good dancer
  • eager beaver - an enthusiastic helper; a person who is excited about something
  • fat head - insulting term for a stupid or foolish person
  • geezer - an old person
  • glitterati - wealthy or famous people with a high profile
  • hipster - someone who is very tuned in to popular culture and current trends
  • jive bomber - a good dancer
  • khaki wacky - a girl who is crazy about boys
  • queer - slang for a homosexual person
  • rookie - a new recruit
  • sugar daddy - a wealthy man who supports a woman
  • yuck - a foolish or stupid person

1940s Slang for Good Feelings, Actions or Brags

Quite a few of the slang terms that developed during the 40s were created to describe positive outcomes, as well as feelings or actions.

  • above my pay grade - not in charge; not in the know
  • brainchild - a creative idea
  • cooking with gas - doing something properly, making good progress
  • cut a rug - to dance
  • decked out - dressed up in an attractive way
  • dope - information about someone, as in an update on the person’s situation; scoop or gossip
  • gas - hilarious or funny; having a fun time
  • goof - to do something in error; make a mistake
  • grandstand - show off in a boastful manner
  • holy mackerel - exclamation ion of excitement; being very impressed
  • hot diggity dog - exclamation of excitement; wow
  • in cahoots - people who are conspiring together
  • jitterbug - fast dancing to the music of the day
  • killer diller - the best, amazing
  • moxie - courage or strong nerves
  • mug - changing facial expressions; making faces in a playful way
  • natch - of course, certainly
  • off the hook - not in trouble; found not guilty
  • on the beam - on the right track or course; cool
  • on the nose - exactly correct
  • stick around - to stay
  • sweet - excellent or outstanding
  • take a powder - to leave
  • What's buzzin', cousin? - How's it going?

1940s Insults, Put Downs or Negative Reactions

Not all 40s slang is about positive circumstances. The vernacular of this decade also included some slang insults, as well as terms to describe negative situations.

  • belly up - failure, ending; going out of business
  • bum rap - a false accusation; being blamed for something you didn’t do
  • bupkis - nothing; when someone doesn’t receive anything for their efforts
  • bust your chops - to scolding some or chastise them; a talking-to
  • cheesy - cheap; as in poorly-made or tacky
  • cockeyed - crazy, impossible, stupid
  • crib notes - a cheat sheet used to try to get a good grade
  • crummy - an item that is no good
  • flip your wig - lose your temper, lose control
  • gobbledygook – talking nonsense
  • hairy - outdated
  • in the sticks - undesirable location that is in the middle of nowhere
  • knucklehead - a foolish or stupid person
  • knuckle sandwich - punching someone in the mouth
  • pain in the neck - bothersome, annoying
  • pass the buck - not taking responsibility; blaming someone else
  • peanuts - a small amount, not enough; usually refers to money
  • ragging - making fun of, picking on or nagging someone
  • rhubarb - an argument, squabble or loud disagreement; first used in reference to disputes in baseball
  • run out of gas - lost momentum; over with
  • snap your cap - get angry
  • whistling dixie - wasting your time

1940s Slang Terms for Everyday Necessities or Actions

The slang of the 1940s included some interesting new terms for everyday necessities, including terms for food, clothing and money, as well as ordinary activities like sleeping or making a phone call.

  • ameche - to make a phone call
  • armored heifer - canned milk
  • clams - money
  • greenbacks - paper money
  • hen fruit - eggs
  • joe - coffee
  • lettuce - slang for paper money
  • old lady - term of endearment for one’s mother
  • peepers - a person’s eyes
  • schnook - a sucker; someone who is gullible
  • shuteye - sleep
  • specs - prescription eyeglasses
  • spew - to be sick; vomiting
  • stompers - shoes
  • unmentionables - a woman’s undergarments

A few of the commonly used slang during the 1940s is associated with alcohol or drugs.

  • bender - a drinking spree; what would today be referred to as binge drinking
  • buzz - tipsy feeling
  • fix - a dose of drugs (narcotics); often used to reference drug fiends
  • sauced - the state of being drunk or intoxicated
  • sauce - liquor; an intoxicated person could be described as being “on the sauce”
  • souse - someone who is habitually drunk
  • swigger - a person who drinks alcohol

Historical Background of 1940s Slang

The history of American slang is fascinating. In the 1940s, film noir was at its peak in the United States. It was also a time of picking up the pieces after World War II, while forging new ground in technology, science, government intelligence and popular culture. It was the end of the golden age of swing, while jazz as we know it today was slowly coming to the forefront.

  • While Ol' Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra) ruled the airwaves and made the bobby soxers (teenage girls) swoon, artists like John Coltrane and Charlie "Bird" Parker were moving up the ranks to make their mark on the jazz world.
  • From the music and the movies to the fashion style -- it was one of the most memorable decades in American history and the slang was something that was unique to the era. It told the story of the time.
  • That slang has not disappeared completely. Some of those interesting words coined in the 1940s are still used today, although maybe with another meaning.

Slang By the Decade

Hopefully this list will help you to better understand 1940s slang. Look closely and you will see that many of these terms will not be new to you. Each decade ushers in new slang terms that become part of the popular culture. Now that you know some slang words and insults from the 1940s, make it a point to learn slang from some other decades. Start by going forward to the next decade and discover slang that became popular during the 1950s.