When people speak in the vernacular using slang, it broadens the English language by adding more words. Language isn’t static, and a language such as English is a collection and reinvention of the words of many other languages such as Latin and Greek, as well as the romance languages of Europe.
As civilizations grow, change, and expand, so do the words in the language. Slang phrases such as “23 skidoo” might’ve been what the hep cat of 1925 was saying to his flapper girlfriend; but, as time passes, many slang phrases tend to fall by the wayside.
For example, try and see how many people you know who have a clue as to what “23 skidoo” ever meant?
As it turns out, the expression probably came from the sight men saw around the Flat Iron Building in New York City, which is located on 23rd Street. Before the Roaring 20s, women in long skirts would pass by the building, which is a very angular triangle shape. The strong winds would roar around the corner as the women passed, causing their long skirts to fly up and expose their legs.
This was such a popular attraction that the police were forced to disperse the male crowds that hung around, waiting for the next “show” as women passed by. Hence, leaving anywhere very quickly, or being forced to leave fast, became known as the “23 skidoo.”
The slang expression "23 skidoo" became a very useful part of the English language in New York City prior to the 1920s. As skirt lengths changed, the need for the slang expression went away and it is now just a fun phrase from history.
Not all slang expressions disappear out of the language after they’ve served their purpose, or as the generation who used them assumes adulthood.
In fact, the expression can become so absorbed into the English language that it’s no longer mere slang, but a mainstream expression. For example, the phrase “hung out,” or “hang out.”
The phrase is commonly used today, and not just in casual settings. It’s become so inculcated into our culture that one can use it, even in an executive board room, and no eyebrows will be raised in response.
So what’s the source of “hang out”? Although there’s evidence that the term was used as early as the 1830s to mean “loiter or idle about,” the current use of the phrase probably has a more recent incarnation.
In this context, the phrase comes probably is a derivative of speech peculiar to the 1960s hippie generation. These were teenagers and young adults who rejected “the establishment,” and developed their own particular ways of dressing, in music, and in language.
The point of much of their success was apparently how annoyed or upset adults would become by the behavior. They were easily upset by how slang affects the English language they used, and they wanted their kids to conform to societal norms.
So hippies or pseudo hippies (kids who still lived at home, but who admired the dress and lifestyle of the hippie generation) went to great lengths to avoid formality in any aspect of life. Being yourself, playing your own kind of music, or doing much of what the parents would consider inappropriate was termed “letting it all hang out.”
The current phrase, “hang out,” is probably derived from the hippies of several generations ago.
Slang is “street,” as in ordinary, common and yet vivid expression to describe current life and events. It keeps the language from getting stale. It changes frequently, so it is difficult to find an up-to-date slang dictionary.
Some words that once were cool have faded from use, only to be revived by the current generation. One such word, in fact, is “cool.”
"Cool" is another expression that had its modern day beginnings with the 1960s hippies generation; but, it probably goes back at least to the 1920s with the arrival of the jazz age. In the Flapper Era, jazz music was considered to be extremely cutting edge, and jazz musicians had their own modes and means of living.
Some of that rubbed off on the Charleston dancers and the patrons of the speakeasy (another slang word for a bar with alcoholic beverages back when Prohibition made serving liquor illegal.)
Jazz was “cool,” as in sophisticated. The latter day hippies use of it meant that the object of coolness was singular and unique, a twist on the Jazz Age use of the word.
Slang is often used as a way to appear friendly to someone or to show that you belong with a certain group of people or that you understand popular culture. It shows that you are part of the "in crowd" and that the slang you share is part of your secret language.
Some slang words have been part of the English language for many years. For example, if you review the history of American slang words you will find that "dude" was first used as a slang term for a man in the 1870s.
Slang words can be a good indicator of what was going on during a specific period of time. For example:
Slang freshens and enhances the English language by adding words that describe what people of the era are doing and feeling.
Want to learn more about today's slang? Talking to high school and college students and visiting their campuses are great ways to hear and learn about the popular new slang words.