The winds of change ushered in the 1950s as being a decade of conservatism, complacency and contentment in great American society and the 1950s slang proved it. These were the years that the “baby boomers” were conceived and it has been long said in 1957 that one baby was born every seven seconds in the United States. The ideal of the “American Dream” became a reality for many families in that they were living the suburban lifestyle in a one story, two bedroom, tiled bathroom family home complete with a front lawn, a small backyard and a garage. These were the times where the teenagers were going steady and always inventing new words to hide their teenage love affairs. It is fair to say that 1950s slang was a vernacular that became a primal language for teenagers who sought independence and liberation.
Examples of 1950s Slang
- Badass –This is a word that is still used regularly today. It referred to a tough guy in the 1940s, however today it refers to either a tough guy or a tough girl.
- Ball – This word meant a really good time. People still use this word today, for example, “we had a ball at the party last night.”
- Barf – This word was used by teenagers back in the 1940s and is still widely used now by teenagers and adults alike.
- Beatnik – A beatnik in the 1950s referred to someone who was a member of the underground, non-conformist, counterculture that went against the homogeneous culture of 1950s America. The word is said to have been coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen in 1958 to combine the "beat" counter-culture individual of the 1940s with the "nik" from Sputnik, the Russian satellite.
- Beefcake – Have you ever heard of a woman refer to a well built, muscular man as a “beefcake”? Well if so then you should know that the word “beefcake” evolved out of the 1950s. Think about the television shows that discussed the 1950s like “Gidget” and how teenagers were strewn along “muscle beach” having a good time.
- Big Daddy – This term referred to an older person in the 1950s, not necessarily an older romantic male interest as it does today.
- Big Deal! – In the 1950s this meant exactly what it means today – it simply means “who cares” in a sense. If someone says “I got a tennis bracelet from my boyfriend,” another person might reply “big deal! I got two from my boyfriend.”
- Booty – Bet you didn’t know that this word was a part of 1950s slang. The word “booty” meant the buttocks back then as well.
- Can – In the 1950s this word took on a whole new meaning. In the 1940s it referred to a jail or prison, yet in the 1950s it referred to a toilet or bathroom. Sometimes this word is still used today.
The 1950s was an age of consumerism where even babies were targeted as potential consumers for products catering to their needs. The evolution of the television ushered in shows that embodied the spirit of the era such as “The Ozzie and Harriet Show,” “Father Knows Best,” and “Leave it to Beaver.” It was a time where patriarchy reigned supreme and the quintessential role of a woman was as a mother and a housewife.
It was during this era that America had become a homogeneous nation, resilient to change, after all it had taken a decade to rebound from the depression. There were drive-in movies, Howard Johnson’s, and those primal golden arches that embody all things American, McDonalds was born.
Out of all of this, and the brooding idea of McCarthyism and the red scare brewing in the undertow, made 1950s slang a covert language all its own. On one end there was homogeneousness in America, and on the other end there was the business of communism and the radicalism of the American teenager. And as with many other eras of the past, some of the slang words are still being used today.
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"1950s Slang." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 21 May 2018. <http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/slang/1950-s-slang.html>.
1950s Slang. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21st, 2018, from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/slang/1950-s-slang.html