Do you know your slang?

We all know you don’t say certain words in public. Or, God forbid, when your mother is in the same room.

Slang is defined as informal speech that’s used in a particular setting or environment, or by people in a particular group. When I was in high school, our slang included the terms groovy, batshit, and way out.

In my current novel, two of the present-day characters have ancestors who lived during Prohibition in the 1920s. Did you know the following terms were coined back then?

Skid row was originally “skid road,” a place where loggers hauled their goods. During Prohibition, these logging roads became meeting places for boodleggers. (Skidding is a logging term for pulling cut trees out of a forest.)

Hooch is an abbreviated form of “hoochinoo,” a distilled beverage from Alaska that became popular during the Klondike gold rush. This idiom was used for low-quality liquor, usually whiskey.

If you had a beef, you had a big problem. If you were given the bum’s rush, you were ejected by force from a drinking establishment. If you had to see a man about a dog, you were explaining in code that you had to leave to go buy bootlegged whiskey. If you were a piker, you were a cheapskate (my father used this term all the time–he was born in 1929).

Here are some other terms coined during Prohibition that we still use today: babe, beat it, carry a torch, tighten the screws, and on the up and up.

One other thing I learned about Prohibition is the huge number of synonyms for drunk that were coined nearly 100 years ago, including:

bleary-eyed, bent, blind, blotto, boiled, boiled as an owl, canned, corked, crocked, four sheets in (or to) the wind, fried, fried to the hat, ginned, half-cocked, half-shot, high, jazzed, lit, loaded, on a toot, ossified, out on the roof, owled, pie-eyed, pickled, plastered, polluted, potted, stinko, soused, stewed, tanked, primed, scrooched, zozzled

What are some of YOUR favorite slang terms?

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Linda McHenry

Linda McHenry is a novelist and freelance writer.