Every decade has its own slang, yet the 1930s slang is a type of jargon that is completely unique to the spirit of the time. The 1930s slang embodies the history of what was going on in the world as well as a fusion of everything that was considered “cool” during that era.
Examples of 1930s slang
Here is some of the popular slang of the 1930s. Keep in mind that much of the slang may be widely recognizable words that are used today; however, some of the words have since taken on a different meaning.
- Abyssinia - This means “I’ll be seeing you” and if you say it really fast you will be able to actually hear it as you say the word.
- Horn – This means telephone.
- Apple – Everyone has heard of “the big apple” (being New York) however did you know that the word “apple” referred to any big city in the 1930s?
- Broad/dame/doll – These words were all slang for the fairer sex; they simply referred to women.
- Gat/rod/heater/convincer – A couple of these words are still used today when referring to a gun.
- Big House – Nothing has changed with this one as it still refers to a prison.
- Hooch/Booze – This was a term for whiskey.
- Trigger Men – This was (and sometimes still is used) a term for hired gunmen.
- Hot mama/looker/ omato/dish/sweet patootie – These were all terms to describe good looking women.
- Cadillac – While now this word simply refers to a car, in the 1930s it referred to an ounce of cocaine or heroin.
- Canary – No it’s not a bird – at least not in the 1930s; a canary in the 1930s referred to a female singer.
- Cats/alligators – These words were used to describe people who were fans of swing music.
- Chicago typewriter/chopper – These words referred to the Thompson machine gun also known as “Tommy Gun.”
- City Juice/Dog Soup – These terms referred to a cup of water.
- Copper – Look closely and you will notice that we still use part of this word when referring to a police officer. Instead of a “cop” in the 1930s a police officer was called a “copper.”
- Chicago overcoat – This refers to a coffin. There was a ton of gang violence in Chicago during the 1930s so it was not uncommon for the word “Chicago” to be used as a lead word for a slang term relative to violence.
- Dick/gumshoe/flatfoot – Believe it or not these words referred to a detective. If you think about the character “Dick Tracy” you will remember that he was a detective during the 1930s. The slang word for detective back then was “dick” so basically they were calling him Detective Tracy in the slang vernacular of the time.
History of the Era
It has been long said that if the 1930s were a book, it would begin with the Great Depression and end with the influx of the second World War. It was the fourth decade in the twentieth century history of the United States, the country’s darkest hour, and quite possibly one of the most socially ambient decades of all.
Despite the toll that the Great Depression took on the United States, there was still a spirit of the times that fused the tension of the era with the social realism and art deco style that gained popularity throughout the world. As a result of factors like these, there evolved the slang of the 1930s – a now lost treasure, or dissonant charm, this was the slang that encouraged lost minds to awaken to new hope and forge ahead towards their dreams.