The word beatnik is derived from the slang term "beat," which was popularized by Jack Kerouac after World War II. The term beat came to mean "beaten down," but Kerouac said that wasn't his intent. He saw the beat generation as people with intense conviction who happened to be a bit down and out. The lingo of this disaffected generation became the beatnik slang of the 1950s.
As the first generation referred to as hipsters, the beatniks of the 1950s embraced the good life. Music, booze, drugs, sex, and camaraderie were all on the table. Jazz musicians, in particular, attracted their own followings of hipsters who were a bit like today's groupies. As such, music venues were a great starting place for many dates.
- a blast - to have a good time
- a gas - an incredible amount of fun
- chicken - a girl who is engaged to be married
- copping a bit - putting up an act to fool someone
- eyeballing a doll - checking out a good-looking woman
- quail hunting - prowling for a girl to date
- solo flight - going out stag rather than with a date
- square - someone who’s boring or not fun
- the big tickle - to laugh at the expense of the victim
- the flicks - the movies
- used to be - an ex; someone you used to be in a relationship with
Because of their so-called on-the-brink lifestyle and their engagement in activities that were sometimes illegal, beatniks weren't too keen on law enforcement. Some beatniks considered police officers to be their worst enemy.
- beat the gravel - to run away from law enforcement
- bright disease - when someone knows too much about illicit beatnik activities
- fuzz - law enforcement officers; police officers
- fuzz rod - police car; a cop patrol car
- haul ass - to drive extremely fast; to exceed the speed limit by a lot
- hot iron - a firearm
- pig - a slur for police officers (The '50s may be the first time the word pig was used as slang for police.)
- stoolie - an informer who "sang" or "ratted" to the authorities
The world is full of all kinds of people. Beatniks had plenty of slang terms used to describe people from every walk of life.
- angel - a generous person who picks up the bill (pays expenses)
- bad news - people who are up to no good
- big daddy - a girl’s father; any man who isn't hip to the beat scene
- cat - a male person who's cool
- cheap creep - one who freeloads off their friends
- chick - a female person who's cool
- cool cat - a popular person, someone who is slick or with it
- cube - an extreme conformist to the norms of the day
- daddy-o - another word for the cool cats of this generation
- everything plus - a person who is extremely attractive
- galaxy - one's circle of close friends
- gin mill cowboy - someone who spends a lot of time in bars
- hipster - someone who is up to date on the latest counterculture trends
- juicehead- one who drinks a lot of alcohol
- juiceman - a bartender
- shape in a drape - a dressed-up woman who looks good
- square - someone who isn't cool
Beatnik culture had many ways of describing the amazing experiences and situations in which hipsters found themselves. For example, they might say, "Did you cats have a blast?" There are a lot of additional ways to express yourself, beatnik style.
- bread - cash money
- blow your jets - lose your temper
- bug - to annoy someone
- crazy - something that's fantastic
- cookin’ - doing something well
- boss - something that’s a-okay
- dig it - to understand or like something
- go ape - to get really excited about something
- kicks - the thrill you get by doing something fun
- later - goodbye for now
- noodle it out - to think something through
- stable the iron - park your car
- swinging -things are going good
- wigged out - highly annoyed or upset
Modern-day hipsters aren’t a new phenomenon. They were the leaders of the entire beatnik movement from several decades ago. Even then, hipsters subscribed to a particular lingo, dress and attitude. In the ‘50s, anyone who was a hipster was in pursuit of whatever was cool, a slang term that survives to this day. Indeed, the beatnik generation slang was pretty hip. It wouldn’t have survived all this time if it wasn’t.
- The Beat generation harkens back to the late 1940s. The generation was sick of World War II and stunned by the sudden entry into the atomic age by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. They had no place to go, and nothing from which to draw hope.
- Three writers were the most famed from this generation: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Much of their writing supported the beatnik movement, embracing drugs, alcohol and greater freedom.
- The beatniks were the predecessors of the "turn on and tune out" hippies of the 1960s. That said, it can be argued that the beatniks — the followers of the beat lifestyle — may have done it with more aplomb than the hippies.
Of all the slang that’s stuck around, the beatnik slang of the 1950s has maintained the firmest hold on modern lingo. Understanding the slang from an era gone by can help you add authenticity to your writing, especially when you're setting a story in a previous decade. Although the list above pertains to a specific subculture, it might also be useful to check out a list of generalized slang from the 1950s. You may also want to learn about slang from many other decades, including the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Using slang in your writing is a great way to incorporate authentic dialogue from the era in which your story is set.