You’d think with all the technological progress, outdated slang would have no place in the modern world, but you’d be wrong. Some slang words from bygone eras are just begging to make a comeback.
1. Back slang it
Back slang was a secret language developed by unethical butchers and thieves to speak among themselves privately. Usually, this involved speaking the words backward with the last letter being pronounced as its own letter. As an example, “back slang” becomes “kay-cab gee-nals”. So, the phrase “back slang it” meant to use the backdoor of the house for thieves. Now you might use the term to escape that creepy guy from Tinder you blew off.
2. Butter upon bacon
This Victorian phrase was used to chastise excessive extravagance, similar to other phrases of the time like “paint the lily” or “gild refined gold.” For modern usage, “butter on bacon” may sound a bit less pretentious.
3. Canceled stamp
In the ’20s, this phrase referred specifically to women, but we think a modern upgrade of it referring to anyone who’s a wallflower, boring or a drag on the party.
Literally, “damned if I know.” How are we not still using this Victorian slang?
5. Dixie fried
To beatniks — and Carl Perkins and the Rockabilly movement — getting “dixie fried” meant getting drunk. Now, it might mean over-indulging at a country music concert.
In addition to a pomegranate and clove soap from The Natural Bar Soap Company, enthuzimuzzy is the term a Victorian era YouTube commenter might use to mock the millions of viewers of the latest cat video blowing up your Facebook timeline… they enthusiastically love it.
7. Focus your audio
A beatnik term that sounds like it could have been spoken by any millennial, well, maybe a particularly geeky audiophile millennial, but still. As the name implies, it simply means to focus and pay attention to what is being said, a sentiment that seems to span generations.
8. Gas pipes
Victorian slang for extra-tight trousers. Hello, skinny jeans! Everything old really is new again.
9. Giggle water
During the Jazz Age, this referred to something people weren’t allowed to have thanks to Prohibition. Telling your pals you’re off to grab some giggle water sounds a lot better than admitting you’re going to get wasted, no?
10. Glad rags
In the past, glad rags were the formal, complicated party clothes of the Victorian era. If you were a well-to-do lady, you needed the Victorian equivalent of a pit crew to get you geared up for the ball. Now, thankfully, clothing is much, much simpler. Glad rags are still party clothes — minus the pit crew unless you’re Kim Kardashian.
11. Got the morbs
The temporary melancholy of the past is the status update of the future. This term can definitely be dusted off and put to good use in social media. #morbs
The Roaring Twenties had two meanings for this: a gas-guzzling car or a second-rate racehorse. In the 1940s, it might have referred to someone who smoked marijuana. So… I guess you can take your pick.
In the 1920s, this was akin to calling BS on something. But it doesn’t get much better when you’re calling “fowl” than to refer to something that actually doesn’t exist?
If you were a street-savvy city dweller in the ’20s, you probably took a jitney cab to get where you were going. Named after the slang term for a nickel (the original cost of the fare), these illegal cabs sometimes ran regular routes like a bus. These days, we can use it to refer to services like Uber or Lyft.
Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1931, this word is a portmanteau of shudder and jitter. For instance: “She juddered at the idea of a Josh Groban/Insane Clown Posse Christmas album.”
16. Know your onions
First appearing in Harper’s Bazaar in the early ’20s among a set of similar phrases, to know your onions (or apples; or oats; or sweet potatoes; or oil; or eggs) was a frivolous flapper way of saying someone really knows their stuff. As in (during a conversation about the universe): “Neil deGrasse Tyson really knows his onions.”
From a famous English battle at the turn of the century — hysterically rejoiced in the streets of London — mafficking refers to a wild public celebration. Example: “There was widespread mafficking across the U.S. when Justin Beiber moved back to Canada. The Canadians were pretty #morbs about it though.”
18. Sauce box
A flippant Victorian way to say “mouth” that doesn’t seem remotely out of place now. I mean, sauce boxes are actual things we use now. Sauce box just sounds like a fast-food joint. “Honey, I’m going to hit the Sauce Box drive thru. The usual?”
As much as someone can take (think bellyful) — usually in reference to alcohol, so it will always have a place in polite society.
Originally a Victorian legal term meaning “to prompt,” suggestionize would make an easy transition to adspeak for aggressive product placement. Example: “Bones is heavily suggestionized.”
Much like #nastygram can now be found all over Twitter (it used to be an angry letter), a comeback for twitterpated seems inevitable. Lovestruck or foolish becomes lovestruck or foolish on Twitter just by using a capital T. @amellywood #Twitterpated
22. Walk the chalk
This Old West term means to walk straight, so it seems there must have been some sort of field sobriety test for cowboys. Remember, wrangler #WhiskeyIsRisky #BuzzedRidingIsDrunkRiding.
Zozzled means to be very, very drunk. No modern modification needed.
More on language
10 Weird, funny and true facts about punctuation
21 Words that don’t mean what you think they mean
It’s time the English language had a gender-neutral singular pronoun
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