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1940s Slang: Hepcats and All That Jive

Updated on August 3, 2012

What is Jive?

Jive is black street vernacular that migrated its way into the youth culture along with swing music and jitterbugging during the late 1930s.

Swing musicians were the main bearers of this colorful way of speaking, and the mainstream youth ate it up. What's not to like about Cab Calloway's speech?

Although jive didn't last much past the 1950s, there's no doubt that it paved the way for the hipster and beat generations of the late 1950s, the hippie movement of the 1960s, and even hip-hop and rap in the the 1980s and 90's.


Man dressed in zoot suit style
Man dressed in zoot suit style | Source

Good Things in the 1940s

Every generation comes up with ways of describing good things, and the 1940s was no different. Who can forget smooth and hep to the jive? But there were many other slang words pertaining to good stuff. These adjectives were:

alreet, anxious, back, brutal, cagey, cheezle-peezle, darby, eager, elite, even, Fifth Avenue, frantic, geetchie, glassy, gone, groovy or grooby, hard, home-cooked, hot stuff, icy, in there, in the groove, killer-diller, kopasetic, luscious (my personal favorite!), lush, mad mellow, messy, murder, neat, on fire, out of the oven, out of this world, potent, rare, reet, righteous, rugged, sharp, shiny, shrewd, shanky, sock, spoony, super-duper, supersolid, supercolossal, the most, vanny, and wizard.


Zoot Suit Riot?

The "jive" speak of the 1940s was also greatly influenced by bodily associations or identification with one's clothing -- hence, eyes were blinkers, a tie or collar was a choker, and shoes were kicks.

Other slang for clothing and body parts were:

  • belt: squeezer
  • boots: treaders
  • hand: meat hook
  • hat: dicer, sky piece, chimney (top hat)
  • jewelry (ostentatious): headlights
  • pants: pegs, striders
  • pearl necklace: tears
  • pocket: coffee bag, hideaway, insider, kick, mouse
  • tie: choker
  • shoes: barkers, kicks, stomps, waders
  • suit: racket jacket, vine
  • sunglasses: cogs
  • suspenders: pulleys, straps
  • teeth: crumb crunchers
  • zoot suit: a wild-colored suit with full knees and pegged ankles, hat with a four-inch brim and feather, and a long gold watch chain lower than the jacket hem


World War II Slang

World War II gave birth to lots of slang brought home from the battlefield. Anti-authoritarianism is ever present in the following youthful military slang of the period:

Battlefield Slang

  • badgy: an underage enlistee
  • blotto: dead
  • check out: to die
  • go-away kiss: bullet
  • grease ape: mechanic
  • juice jerker:electrician
  • in the drink: downed at sea
  • lead pill: bullet
  • meat wagon: ambulance
  • popsickle: motorcycle
  • roller skate: a tank

Mess Hall Slang:

  • bags of mystery: sausages
  • black strap: coffee
  • chicken berry: egg
  • cook: hash burner
  • cow juice: milk
  • dishwasher: pearl diver
  • goldfish: canned salmon
  • grass: salad
  • looseners: prunes
  • red paint: ketchup
  • slop house: mess hall


Girls and Boys

Girls and boys had their own vernacular to describe the opposite sex... whether they were appealing, or the opposite.

Girls spoke of attractive boys as drooly, groovy, heaven sent, and swoony. A girl's true love could be her big moment, bunny boy, flutter, Romeo, or S.P. (Secret Passion) -- while less-than-attractive boys were known as dogfaces, void coupons, or a stupor man.

Boys called cute girls angel cake, bim, bree, butterfly, dilly, fly chicks, pigeons, or firm and round and fully packed. Not-too-cute girls were described as battle, crate, or scrag.


Sources

  • Dalzell, Tom. Flappers 2 Rappers:American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1996.


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    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey, Blue Sidewinder! Great to see you :^) and thanks for the compliment. I plan to do some more of these decade-specific slang hubs... I like them a lot, too!

    • Blue Sidewinder profile image

      Evan Eulie 5 years ago

      Excellent hub. I love history, especially when it pertains to language trends and slang. Very groovy.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, Docmo. I had a lot of fun writing this one, too. The 40's must have been one crazy time! Thanks so much for voting... it's always great to see you. :^)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      As a student of language and its foibles I love this hub. You've taught me a lots of 40's slang with a period back history, Rachel. This is really informative, fun and a shade nostalgic too. voted up!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi, tillson! Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment... in my opinion, the lyrical quality of jive is what makes it so compelling. Great to hear that there are others out there with the same love for it. Thanks for the votes, they are appreciated. :-)

      I may add a section on hip vs hep as well... should make for a lively discussion!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      I voted this up and interesting because you've captured a piece of history for everyone to read. Jive did carry into the fifties and its definitely a part of who we were. You've given some background and added some words with their definitions so a new generation can read what was said.