The thing that’s really interesting about the Beat slang 1950s era is that of all the various times when slang was popular, then died out, it’s in this particular epoch that so much of the jargon is still in current use.
The Beat generation harkens back to the late 1940s. The generation was sick of World War 2 and stunned by the sudden entry into the atomic age by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. They had no place to go, and nothing from which to draw hope. They were the predecessors of the “turn on and tune out” hippies of the 1960s (although, it can be argued, the Beatniks - the followers of the Beat lifestyle - did it with more aplomb than the hippies.)
The term “beatnik” is derived from the slang term “beat,” which was popularized by famous writer Jack Kerouac after the war. “Beat” came to mean “beaten down,” but Kerouac said that wasn’t his intent.
The Beat Generation, as Kerouac saw it, were people who were “down and out, but who had intense conviction.”
In some ways, the Beatniks’ music was way “cooler” (a very Beat word.)
“Hipster,” as Kerouac used it, is one of the lead slang terms of the generation. Hipsters were aficionados of jazz music, and the entire jazz lifestyle. That included a particular lingo, dress, and attitude, and probably the first systematic use of marijuana in an American subculture.
The word “hipster” ultimately replaced the slang “hepcat,” which was pretty much a jazz subculture follower of decades earlier.
Anyone who was a hipster was in constant pursuit of whatever was “cool,” a slang term that survives to this day. In the late 40s, that included a combination of jazz and bebop, or bop, music, a takeoff on jazz, but with a quicker beat and lots of improvisation.
Hipsters were also relaxed about other conventional social mores, including sex. Jazz musicians attracted their own followings; the hipsters were, in their day, a bit like groupies (band followers).
Let’s say you’re interested in a girl. The first looks translate into “eyeballing a doll” (that is, giving the potential date a good lookover.)
You envision what’d it be like to take her out. You anticipate it being an incredible amount of fun; or in Beat-speak, “a gas.”
But if the chick nixes the “back seat bingo” (a phrase devoted to the fine art of kissing, or making out, with a girl in a car), she’d be “bad news.” It’s important to note that it’s not the act of rejection, but the person themselves, who is the “bad news.”
But how serious is this chick? Does she really have to be home early to “Big Daddy,” or is she just “copping a bit”?
In this usage, Big Daddy may indeed be the potential date’s father. But more likely, it’s an older person who isn’t hep to the Beat scene (and wants to put a damper on Beatnik fun.)
The date herself may very well be a closet square; that’s why she’s “copping a bit” (making up an act to delude the Beatnik.)
Squares are an abundant source for Beatniks of “the big tickle” (a laugh at the expense of the victim.) But hey, it’s not like they were cool to begin with! No big loss in Beat society.
Such a person is known as a “square” or "cube" in Beat slang in the 1950s.
The only major differences were the degree of “squareness.” A waitress, for example, might be square, but she probably wasn’t nearly as square as, say, a banker, an accountant, or - the worst yet! - a cop.
Because of their “on the brink” lifestyle, and their engagement in activities that were either straight out or borderline illegal, the worst enemy a beatnik had was an officer of the law.
This may be the first time the use of the word “pig” as a slang slur against policemen had been used.
If a beatnik saw a bunch of cops heading toward a hipster hangout, he’d “haul ass” or “beat the gravel” (run like crazy to get away from them, since cops were never up to any good in Beatnik circles.)
Beat culture had many ways of describing the ultimate amazing experience. Did you cats have a blast? That’s like saying the Daddy-o Beatniks were cookin’!
Both phrases have similar meanings. “Cats” and “Daddy-o” are variation on the Beatnik self-descriptive “hipster” word to describe, well, themselves! Beatniks are nothing if not self-referential.
A blast and cooking? No, it’s not the prelude to a Beatnik barbecue. A blast to the Beats is pretty much the same as it is to modern day partiers: a fun time. If you were cookin’, it’s a high compliment, indeed. It merely meant you were doing something well (as in a jazz musician, favorites of the Beats, playing a hot horn so much so that the patrons said he was “cooking.”)
If you dig it, man, that’s crazy! (This is all a good thing among Beats.)
“Digging” is getting, or understanding, something, just like being “in orbit”; and “crazy,” like “boss!”, are both euphemisms for something that’s just plain old good.
Just don’t “go ape,” especially at “the flicks,” or your fellow movie patrons are apt to get “wigged out.” (That means don’t yell at the movies, or it’s apt to annoy the rest of the audience.)
Are you out to get your “kicks” by “making the scene”? The kicks is the thrill you get by doing something fun or incredible; and if you’re “making the scene,” you’re in the right place at the right time.
As you can see, there’s an art to Beat slang from the 1950s. It’s worth the effort to make the language scene, especially if your goal is to be a real hipster!
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