The winds of change ushered in the 1950s as a decade of conservatism, complacency and contentment in great American society. And the 1950s slang proved it. It is fair to say that 1950s slang was a vernacular that became a primal language for teenagers who sought independence and liberation.
These were the years that the "baby boomers" were conceived. It's long been said that, during this time, one baby was born every seven seconds in the United States. Here are some of the many ways people were discussed during this colorful era:
Ankle-biter: A small child
Back seat bingo: Making out in the back seat of a car
Badass: This is a word that is still used regularly today. It referred to a tough guy at the time; today, it refers to either a tough guy or a tough girl.
Bash ears: Talk too much
Bird dog: Someone who tries to steal your girlfriend
Curtain climbers: Small children
Dreamboat: A really cute guy
Paper shaker: Cheerleader
Party pooper: Someone who's not fun to be around
Queen: A popular girl
Supermurgitroid: Cool or "with it"
A lot of slang terms from this list are still commonplace today. Many of us pop on cheaters to read something or throw on our shades before stepping out in the sun. Take a look:
Antsville: A congested place
Fat city: A great city or place
Knuckle sandwich: A punch in the face
Passion pit: A drive-in movie theater
Shiner: A black eye
Tank: A big car
The "American Dream" became a reality for many families during this prosperous decade. They began living the suburban lifestyle in family homes complete with front lawns, small backyards, and a garage. Teenagers were going steady and always inventing new words to hide their teenage love affairs. Here's the low down on slang for everyday experiences:
Ain't that a bite: Another way to say, "That's too bad"
Bake biscuits: To make a record
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: Another word for vomit
Bash: A party
Beatnik: Someone from the 1950s who survived the war and was looking for a more casual, fun-loving lifestyle, complete with alcohol, drugs, and a great music scene. For more on this brand of slang, check out Beat Slang of the 1950s.
Big deal!: Who cares?
Big tickle: Something that's really funny
Bitchin': A really good time
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 1940s, "can" referred to a jail or prison. In the 1950s, the meaning shifted to mean a toilet or bathroom.
Come on snake, let's rattle: When said to a woman, you're asking her to dance. When said to a man, you're challenging him to a fight.
Cooking with gas: Doing something the best way
Flip your lid: Go crazy
Gangbusters: Anything that's successful
Made in the shade: Something's guaranteed to be a success
Nifty: Great or cool
The royal shaft: To be unfairly treated or put-off
Take a picture: As in, "Take a picture. It'll last longer." Used when someone is staring at you.
The 1950s was an age of consumerism where even babies were targeted as potential customers. 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; the quintessential role of a woman was that of a mother and housewife.
It was during this era that America had become more of 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 -- McDonald's was born.
All of this, plus the brooding idea of McCarthyism and the rising Red Scare in the undertow, gave 1950s slang a covert language all its own. On one end, there was homogeneousness in America. On the other end, there was the business of communism and the radicalism of the American teenager. As with many other eras of the past, some of the slang words are still being used today.
If you're setting a short story or novel in another era, it's of utmost importance to make sure you get the language right. Otherwise, it won't ring true. Here at YourDictionary, we have a wealth of slang-related articles, covering nearly every decade from the mid-20th-century and beyond.
And, if you're interested in learning more about the words we say today, why not take it all the way back to the Elizabethan era of the late 16th century? Have some fun with this List of Words and Phrases Shakespeare Invented.