1950s Slang

by Candace Rich6 Comments — Updated May 6, 2024

Welcome to 1950s slang. Slang has always been the province of the young. Words come in and out of favor in direct proportion to the speed with which they travel through the age ranks. Once college kids know that high school kids are using a term, it becomes passe. And seniors don’t want to sound like freshman and so forth.

Once a word finds its way to mainstream media or worse, is spoken by parents, no young person with any self-respect would use it.

1950s Slang words

1950s slang wasn’t particularly colorful compared to other eras. The slang of the 1960s, with its drug and protest culture, was a paradise of slang. In the 1950s, hot-rodders and Beats were a source of inspiration.

Some of the slang terms below were actually insults that are still used today. People would use phrases like “square” to mock someone who was conventional or uncool, or call someone a “drip” if they were considered dull or boring.

Many of these words, in fact most words can have “ville” added to them. There was coolsville, deadsville, Doodyville, squaresville, weirdsville and so forth.

Oh and here’s a piece of news for you. “Cool” was a 50’s word. It was used as an idiom but said it a bit differently. Today it is said in a more clipped way. We tended to drag out the pronunciation. But we had it first; we were the originals.

Cool Cats and Daddies – In the 1950s, it was all about being a “cool cat.” This term was used to describe someone who was stylish, confident, and in the know. Picture James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” – the epitome of a cool cat. And let’s not forget the “daddies,” who were essentially the older, wiser cool cats.

Greased Lightning – Now, if you were a “greaser,” you were the epitome of cool. These guys were known for their slicked-back hair, leather jackets, and love for rock ‘n’ roll. Think Danny Zuko from “Grease.” with his ducktail haircut.

Where Did It All Come From?

The 1950s was also the era of the Beat Generation. Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg had a profound impact on the slang of the time.

1950s Slang Photo
Credits: Allen Ginsberg’s website

Phrases like “beatnik” (a term for someone who followed the Beat Generation) and “dig it” (meaning to understand or appreciate) became part of the everyday lingo.

Jack Kerouac
Credits: jackkerouac’s website

Slang in the 1950s varied from region to region. For example, in the East Coast, you might hear someone call a car a “jalopy” while in the West, it could be a “bomb“. The diversity of slang added a rich layer to the cultural tapestry of the time.

Slang Listed Alphabetically

In the 1950s Slang Dictionary below, I have tried to indicate which group used a term or at least it’s derivation, if warranted. And there’s a separate page for Kookie Talk. This is the oft imitated lingo of TV’s most famous carpark from 77 Sunset Strip.

If you don’t find the word you’re looking for, you might also want to check out the 60s slang page.

A

  • Achin’ for a breakin’ – Threatening someone to fight (courtesy of James Gresham)
  • Actor – Show-off
  • Agitate the Gravel – To leave (hot-rodders)
  • Ain’t that a bite – That’s too bad (thanks to Ellie Kronberg for this)
  • Ankle-biter – A child
  • Anti-frantic – Poised, calm (thanks to Jim Hip for this one)
  • Antsville – Congested,busy (thanks to Dee Sesler for this one)
  • Ape – Used with go – to explode or be really mad
  • Apple butter – Smooth talk or flattery (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Are you writing a book? – You’re asking too many questions

B

  • Baby – Cute girl, term of address for either sex
  • Back seat bingo – Necking in a car
  • Bad – something that’s really good (courtesy of Leah E)
  • Bad news – Depressing person
  • Bake biscuits – To make records (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Ballad – A love letter (yep, thank Jim Hip)
  • Bash – A party
  • Bash ears – talking too much (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Beat feet – Depart quickly
  • Beatnik – a member of the beat culture (courtesy of Dennis Evers)
  • Bee’s knees – something wonderful and good (courtesy of Roberta Butticci)
  • Bent eight – A V-8 engine (hot rodders)
  • Big Daddy – An older person
  • Big tickle – Really funny
  • Binoculars – Glasses (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Bird Dog – Someone who tries to steal your girl (courtesy of Lucien Laventure)
  • Bit – An act
  • Bitchin – really good or fun (courtesy of Bob Wayne)
  • Blast – A good time
  • Blast from the past – Remembering something from the past like a song (courtesy of J Gross)
  • Blow off – To defeat in a race (hot-rodders)
  • Bobbed – Shortened
  • Bogus – False, bad, poor, fake, untrue (thanks to Joran Mueller for this)
  • Boss – Great
  • Bread – Money
  • Bug – “You bug me” – to bother
  • Burn rubber – To accelerate hard and fast (hot-rodders)
  • Bust a gut – Laugh very hard (thanks to Kerrimoon)

C

  • Candy ass – Wimp or easily scared
  • Cast an eyeball – To look
  • Cat – A hip person (Beats)
  • Chariot – Car (Beats)
  • Cheaters – Sunglasses (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Cherry – Originally, an unaltered car. Later, anything attractive (hot-rodders, originally)
  • Chili – A good deal (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Chop – mild put down in a good natured way (courtesy of Lucien Laventure)
  • Chrome-plated – Dressed up (hot-rodders, originally)
  • Church key – can opener (pop top cans weren’t invented till 1963) (thanks to Chase Meyer for this)
  • Circled – Married
  • Classy chassis – Great body
  • Cloud 9 – Really happy
  • Clutched – Rejected
  • Clyde – Term of address, usually for a normal person (Beats)
  • Come on snake, let’s rattle – ask a girl to dance or a guy to fight (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Cooler (noun) – jail, detention, or other punishment (courtesy of Grace Ghali)
  • Cook, cookin’ – Doing it well
  • Cookaboo – what a cop might call a juvenile offender {from movie “Rebel without a cause”} (thanks to Ursula Nizalowski)
  • Cooking with gas – finally doing it the easy or best way (thanks to Karl for this)
  • Cookie – a person, “man that cat is one cool cookie” (courtesy of Vicki Lipira)
  • Cool – Indefinable quality that makes something or someone extraordinary
  • Cooler – jail or other place where you feel locked up
  • Cool it – Relax, settle down
  • Cooties – Germs/imaginary infestations of the truly un-cool (courtesy of Jaena Campos)
  • Cowabunga – (courtesy of Dr. Bob)
  • Cranked – Excited (Beats)
  • Crazy – “Like crazy,man” Implies an especially good thing
  • Cream – Originally, to dent a car. Later, to badly damage (hot-rodders, originally)
  • Crooner – male singer who sings love songs (thank you Sophia Escutia for this)
  • Cruising – Driving around looking for action
  • Cruisin’ for a bruisin’ – Looking for trouble (thanks to James Gresham for this)
  • Cube – A normal person
  • Curtain Climbers – small children (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Cut the gas – Be quiet!
  • Cut out – Leave
  • Cut a rug – To dance (courtesy of James Gresham)

D

  • D.A. – “Ducks Ass” a men’s hair style that had a curl on the forehead (thanks to J Gross for this)
  • Daddy-O – Term of address (Beats)
  • D.D.T. (Drop Dead Twice) – Response: What, and look like you?
  • Deck of Luckies – pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes (thanks to Timothy Heins for this)
  • Deuce – A 1932 Ford (hot-rodders)
  • Dibs – A claim – as in “got dibs” on that seat
  • Dig – To understand; to approve
  • Dolly – Cute girl
  • Don’t have a cow – Don’t get so excited
  • Don’t flip your wig – Don’t get so excited
  • Dough – Money (thanks to Harper Calico for this)
  • Drag – (hot-rodders) A short car race; (Beats) A bore
  • Dreamy or Dreamboat – a really cute guy (thanks to Kerrimoon for this)
  • Drowning – nothing is going right or boredom (thanks to Ellie Kronberg)
  • Duck Butt or D.A. – Hairstyle of greasers where hair in back is combed to the middle, then with end of comb, make a middle part.
  • Due backs – Pack of cigarettes (courtesy of Jim Hip)

E

  • Earthbound – Reliable
  • Earth pads – Shoes (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Easy – A girl who “puts out”
  • Epistle – Letter
  • Eureka – an epiphany or sudden awareness
  • Eyeball – to look around (courtesy of Ellie Kronberg)

F

  • Fab – The best of something
  • Fag – used in UK meaning cigarette (courtesy of Julia Michna)
  • Fake Out – A bad date
  • Fast – Someone who was sexually active
  • Fat City – A great thing or place; Happy
  • Fink – someone who tells on you, usually to the police (courtesy of Jeff Cook)
  • Fire Up – Start your engine (hot-rodders)
  • Flat out – Fast as you can
  • Flat-top – Men’s hairstyle. A crewcut which is flat across the top
  • Flick – A movie
  • Flip – To get very excited
  • Flip-top – A convertible car
  • Flip Top Box – A car with a retractable hardtop (courtesy of Carol Allen)
  • Flip Your Lid – To go crazy, as in “He must’ve flipped his lid.” (courtesy of Carolyn Tomlins)
  • Floor it – Push the accelerator to the floor (hot-rodders)
  • Flutter bum – Good looking guy (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Fracture – To amuse
  • Fream – Someone who doesn’t fit in
  • Frat – Someone who is “in” and “popular” (thanks to Janis Uglis for this)
  • Frosted – Angry
  • Fuzz – police (thanks to Phil for this one)
  • Fuzzy duck – a girl with a short haircut (thanks to Jasmine Lindholm for this one)

G

  • Gangbusters – outstandingly excellent or successful (thanks to William McCabe for this)
  • Gas (it was a gas) – fun, a good time (thanks to Mario Sosa for this)
  • Germ – a pest or annoying person (thanks to Jim Hip for this)
  • Get Bent! – Disparaging remark as in “drop dead”
  • Get with it – Understand
  • Gig – Work, job (Beats)
  • Give me a bell – Call me on the phone (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Ginchiest) – Cool, hip, admired by others(courtesy of Lucien)
  • Go ape – Get very excited
  • Go for pinks – A drag race where the stakes are the car’s pink slip (hot-rodders)
  • Gone – He’s a real gone cat: knowledgeable about hip stuff (courtesy of Fred Bluford)
  • Goof – Someone who makes mistakes
  • Goopy – Messy
  • Goose it – Accelerate the car fully (hot-rodders)
  • Got the zorros – Feeling nervous (courtesy of Jasmine Lindholm)
  • Greaser – A guy with tons of grease in his hair, which later came to describe an entire group of people. Yes, John Travolta in Grease.
  • Gringles – Worries (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Grody – Sloppy, messy or dirty
  • Grouse – a surfer (thanks to Caitlyn P for this one)
  • Grundy – A decision, neither good nor bad (courtesy of Jim Hip) also gross or disgusting (courtesy of Kerrimoon)

H

  • Hang – As in “hang out” which means to do very little
  • Harley Rat – a crummy, not uncool, kind of “junky” person (thanks to Emma Weibel for this)
  • Haul ass – Drive very fast (hot-rodders)
  • Heat – Police (Beats)
  • Heater – a gun, a hold over from ’40s gangster movies (thanks to Priscilla Farnell)
  • Hep – With it, cool. Someone who knows the situation.
  • Hey bean – Hello! (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Hip – Someone who is cool, in the know. Very good.
  • Hipster – Same as above
  • Hissy fit – an angry outburst, losing it (courtesy of Ellen Robertson)
  • Hit the road – time to leave (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Hood – Bad boys, rode motorcycles, wore leather jackets (courtesy of Richard Busch)
  • Hoopie knob – A knob on the steering wheel that allowed for one handed steering… (courtesy of Harol Marshall)
  • Hopped up – A car modified for speed (hot-rodders)
  • Horn – Telephone
  • Hot Mama – cute or sexy girl (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Hottie – A very fast car (hot-rodders)
  • Hunk of junk – Broken down car

I

  • Ice it – Forget it or don’t do it
  • Illuminations – Good ideas, thoughts
  • I’ll clue you – I’ll fill you in (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Itchin’ for a switchin’ – threatening a fight (courtesy of James Gresham)
  • In a jiffy – in a hurry, I’ll do it now (courtesy of Dana Weiss)
  • Ivy Leaguer – Pants style. Also any person who attended an Ivy League college

J

  • Jacked Up – Car with raised rear end. (hot-rodders)
  • Jacketed – Going steady
  • Jazzed – Happy about something, excited
  • Jelly Roll – Men’s hair combed up and forward on both sides, brought together in the middle of the forehead.
  • Jets – Smarts, brains
  • Joe Doe – Male blind date (courtesy of Jim Hip)

K

  • Keen – Good, cool, great
  • Keeno – Same as “keen” but usually used with neeto(courtesy of Char Loree)
  • Keeper – Parent or good friend you keep (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Kibosh – stopped (courtesy of Dee Sesler)
  • Kick – A fun or good thing; Also, a fad
  • Kicks – Another name for shoes (courtesy of Poppa John)
  • Kill – To really impress
  • Kitten – Young and inexperienced girl (courtesy of Kimberly Claiborne)
  • Knock-out – A really good looking girl (thanks Ray Cartier for this one)
  • Knowin – Something understood (thanks James H. for this one)
  • Knuckle sandwich – A fist in the face
  • Kookie – Nuts, in the nicest possible way

L

  • Later, also later, gator – Goodbye. See ya later, alligator. Response: after while crocodile.
  • Lay a patch – To accelerate so rapidly that you leave a patch of rubber on the road.
  • Lay dead – To wait or pause (thanks to Jim Hip)
  • Lay on – To give (Beats)
  • Lid – Hat (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Lighter – A crew cut
  • Lighting up the tilt sign – Someone gets caught lying (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Like crazy; like wow – Really good, better than cool
  • Little monsters – Kids or siblings “before Lady Gaga” (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Loaded – drunk (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Lousy (adjective) – lots of ‘she was lousy with diamonds’ (thanks to Karla Starkenberg for this)
  • Low – Sad or depressed (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Lumpy – mediocre (courtesy of Jim Hip)

M

  • Machine – A car (hot-rodders)
  • Made in the shade – Success guaranteed
  • Make out – A kissing session
  • Make the scene – To attend an event or activity
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch – From TV Westerns. Usually used to get a storyteller back on track.
  • Mickey Mouse – Something dumb
  • Mirror warmer – A piece of pastel fabric (often cashmere) tied around the rear view mirror. A 50s version of the Medieval wearing your lady’s colors.
  • Moldy – A bad or mean teacher (courtesy of Jasmine Lindholm)
  • Most – A in “the most” – high praise usually of the opposite sex

N

  • Neat or Neato – Really cool or good, sometimes used with “keeno” (courtesy of Janet Lucas)
  • Necker Knob – A knob on the steering wheel that allowed for one handed steering… (courtesy of Carolyn Tomlins)
  • Necking – Making out, kissing, petting (1st base only) (thanks again Ray Cartier)
  • Negative perspiration – something that’s easy (thanks again Jasmine Lindholm)
  • Nerd – Same as now. Bill Gates without the money.
  • Nest – A hair-do
  • Nifty – good, cool or great (thanks to Dana Weiss for this one)
  • Nod – Drift off to sleep
  • Nosebleed – As in hey, nosebleed – hey, stupid. Not a compliment!
  • No sweat – No problem
  • Nowhere – Opposite of cool. Nowheresville was a boring, bad place to be. (Beats)
  • Nuggets – Loose change

O

  • Obtuse – A person that is annoyingly insensitive and hard to understand (thank you Sophia Escutia for this)
  • Odd ball – Someone a bit off the norm
  • On pills – Dieting or in need of dieting (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • On the hook – In love (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Off the line – Start of a drag race (hot-rodders)
  • On a trip for biscuits (courtesy of Liz Seeger)
  • On the stick – Pulled together. Bright, prepared…

P

  • Packardbaker – When Packard and Studebaker merged this is what the new cars were called (courtesy of Steve Roberts)
  • Pad – Home
  • Panic-and-a-half – Funny joke (courtesy of Jasmine Lindholm)
  • Paper shaker – Cheerleader or Pom Pom girl
  • Parking – Making out in the car, necking (thanks to Linda Miller and Ray Cartier for this)
  • Party pooper – No fun at all
  • Passion Pit – Drive-in movie theater
  • Peachy (Peachy Keen) – Unusually good or fine (courtesy of Kaitlynn Leary)
  • Pedal Pushers – the 1950s version of capri pants(courtesy of Michael Wilkerson)
  • Peel Out – To accelerate hard and fast (hot-rodders)
  • Peel a Wheel – same as Peel Out (thanks to James Gresham for this)
  • Peepers – Glasses
  • Pegged trousers – pants cut full in the waist and thigh area, and tapering to a cuff or gather at the ankle (thanks to Flora Piterak)
  • Pegged sleeves – to pin your shirt sleeves tight to enhance the look of your muscles (thanks again James Gresham)
  • Petting – Necking with some light foreplay, touching (courtesy of Ray Cartier)
  • Phone (verb) – to call someone (courtesy of Chase Meyer)
  • Pile up Z’s – Get some sleep
  • Pinky’s out of jail – Your slip is showing (courtesy of Jasmine Lindholm)
  • Pinned – in grade school “going steady” in college more serious (courtesy of Lexi)
  • Pissah – Mostly in Massachusetts means great or awesome (courtesy of Charlie OFD)
  • Pooper – No fun at all
  • Pop the Clutch – Release the clutch pedal quickly so as to get a fast start
  • Pound – Beat up
  • PowerGlide – 1949-53 Chevy auto transmissions slipped a lot (courtesy of Glenn Chapman & David Jacklin)
  • Punch it – Step on the gas (hot-rodders)
  • Put a lid on it – Stop talking; shut up (thanks to Ray Cartier for this)
  • Put an egg in your shoe and beat it – Go away (thanks to Jasmine Lindholm for this)
  • Put down – To say bad things about someone

Q

  • Queen – A popular girl (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Quentin quail – Underage girl “San Quentin quail”
  • Quote it – To repeat yourself (thanks to Jim Hip again)

R

  • Radioactive – Very popular
  • Rag Top – A convertible car
  • Rap – To tattle on someone (Beats)
  • Rattle your cage – Get upset
  • Raunchy – Messy or gross in some other way
  • Razz my berries – Excite or impress me
  • Real gone – Very much in love. Also unstable. Hmm, there’s a difference?
  • Reds – The Communists
  • Right-o – Okay
  • Rock – A diamond or a type of music
  • Rockin’ – something that was good, a term of approval (thanks to J Gross)
  • Rocket – A car (hot-rodders)
  • Rod – A car (hot-rodders)
  • Round Heels – An easy woman (heels rounded by tipping backward into bed) (courtesy of anonymous)
  • Royal shaft – Badly or unfairly treated
  • Rug Rats – Small children (thanks again Kerrimoon)
  • Rumble – A fight among gangs(thanks to Lucien Laventure and Caitlyn P for this)

S

  • Scream – Go fast
  • Screamer – A hot rod
  • Scratch out – To accelerate hard and fast (thanks to James Gresham for this)
  • Shades – sun glasses (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Shaft or shafted – Getting a bad deal (courtesy of Ray Cartier)
  • Shiner – a black eye (courtesy of Carissa)
  • Shoot low, they’re riding Shetlands – Be careful
  • Shot down – Failed
  • Shuck, shuckster – A deceiver, liar or cheat
  • Sides – Vinyl records
  • Sing – To tattle or inform on someone (Beats)
  • Sit on it – loosely means “up your keister” popularized by the TV show “Happy Days” (courtesy of Wim Leen)
  • Slodge – A friend (thanks to Jasmine Lindholms, again)
  • Snogging – Kissing.. And only Kissing! (thanks to Kevin Phillips)
  • Snow job – an attempt to deceive or persuade (thanks to Ellen Robertson)
  • Soc’s – short for ‘socials’ the “in” crowd opposite of ‘greasers’ (thanks to Gary Scott & Scout Cahilig)
  • Sounds – Music
  • Souped up – A car modified to go fast
  • Spaz – Someone who is uncoordinated. A clutz.
  • Split – Leave
  • Split a wig – To beat someone up (thanks to Kerrimoon for this one)
  • Square – A regular, normal person. A conformist.
  • Stacked – A woman with large er, ah…you know, well endowed.
  • Stack up – To wreck a car (hotrodder)
  • Steady – Continuous, knowledge or doing something (thanks to James H. for this addition)
  • Stomps – a social group that dressed in western wear (thanks to Dennis Cox for this addition)
  • Submarine races – While waiting for the submarines to race, which might take quite awhile :>) couples found creative ways of killing the time.
  • Subterranean – A hipster. Used by both Ginsberg and Kerouac. (Beats)
  • Suicide Knob – A knob on the steering wheel to make turning easier (thank you Carolyn Tomlins for this one)
  • Supermurgitroid – cool or with it (thanks to Dee Sesler for this one)
  • Swell – Great, good or wonderful. Can also be used sarcastically (courtesy of Korrine Olsen)
  • Swinging – Lively, exciting, fun and fashionable (courtesy of Chase Meyer)

T

  • Take a long walk on a short pier – a derogatory request (courtesy of J Gross)
  • Take a picture – to someone who is staring at you (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • Tank – A large sedan (usually driven by parents)
  • Tear ass – Drive (or go) very fast
  • That’s close – Something wrong or not true
  • Thin one – Dime – where “one thin dime” comes from (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Think Fast – Usually said right before someone threw something at you
  • Threads – Clothes
  • Three on the Tree – Stick shift on the side of the steering column (courtesy of Wendy Ogden)
  • Tight – Good friends or drinking too much (thanks to Peter Fuller)
  • Tops – Something that is the best, better (thanks to Kenneth Lauer)
  • Total – To completely destroy, most often in reference to a car

U

  • Unborn – Naive (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • Unreal – Exceptional
  • Upchuck – Vomit or throw up (courtesy of Kerrimoon)

V

  • Vacant – Uncertain or a really dumb person (courtesy of Jim Hip)

W

  • Wail – Go fast
  • Wazoo – Your rear end
  • Weed – A cigarette
  • Wet rag – Someone who’s just no fun
  • What’s buzzin, cuzzin – What’s new?
  • What’s the story, morning glory – What’s happening? (courtesy of Kerrimoon)
  • What’s your tale, nightingale – What’s the story?
  • Wheels – A car (courtesy of Ray Cartier)
  • Wheelie – Lift the car’s front wheels off the ground by rapid acceleration
  • Wicked – accentuates a word like wicked cool or wicked pissah (thanks again CharlieOFD)
  • Wig chopped – a hair cut (thanks again Dee Sesler)
  • Word from the bird – The truth (Beats)

Y

  • Yoot – A young sibling that is older then a ankle biter (courtesy of Jim Hip)
  • You make the king’s jive – Your English is very good
  • You can’t win ’em all – a sporting term meaning win some lose some (thanks to Penny)
  • Yuck (Yucky) – annoyance, displeasure, or anything gross (thanks to Ginge for this one)

Z

  • Z’s (get some z’s) – Get some sleep or shut-eye (courtesy of Ray Cartier)
  • Zorros – To have the jitters (courtesy of Jim Hip)

Think of one I missed? Send it to me and I’ll credit the addition to you! (Please mention if you think it would fit better in 1950s Slang or 1960s Slang)

6 thoughts on “1950s Slang”

Leave a Comment