The 20th century was a truly special time. One day we were "cruisin' for a bruisin'" with some "greasers" at the "passion pit," the next we're telling a Valley Girl to "talk to the hand"—or shouting "boo-yah!" to our best buddies. That's right: It was a killer century for slang. But slang—just like all fads—is something that falls out of favor all too quickly.
So please hop in our time machine as we take you through the greatest slang terms of the 20th century—from the tough-guy 1950s to the totally rad 1990s—which were once all that and a bag of chips, but have sadly been kicked to the curb. And for more great words to add to your lexicon, learn the 20 Slang Terms From the '80s No One Uses Anymore.
In the '50s, when you got sick, you didn't "come down with something." You ended up on a one-way street to germsville (the doctor's office).
Example: "Get that cough checked out, or you'll wind up buzzed by germsville!"
When you have to get away fast, usually because you've done something wrong, it's time to beat feet the heck out of there. Just think of your feet like they're the hands of a jazz drummer. And for some more up-to-date lingo, here are 40 Words That Didn't Exist 40 Years Ago.
Example: "Let's beat feet before the cops get here!"
Cruisin' for a bruisin'
The '50s had their own version of "a face that's just begging to be punched."
Example: "That dude is so annoying, he's cruisin' for a bruisin'."
Made in the shade
Today, being in the shade means you're avoiding sun damage to your skin. But in the '50s, being made in the shade meant things are going well for you and you don't have a care in the world. Remember: Shade is a good thing.
Example: "Now that I've got a new job, I'm made in the shade!"
No point in having a hot rod if you're not going to show off its speed. And when you press that pedal to the metal, your tires are going to burn some rubber. Which is a good thing… if you like buying new tires every year. And for more fun sayings, check out the 33 Old Slang Terms Kids Born After 2000 Will Never Understand.
Example: "Let's burn rubber and show 'em what this car can do!"
People in the '50s possibly thought they were frogs. Or they envied the amphibious lifestyle. We can't think of a better explanation for why they'd call their homes or apartments their "pad."
Example: "Let's go back to my pad and have some drinks."
If it's small, crawls near your feet, and has teeth, it's an ankle-biter. That includes everything from pets to children. Which begs the question, did all Baby Boomers grow up gnawing on their parents' ankles?
Example: "You've got some cute ankle-biters. How old are they?"
Word from the bird
If someone doubts that you're telling them the truth, you can assure them that it's the "word from the bird." Because as everybody knows, feathered and egg-laying creatures are never dishonest. And for more long-lost lingo, learn these This Is the Most Tubular Slang Word Every Year From 1940 to Today.
Example: "I saw Johnny necking with your best girl, man, word from the bird."
Another one of those disses that could only have existed in the '50s. If a wet rag is somebody who's no fun, does that mean a dry rag would be a party animal? We're not sure.
Example: "Don't be a wet rag, let's go hit the clubs!"
Well when you put it that way, your closed fist that's heading towards my face sounds almost appealing.
Example: "Get ready, jerk, I'm about to give you a knuckle sandwich!"
Not exactly referring to a feline companion, in certain circles of artistic types and musicians, "cat" became a catch-all term for any kind of hip person.
Example: "That Miles Davis is one hip cat!"
Come on, snake, let's rattle
It's a way to ask someone if they want to dance without actually opening yourself up to rejection. If they say no, you can just pretend you're a herpetologist who thought the apple of your eye was also into reptiles.
Example: "Are they playing 'Rock Around the Clock?' I love this song. Come on snake, let's rattle."
Don't flip your wig
We're not sure what toupees were like in our grandfather's time, but, apparently, they were loose-fitting enough that there was a constant danger of them flying off their heads, especially during moments of excitement or agitation.
Example: "I've got something to tell you, and I don't think you'll like it. Just promise you won't flip your wig."
Bust a gut
The LOL of its time. Because sometimes you laugh, and sometimes you laugh so hard, it feels like your stomach is going to explode. If you still say this, you may want to brush up on the 40 Words That Will Instantly Reveal Your True Age.
Example: "Oh, my gosh, that movie was so funny, I nearly bust a gut."
Hunk of junk
When your car has a few too many miles on the odometer, and the engine sounds like a two-pack a day smoker, it may be on the fast track to the junkyard.
Example: "That's your car? Seriously? It's a hunk of junk!"
It's as if everybody who puts on a pair of glasses suddenly becomes one of Jim Henson's muppets. Seriously, doesn't Peepers sound like an adorable monster who lives next to Mr. Snuffleupagus?
Example: "What do you think of my new peepers? They're bifocals."
If something is far out or "out of sight," it's meant as a compliment. You approve of it. But only in the figurative sense. It's not literally outside your field of vision or defying gravity. And for more useful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Example: "Have you listened to the new Beatles record? It is far out, baby!"
When things aren't going your way and you're a little sad about it, that's a bummer. It comes from the phrase "bum rap," which means to be treated unfairly. A bummer is never deserved.
Example: "He cancelled our date again. What a bummer."
What's your bag?
We're not talking about luggage. Your bag symbolizes your problems, the mysterious annoyance that's making you so obviously upset.
Example: "Dude, you don't have to yell at me! What's your bag?"
Can you dig it?
Don't worry, nobody's asking you to grab a shovel and dig a hole. Digging something means you understand what's being said.
Example: "I get the last piece of pizza. Can you dig it?"
When Jimi Hendrix declared in the song "If 6 Was 9" that he was "gonna wave my freak flag high," he created a whole new way of announcing that you're the weirdest one in the room.
Example: "Oh, it's going to get wild tonight. I'm going to let me freak flag fly."
If you've opted to spend your day taking it easy and relaxing, then you are officially hanging loose.
Example: "I was going to go to the office today, but I think I'll just hang loose instead."
Yes, people in the 1960s had a whole lot of slang for the police. Still, why policemen were called the fuzz during the '60s is anybody's guess. Could it be the military style crew cuts that cops preferred during that decade? Possibly, but we may never know.
Example: "You better put that away unless you want to get busted by the Fuzz."
Lay it on me
It may sound like an invitation to be used as a human mattress, but the "it" being laid on you is actually more conversational than physical. "Lay it on me" is a groovy way of saying, "Tell me what's on your mind."
Example: "Do I want to hear your thoughts the Cold War? Lay it on me!"
It's a gas
The Rolling Stones probably weren't talking about 19th-century nitrous oxide parties—the slang's origin—when they sang about "a gas gas gas" in their hit song "Jumpin' Jack Flash." During the '60s, a gas was any activity likely to inspire laughter.
Example: "You gotta make it to my party tonight. It's gonna be a gas."
It has nothing to do with somebody's weight. This kind of heavy is all about emotional depth—something that weighs heavily on your soul.
Example: "Oh, man, that movie was heavy."
Money. Cash. Dinero. The green stuff. You gotta have some on you at all times.
Example: "I need a job, man. I'm almost out of bread."
When you're done and ready to get out of there, it's time to split. Not in a literal sense, of course. Your body isn't being ripped in half. We hope not, anyway.
Example: "Wish I could stick around, fellas, but I gotta split."
It originated in the '40s from jazz musicians, as an insult to anybody who wasn't on the cutting edge of musical trends. But, by the '60s, anybody who was a little too normal and mainstream could be accused of being square.
Example: "You wouldn't understand beatnik poetry, Dad. You're such a square."
Inspired by Goober Pyle, the lovable but not-all-that-bright character from the Andy Griffith Show, this slang term became a way to describe someone as less than intellectually gifted without being too mean about it. Because hey, we all loved Goober, right?
Example: "That Goober doesn't know what he's talking about. But whatever, his heart's in the right place."
Short for "fabulous," it was the preferred adjectives for everyone's favorite British invasion band, the Beatles. They weren't the Amazing Four or the Astonishing Four, they were the Fab Four. Anything that was so cool even Ringo would've liked it, that was nothing short of fab.
Example: "You filled your apartment with beanbag chairs? That is so fab."
It's not just a party, it's a shindig. It grew in popularity during the '60s because of a wildly popular TV show called Shindig!, where you could catch performances by hot artists like James Brown, the Beach Boys, and Tina Turner. So to describe your party as a shindig meant it was so groovy, Sonny and Cher might just show up.
Example: "You going to be at the shindig tonight? Be there or be square."
A snitch or informer who can't be trusted. What makes this slang so much fun is that it's a syntactic marvel. It can be used as a noun, verb, or adjective. A guy can be a fink, or he can be accused of finking.
Example: "That fink got me in so much trouble. I never want to see his finking face again!"
It's a bizarre way to ask someone to start a car, because obviously feet can't make a fist and are incapable of "punching" anything. But "press your foot on the car's accelerator" just doesn't have the same urgency.
Example: "We're late for the show! Punch it!"
Make the scene
It just sounded more romantic and groovy to say you were making the scene rather what was actually going on. Which was: you just showed up at a place and did a thing. What sounds better: "I made the scene at that club," or "I went dancing last night, stayed for about an hour, and then came home"?
Example: "It's the weekend, baby. We're going to make the scene downtown!"
When you want to say "steal" but that just sounds so harsh and unethical. "Five-finger discount" has a fun ring to it, and it doesn't even admit to a wrong-doing. Hey, I didn't "steal" anything—it was on discount. And by the way, I have all five of my original fingers, in case you were wondering.
Example: "I didn't technically buy that Crosby, Stills&Nash cassette. I got it at a five-finger discount, if you catch my drift."
Catch you on the flip-side
The other side of today is tomorrow, so to catch you on the flip side means to see you again tomorrow. Yeah, we know, it doesn't make sense to us either.
Example: "I have to run, but I'll catch you on the flip side."
Do me a solid
A solid is a favor because, um… favors aren't liquid? When you do someone a solid, you're helping them out in a big way.
Example: "Would you do me a solid and give me a ride to the airport?"
To dance, but to do so in an especially enthusiastic way. Ideally, while being accompanied by disco music.
Example: "That ABBA song makes me want to boogie down."
When something is presented, and then quietly taken away. A taunting word for a jovial denial.
Example: "Oh, you want a piece of gum? Sure, here you go. (pulls it away.) Psyche!"
Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid
When somebody is up in your business and they won't leave you alone, just tell them to stop dipping in your Kool-Aid. Your Kool-Aid, in this equation, is your business, and the dipper is the person who won't leave you alone.
Example: "I told you I don't want to talk about my divorce. Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid."
An authority figure. It could mean the police, the government, or even your parents. Anyone with the power to take your fun away.
Example: "I wish I was doing better, but the man is keeping me down."
He's not just a lovable dorky character in Meatballs. Being a spaz is a state of awkward, spastic, bumbling energy. If you're spazzing out, you have lost all control of your limbs and anything approaching rational thinking.
Example: "Whoa, I think you've had too much coffee. Don't be such a spaz!"
You're not ordering a side dish at a barbecue place. Rather, it's expression of approval.
Example: "Cool beans! I'd love to see a movie tonight."
10-4, good buddy
When you're talking to somebody on a CB radio and you want them to know you've heard what they just said. During the '70s, an actual CB radio was not required to use this slang. It wasn't just truckers who wanted to talk like truckers.
Example: "10-4, good buddy. I hear you loud and clear."
Take a chill pill
No such drug existed. The "chill pill" mentioned here is entirely figurative. However you do it, you need to calm down!
Example: "Hey, hey, take a chill pill, dude. You're going to get us all killed!"
If someone isn't all there, and their attention span is the equivalent of somebody floating through space, staring at nothing in particular, then they definitely qualify as a space cadet.
Example: "Take a look at that space cadet. He's in his own little world."
Out to lunch
Again, not a slang term to be taken literally. There's no eating involved. Instead, it connotes confusion. Whatever they're trying to understand makes no sense to them. They must've been out to lunch when it was explained.
Example: "I have no idea what any of that means. I'm out to lunch."
You want to call something bogus, but you don't have time or energy to pronounce the "gus" part.
Example: "He blew you off again? That's bogue."
When you want the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you ask for the skinny. Because, well, apparently the truth had a high metabolism in the '70s.
Example: "Yes, I want to know who she was with last night. Give me the skinny!"
To the max!
When something is taken to the extreme, and it couldn't possibly be more wild or crazy, you have reached the maximum level of awesomeness.
Example: "We're gonna have some fun tonight to the max!"
This slang has also been pronounced "party hearty," which makes a little more sense. You're partying with all of your heart. "Party-hardy" just sounds like you got two words to vaguely rhyme and called it a day. Whatever the real version, the meaning is the same. It's a night of partying that goes to the next level.
Example: "I need to blow off some steam. Let's party-hardy tonight!"
Bart Simpson made this famous, but hip kids were using it long before he came along. What it actually means is another question altogether. It's always meant in a derogatory way—"bent" implies damaged or "bent out of shape." Whatever the real translation, it's not a suggestion hurled towards people you enjoy.
Example: "Can I interest you in a timeshare property?" "Get bent!"
Long before a bald head was considered a sexy choice rather than a follicle challenge, people used to snicker at bald men. "Chrome dome" was meant to imply that your head was a shiny, metallic structure in which a symphony orchestra might perform. Not exactly a compliment.
Example: "Nice chrome dome, Kojak. I can see my reflection on your head!"
Keep on keepin ' on
Whatever you're doing right now, you should do more of it. Take it to an extra level of effort. Although the sentiment sounds like something that'd be shouted at you by a gym coach who wants you to give "110 percent," it's always delivered in a laid-back, good-vibes kinda way. Perhaps it's best represented by Bob Dylan in his '70s-era hit "Tangled Up in Blue," when he sang "The only thing I knew how to do/Was to keep on keepin' on."
Example: "We've got two more hours of driving before we get there. Just keep on keepin' on."
Drag means something very different in today's age. The word "drag" makes most people think of—based on sheer viewership figures—the hit TV show "RuPaul's Drag Race." But the '70s definition of drag was very different. If something was a drag, things weren't going your way. Life's complications had become overwhelming.
Example: "I can't stay at that job much longer. It's becoming such a drag."
Gag me with a spoon
We have the San Fernando Valley to thank for this gem. An expression for when you want to show disgust or disappointment, and it's not enough just to say "I disapprove." You're so disturbed that you literally want to test your gag reflex.
Example: "I can't believe she wore those shoes. Gag me with a spoon!"
A sign of approval and possibly even envy. If something is "choice," you have made the right decision.
Example: "Your mullet is looking choice today, my man."
It's opposite day! But only with this one word. If something's bad, that means it's good. But, confusingly, good does not mean bad. Good still means good, but bad means really good.
Example: "Just saw the baddest Trans Am down the block"
Bag your face
If your facial appearance leads something to be desired, perhaps you'd feel more comfortable with a brown paper bag on your head. Another contribution from the California Valley, who somehow became linguistic leaders during the '80s.
Example: "I have so many zits, my god, I should just bag my face."
When surfers describe something as gnarly, it means especially difficult or even dangerous. But in the '80s, gnarly became a shorthand for anything cool and exciting.
Example: "That Bill Murray movie was so gnarly!"
Have a cow
When you're getting a little too emotional or upset about something, you're having a cow. How exactly this cow is being had is open to interpretation. Are you giving birth to a cow? Well then, we would have to agree with Bart Simpson when he says, "Don't have a cow." Seriously. Don't do that. Today, of course, this is totally something that only older people say.
Example: "I'm just teasing you. Don't have a cow, man!"
What something has been uttered that is so obvious and apparent, there will be no duhs given.
Example: "Do you think growing a rat tail was maybe not my best life choice?" "No duh."
Example: "He's wearing jam shorts to church? Barf me out!"
You disagree with somebody, but have declined to go into details. "Not even" is a quick way of saying, "I think you're wrong, but I'm too lazy to get into a whole thing where I list my reasons." They may retort with "even," and the argument is officially over.
Example: "She's totally into you, dude." "Not even."
What's your damage?
This is not a sincere question. It's asked only when a person's "damage" has already been assessed and diagnosed. It's a mildly nicer way of saying, "You're not all there."
Example: "You ate that whole bag of chips by yourself? What's your damage?"
A sort of punctuation, either to what you've said or what somebody else said. Shouting "word" essentially means "I rest my case." If you add "…to your mother," well, that settles it. Word has been delivered to your mother, so don't even bother with a counter-argument!
Example: "This Cold War is making me really tense. Word to your mother!"
When something is gross but with a little extra—a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will—it's crossed over into grody territory. And when something is really grody, that's when it becomes grody to the max. You can't get more grody than that. We've reached maximum grodiness.
Example: "You're eating so much nacho cheese. It's grody to the max!"
The opposite of grody. To be tubular (or better still, totally tubular) is to be remarkable and breathtaking. It's more surfing slang, because as trucker slang was to the '70s, surfers were to the '80s.
Example: "The way he looks in parachute pants is totally tubular!"
Especially delicious food that you intend to chow down on with extreme enthusiasm. This slang was gifted to our culture by Pauly Shore, so use with extreme caution.
Example: "Mind if I help myself to the grindage in your fridge?"
It's time to leave, and by leave we mean "bounce."
Example: "Let's bounce!"
It's like you're a human campfire and all you needed was a little oxygen to stoke the flames. Okay, so we're probably over-explaining this one. But you get the point. When you're stoked, you're super-excited. You're a fire that's not about to burn out anytime soon.
Example: "I am so stoked for that KISS concert tonight!!"
Short for "radical," but really it has nothing to do with the actual definition of that word. Rad is not advocating for an extreme political or social change. You just think something is cool.
Example: "That new Huey Lewis&the News video is so rad!"
I heard that!
It may seem like something you'd say to an ear doctor during a hearing test, but no, it's actually a means of expressing empathy. Whatever the other person has said, you're letting them know that you've not only heard them but you understand them.
Example: "If I get one more parking ticket, I'm selling my car and buying a bicycle."
"I heard that!"
A declaration of intent to be unproductive. Because as everybody knows, you're not truly relaxed and being blissfully lazy until you have the same life priorities as a vegetable.
Example: "I don't have plans for the weekend. I'm just going to veg out 'til Monday."
If your wardrobe consisted of Polo or Izod shirts, and you owned at least one cloth belt, you were very likely a preppy. The insult was meant to imply that you dressed like someone who went to prep school, where most students come from wealthy families and have expensive wardrobes.
Example: "Nice clothes, preppy. Do you even own a shirt without a tiny alligator on it?"
When you've completely lost your temper and raised your voice to an unnecessarily aggressive tenor, that was said to be "going ballistic." It likely had its origins in ballistic missiles, though even the most out-of-control screaming guy could never cause as much damage as a weapon of mass destruction.
Example: "You should have seen him. He was so pissed, his face went red and then he just went ballistic."
All that and a bag of chips
A compliment of sorts. The person or thing being described is everything one could possibly hope for, and they come with a side dish. Because who doesn't want a snack for later?
Example: "She's not just cool. She's all that and a bag of chips."
Kick him to the curb
When it's not enough just to break up with somebody. You need to let them know, in the strongest possible terms, why you want them out of your life.
Example: "He did what? Oh, girl, you've got to kick him to the curb."
Your best bud and closest confidant. The guy or girl you count on and trust above all others. But not, ironically, the person most likely to make you dinner on a skillet.
Example: "Home skillet! It's about time you got here."
Talk to the hand.
Whatever the other person is trying to tell you has been rejected. You are no longer interested in conversing with them. If they want to continue anyway, well, they are welcome to direct their grievances towards your open palm.
Example: "Can I please explain why you're wrong about Tonya Harding?" "Talk to the hand!"
A sarcastic retort to a preposterous suggestion. "As if" imagines a ridiculous alternate reality in which the subject being discussed could actually happen. We can thank Clueless for this one.
Example: "He thinks we're going to get married and have a bunch of kids together. As if!"
When you're feeling so much exuberance but no real word in the English language seems sufficient enough to capture the full scale of your emotions.
Example: "I'm finally moving out of my parent's basement. Booyah!"
A guy with no money, no job, no prospects, and no class. Pretty much the lowest of the low. Also, they won't be getting any love from the R&B girl group TLC. Sorry, fellas.
Example: "I appreciate the offer for a date, but I have a strict no scrubs policy."
It's the '90s version of "psych." You think somebody is telling you the truth or agreeing with you, and then blammo, they hit you with the ol' reversal!
Example: "I think Spin Doctors are the best band of all time… NOT!"
Yada yada yada
Popularized by a timeless Seinfeld episode (season 8, episode 19), "yada yada yada" is filler slang: when someone is telling a story, and wants to gloss over a (generally extremely juicy) part, this phrase works as an easy, breezy bridge.
Example: "Well, we were engaged to be married, we bought the wedding invitations, and yada yada yada… I'm still single!" — George Costanza (Jason Alexander)
It's just the words "all right," but, you know, said by a cool kid.
Example: "Nah, I'm cool. I know it looks like I slept in a dumpster, but I'm aiight."
When you're just done with somebody and you want out of the conversation immediately. "Whatever" doesn't declare a winner or loser, just that you don't care anymore.
Example: "Okay, okay, I get it, you think you've got the best soul patch on the eastern seaboard. Whatever!"
If it's fly, it must be dope. Or as your grandfather might say, "The bee's knees." The dancers on In Living Color weren't called Fly Girls because they could levitate. They were just that awesome.
Example: "Your Vanilla Ice dance moves are totally fly!"
When your sentence need a little extra emphasis, this word will do the trick. It's an adjective that automatically adds three exclamation points.
Example: "I just watched the O.J. Simpson verdict, and I am hella surprised!"
This phrase comes from a popular meme at the time. Sorry, no, just kidding. We mean music video. Remember those? Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy With It" taught the world that the only way to dance was like you'd just downed two pots of coffee.
Example: "It's been a tough week at work. I need to get jiggy with it."
A greeting. When you mean to say "wassup" (i.e. "what's up with you?") but that just seems like too much mouth exercise.
Example: "'Sup?" "Nuthin'."
Weirdly, it's not (usually) meant as an insult. If somebody is bugging, they're behaving in unfamiliar ways that concern you. You want them to stop, or at least explain why they're acting so crazy.
Example: "You okay? Why are you bugging out?"
Open up a can of…
Somebody got on your wrong side and they're going to regret it. It doesn't necessarily mean a physical scuffle is on the horizon. That can of butt-kicking might just translate as a verbal lashing.
Example: "He broke my GameBoy, so I'm about to open up a can on him."
You go, girl!
It sounds like you're throwing somebody out of your house, but it's really a celebratory cheer. It's the hip person's way to say, "I'm so proud of you!!"
Example: "You got that job promotion at Blockbuster? You go, girl!"
Bust a move
You didn't just dance in the '90s, you busted a move. Why a dance move needed to be busted, like a common criminal, is a mystery for the ages.
Example: "I've been working hard all week. I'm ready to hit the clubs and bust a move!"
When somebody was accused of being da bomb, it wasn't because they had dynamite strapped to their chest. Da bomb was always a compliment, an expression of excitement and support. And it didn't always have to be a person. An event, a new car, even a delicious meal could all be da bomb.
Example: "That party didn't stop till sunrise. It was da bomb!"
The one piece of hip-hop slang that even people who'd never heard a rap song could say semi-convincingly. One of Snoop Dogg's most famous utterances, roughly translated as "For sure."
Example: "Do I love spending time at the Gap with you? Foshizzle!"
A version of "I'm sorry" that doesn't technically include an apology. Even if it isn't meant to be sarcastic, it always ends up sounding that way.
Example: "Oh, you didn't want me to eat all your leftover pizza? My bad!"
A punctuation for when someone has just been supremely insulted and it needs further acknowledgment. It's a much shorter way of saying, "That thing that was just said about you was devastating in its satiric power and I can't see any feasible way you'll be able to recover. My condolences but not really."
Example: "Two wrongs don't make a right, take your parents as an example."
As opposed to "whack," which is the sound of something or someone getting hit. Short for wacky, wack is all about a deranged mental state.
Example: "You're going to move in with her after one date? Dude, that is wack!"