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Spoken Like a True Gangster: 1920s Slang Words That Every Teen Should Know

Student Life

May 16, 2023

We've all been there, trying to perfect a word for a situation, yet realizing that the modern English language has none to describe how you're feeling. Don't worry... that won't happen again. In the list that follows, you will find the perfect repertoire of words for your life as we delve into the dangerous world of 1920s slang.

1. "Darn it! Applesauce!"

Have you ever wanted to curse the world out, on your knees, literally pulling out your hair because of that bad grade you got? And have you, in that moment, not been able to find the right word to say? Well, the 1920s is here to save your vocabulary!

"Applesauce" is the perfect expletive for any moment. It seems innocent enough, but every true 1920s gangster will know what you're talking about. Akin to phrases like "horsefeathers", you can scream "applesauce" at any time you like, in any setting, and then refuse to give any context about why you just screamed the name of a baby food at the sky.

But, secretly, you'll know exactly what you mean.

2. "I'm going to Drop a Dime Now."

"Drop a dime" is the perfect phrase; it's quick, it rolls off the tongue, and your friends will have no idea what you're talking about. In simple terms, to "drop a dime" means to make a phone call. However, if you so please, saying that you will "drop a dime" can also be a thinly veiled threat.

Back in the era of gangsters and mobs, "dropping a dime" sometimes meant that you were about to snitch to the police about illegal activity. So, if you tell a friend you're about to "drop a dime", and then you spill their deepest secret to another friend, you technically warned your friend first.

Image Courtesy of Berthold Werner

3. "You're quite the cat's pajamas"

Yes, it's a compliment. And no, it's not just a kids' saying; a lot of adults used to use the term "cat's pajamas" as a compliment. In fact, this was one of the greatest compliments you could give someone— it means not just that you're a good person, but that you're a truly outstanding citizen.

... though you might want to explain beforehand that it is, in fact, a compliment.

4. "Want to eat a Sinker with me?"

Yes, I know, I know, it sounds weird. But back in the day, "sinker" used to mean "doughnut". It does sound weird out of context, but if used properly, this phrase could win you quite a few free doughnuts from your parents if they don't know what a sinker is.

Image By Wiwik P - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99450218

5. "Don't take any wooden nickels"

While first recorded in 1915, this phrase became very popular in the 1920s as a warning for workers migrating from rural areas to urban ones. In those days, many rural folk were cheated out of their money in cities by being given fake money. This morphed into the phrase "don't take any wooden nickels", which is a way of warning someone from acting stupid.

Of course, that's easier said than done, but giving a friend a warning can't hurt. And, in all likelihood, it's probably much nicer than calling your friend stupid.

6. A few bonus phrases:

"Clam" - A dollar

"Java" - A coffee

"Orchid" - An expensive item

"Sap" - A fool

"You slay me" - That's hilarious.

Mark Thompson

Writer since May, 2023 · 1 published articles

Mark Thompson is an avid writer and lover of poetry, historical nonfiction, and fantasy novels. While he spends a lot of his time working rigorously on school work, he loves to spend his free time playing chess and coding computer programs. Currently, Mark knows the languages Python, HTML, CSS, and Javascript.