Slang. We all use it, generally without thinking much about it. But what is it? (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold.)
The dictionary defines slang as the least formal of speech. It is characterized by using more metaphors and vivid language and being more playful than ordinary speech. Slang also might be vulgar or socially unacceptable.
Slang has been around since the beginning of language. It might be used as professional jargon, as an euphemism, or as a way for young people to communicate.
Like most decades, the 1910s had its own particular slang. Some of it originated during World War I. Most of it is still in use today, although the meanings in some cases have changed.
1910s Slang No Longer in Use
Slang is, by nature, short lived. Here are some examples of 1910s slang that died with the decade.
- Blotto (a drunk)
- Dilly (excellent)
- Duck soup (something easy)
- Goldbrick (a lazy person, someone who doesn’t do a fair share of work)
- Hoosegow (jail or prison)
- Meathook (a hand)
- On the make (being flirtatious with the opposite sex)
- Short (a streetcar)
- Simp (foolish, stupid person)
- Steam up (build up, agitate)
- Vigorish (high interest on a loan)
But not all 1910 slang words have disappeared from our vocabulary.
Slang that Survived the Test of Time
Once a slang word enters the dictionary, it becomes legitimatized, although it may still remain informal speech. When this happens, everyone knows what the slang word means, not just the group which originated it.
Here are some 1910s slang terms we still use:
- Beat it (to leave)
- Bimbo (although in the 1910s it meant a tough guy)
- Boner (although it meant a great mistake)
- Cabin fever
- Get on your nerves
- Joint (a questionable business)
- Lay off
- Nickle and dime
We still use a few slang words that originated even earlier in the 20th century. Here are some examples:
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Called out on the carpet
- Double cross
- Fall for
- Frog in the throat
- Read the riot act
- Screw (to harm or cheat)
- Stir crazy
- Stood me up
Finally, here are 15 words that were new to the lexicon in 1912:
- Blues (a form of music and to feel depressed)
- Churchillian (referring to Winston Churchill)
- Jazz (first to mean excitement and in 1915 a form of music)
- Oreo cookie
- Quantum theory
Updated: 15 October 2020