Ah, the flapper era! What a great successful fad. While the legacy of the flapper era appears in fashion and music it also appears in our language. We have some wonderfully creative words and phrases remaining from this era of American history. I’ve written earlier about the Bee’s Knees. Now it’s time to share a few more entries. Thanks to BookFlaps for compiling the list.
Which one can you use in an email today? Leave a comment below or Tweet using #FlapperVocab
Absent Treatment—Dancing with a bashful partner.
Airedale—A homely man.
Anchor—Box of flowers.
Apple Knocker—A hick; a hay-shaker.
Apple Sauce–Flattery; bunk.
Barlow—A girl, a flapper, a chicken.
Bank’s Closed—No petting allowed; no kisses.
Bee’s Knees—See “Cat’s Pajamas”
Bell Polisher—A young man addicted to lingering in vestibules at 1 a.m.
Bean Picker—One who patches up trouble and picks up spilled beans.
Berry Patch—A man’s particular interest in a girl.
Biscuit—A pettable flapper.
Big Timer—(n. masc.)—A charmer able to convince his sweetie that a jollier thing would be to get a snack in an armchair lunchroom; a romantic.
Billboard—Flashy man or woman.
Blushing Violet—A publicity hound.
Boob Tickler—Girl who entertains father’s out-of-town customers.
Brush Ape—Anyone from the sticks; a country Jake.
Bust—A man who makes his living in the prize ring, a pugilist.
Bun Duster—See “Cake Eater”.
Bush Hounds—Rustics and others outside of the Flapper pale.
Cancelled Stamp—A wallflower.
Cake Basket—A limousine.
Cake Eater—See “Crumb Gobbler”
Cat’s Particulars—The acme of perfection; anything that’s good
Cat’s Pajamas—Anything that’s good
Cellar Smeller—A young man who always turns up where liquor is to be had without cost.
Clothesline—One who tells neighborhood secrets.
Corn Shredder—Young man who dances on a girl’s feet.
Crumb Gobbler—Slightly sissy tea hound.
Crasher—Anyone who comes to parties uninvited.
Crashing Party—Party where several young men in a group go uninvited.
Cuddle Cootie—Young man who takes a girl for a ride on a bus, gas wagon or automobile.
Cuddler—One who likes petting.
Dapper—A flapper’s father.
Dewdropper—Young man who does not work, and sleeps all day.
Dincher—A half-smoked cigarette.
Dingle Dangler—One who insists on telephoning.
Dipe Ducat—A subway ticket.
Dog Kennels—Pair of shoes.
Dropping the Pilot—Getting a divorce.
Duck’s Quack—The best thing ever.
Ducky—General term of approbation.
Dumbbell-Wall flower with little brains.
Dumkuff—General term for being “nutty” or “batty”.
Edisoned—Being asked a lot of questions.
Egg Harbor—Free dance.
Eye Opener—A marriage.
Father Time—Any man over 30 years of age.
Face Stretcher—Old maid who tries to look younger.
Fire Extinguisher—A chaperone.
Finale Hopper—Young man who arrives after everything is paid for.
Fire Alarm—Divorced woman.
Fire Bell—Married woman.
Flat Shoes—Fight between a Flapper and her Goof
Fluky—Funny, odd, peculiar; different.
Flatwheeler—Slat shy of money; takes girls to free affairs.
Floorflusher—Inveterate dance hound.
Flour Lover—Girl who powders too freely.
Forty-Niner—Man who is prospecting for a rich wife.
Frog’s Eyebrows—Nice, fine.
Gander—Process of duding up.
Green Glorious—Money and checks.
Gimlet—A chronic bore.
Given the Air—When a girl or fellow is thrown down on a date.
Give Your Knee—Cheek-to-cheek or toe-to-toe dancing.
Goofy—To be in love with, or attracted to. Example: “I’m goofy about Jack.”
Goat’s Whiskers—See “Cat’s Particulars”
Grummy—In the dumps, shades or blue.
Grubber—One who always borrows cigarettes.
Hen Coop—A beauty parlor.
His Blue Serge—His sweetheart.
Highjohn—Young man friend; sweetie, cutey, highboy.
Houdini—To be on time for a date.
Horse Prancer—See “Corn Shredder”.
Hush Money—Allowance from father.
Jane—A girl who meets you on the stoop.
Johnnie Walker—Guy who never hires a cab.
Kitten’s Ankles—See “Cat’s Particulars”.
Kluck—Dumb, but happy.
Lallygagger—A young man addicted to attempts at hallway spooning.
Lens Louise—A person given to monopolizing conversation.
Lemon Squeezer—An elevator.
Low Lid—The opposite of highbrow.
Mad Money—Carfare home if she has a fight with her escort.
Monkey’s Eyebrows—See “Cat’s Particulars”.
Monog—A young person of either sex who is goofy about only one person at a time.
Monologist—Young man who hates to talk about himself.
Mustard Plaster—Unwelcome guy who sticks around.
Munitions—Face powder and rouge.
Mug—To osculate or kiss.
Necker—A petter who puts her arms around a boy’s neck.
Nut Cracker—Policeman’s nightstick.
Obituary Notice—Dunning letter.
Orchid—Anything that is expensive.
Out on Parole—A person who has been divorced.
Petting Party—A party devoted to hugging.
Petter—A loveable person; one who enjoys to caress.
Pillow Case—Young man who is full of feathers.
Police Dog—Young man to whom one is engaged.
Potato—A young man shy of brains.
Ritzy Burg—Not classy.
Rock of Ages—Any woman over 30 years of age.
Rug Hopper—Young man who never takes a girl out. A parlor hound.
Sap—A Flapper term for floorflusher.
Scandal—A short term for Scandal Walk.
Scandaler—A dance floor fullback. The interior of a dreadnaught hat, Piccadilly shoes with open plumbing, size 13.
Seetie—Anybody a flapper hates.
Sharpshooter—One who spends much and dances well.
Shifter—Another species of flapper.
Show Case—Rich man’s wife with jewels.
Sip—Flapper term for female Hopper.
Slat—See “Highjohn”; “Goof”.
Slimp—Cheapskate or “one way guy”.
Smith Brothers—Guys who never cough up.
Smoke Eater—A girl cigarette user.
Smooth—Guy who does not keep his word.
Snake—To call a victim with vampire arms.
Snuggleup—A man fond of petting and petting parties.
Sod Buster—An undertaker.
Stander—Victim of a female grafter.
Static—Conversations that mean nothing.
Strike Breaker—A young woman who goes with her friend’s “Steady” while there is a coolness.
Tomato—A young woman shy of brains.
Trotzky (sic)—Old lady with a moustache and chin whiskers.
Umbrella—young man any girl can borrow for the evening.
Urban Set—Her new gown.
Walk In—Young man who goes to a party without being invited.
I thought I was the sort of person who paid attention to things. Then I had breakfast this morning. That breakfast was the Kellogg’s cereal, Froot Loops.
Looking at the box, for the first time I noticed it wasn’t Fruit Loops. I knew it didn’t really taste like fruit but I thought the colors paid loose homage to the potential that fruit might have been involved–somehow.
Now, I’m just not sure how I can maintain my word nerdom with this glaring mistake. Froot isn’t really a word. The closest you get to it being used outside of the cereal box is the album title for a Welsh singer.
There’s a great post over at the Telegram about this phrase and other slang terms from the flapper era. Wiktionary gives us this background:
Attested since 1922, of unclear origin. There are several suggested origins, but it may simply have been in imitation of the numerous animal related nonsense phrases popular in the 1920s such as the cat’s pyjamas, cat’s whiskers, cat’s meow, gnat’s elbow, monkey’s eyebrows etc. A popular folk etymology has the phrase referring to World Champion Charleston dancer Bee Jackson. Another suggestion is that the phrase is a corruption of business but this may be a back-formation. The singular bee’s knee is attested from the late 18th century meaning something small or insignificant in the phrase big as a bee’s knee. Also as weak as a bee’s knee is attested in Ireland (1870). It is possible that the bee’s knees is a deliberate inversion of this meaning, but is not attested.
Today the phrase seem’s pretty common. I’ve heard t used on the 2003 film School of Rock with Jack Black.
How common is it in 2018 is somewhat difficult to track. Five Thirty Eight‘s online tracker doesn’t have it as an option. Google’s Ngram Viewer only tracks until 2000, but is still a wonderful graph.
Maybe the more important thing to be aware of isn’t how popular a phrase is (cat’s pajama’s was slightly more popular in 2000), but how cool you look when you use the phrase is probably more important. Unfortunately there’s no graph I can show some one for how cool they look when they use the phrase. If I could find a graph for that I’d be sure to share.
When it comes down to it, though I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the phrase. This is probably because it’s predominantly used as a compliment. We could use a few more compliments in our daily discourse. So, have a go at it! Why not toss out “the bee’s knees” today in a conversation?
Google’s Ngram Viewer tracks the appearances of words or phrases in written books. Sometimes it’s fun to review a word used in the past to see how it’s popularity changes over time.
Having been alive during the 1980’s I remember several words that were predominantly fads during that decade. The graph clearly shows the emergence of the fad phase for rad during the 80’s. Those well versed in the era will remember a movie of the same name that focused on the BMX phenomenon of the same generation. I’ll drop the trailer below the graph in case you’re interested in what passed for a movie back then.
As the language evolves it evolves in different direction. The Urban Dictionary does a great job showing the evolution of the language, but you can see how crude it is.
In contrast there are these verses in the Book of Moses 6
5 And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;
6 And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.
Defile means tomakeuncleanorimpure. A language that was pure must be a language that contained only the ability to express things that were pure. After all, this was the language that God used with Adam in the Garden of Eden.
The origin of the root defile includes the fromAnglo-Frenchdefoiller,defulermeaningtotrample. This refers to the process of filling which required stomping on the wool (sometimes soaked in urine) over and over again until the wool was softened enough to make it comfortable. It is not an accident. It is intentional.
We see the word trample elsewhere in the scriptures. In Matthew 7 we hear the Savior prompt
6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
The imagery of something as precious as a pearl being trampled is powerful. This use of trample in conjunction with defile shows us that the corrupting of the language is an intentional process taking something that is most beautiful (the language we use to communicate with God) and reducing it only to it’s baser elements crushing what is precious and staining that which is pure.
Guarding our tongues and thoughts will determine how comfortable we are when we meet our Savior again. But as that day is some time off we have lots of time to practice and learn to appreciate the robust versatility and beauty that is our language.