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20 Weird Slang Terms From The 1930s That People Actually Used

Updated October 10, 2019 7.4k votes 1.4k voters 71.5k views20 items

List RulesVote up the slang you would love to bring back.

The 1930s were a unique time in American history. This post-Roaring '20s economic depression era brought a new way of life that shaped the rest of the century for many Americans. This great change gave birth to a host of 1930s slang terms. A huge amount of retro slang from the 1930s shows the country was anxiety-ridden and nervous, but chose to make light of its fears with clever turns of phrase. 

Slang from the Great Depression almost all concerns poverty, alcohol, and criminal activity of some kind. This isn't entirely surprising, as many people in poverty turned to either alcohol or crime to escape their dire straits.

But none of that means the language of the day is obsolete. On the contrary, the 1930s was also a time of great comic genius that produced some of the cleverest quips in American English. We still use some of 1930s expressions today, such as referring to prison as the "big house," or calling a gun a "gat" (originally short for "Gatling gun"). 

In that spirit, this list looks at some other expressions from the Great Depression that might be worth reviving.

  • 1

    To leave quickly. This is a nod to a time when trains were the fastest way to get around.

  • 2

    Talking nonsense. This one really deserves a comeback, because it just rolls off the tongue.

  • 3

    Whiskey. If you don't get how it got this name, you've been drinking the wrong whiskey.

  • 4

    To get excited about something. Depictions of flying wigs and toupees was common in cartoons.

  • 5

    To be very much in love with someone, possibly at risk to yourself.

  • 6

    $5 bills. The equivalent of today's "Benjamins," because $5 was a lot during the Depression.

  • 7

    A request to shake your hand. Or perhaps a straightforward way to ask for money?

  • 8

    Legs. This was a nod to organized crime mobsters who used getaway cars at the time. 

  • 9

    I'll be seeing you. If you say that really fast, you'll see how this caught on.

  • 10

    Very cute. You can probably guess just by the term itself that this one means "very cute."

  • 11

    A gun. The '30s produced a lot of slang for "gun," but this one is the most morbidly funny.

  • 12

    Someone who is corny.

  • 13

    Description of a person who is big and strong.

  • 14

    A bad dancer. Get it? Because it's like they're cemented to the floor.

  • 15

    A glass of water. It refers to poverty: If you can't afford the house soup, get the dog soup.

  • 16

    A glass of water. This was coined by people who drank city water.

  • 17

    A kiss. Because kisses are as sweet as honey.

  • 18

    An endeavor or task that yields no results.

  • 19

    A person who does not like popular music.

  • 20

    Running smoothly. Dropping an egg in coffee was an old way to soak up coffee grounds.