Far Out! Freaky 60s Slang Explained

Cool or squaresville?

The 1960s roiled with cultural and political change, and the language was as colorful as the tie-dye. Here’s a look at some words that have endured, and some that have been better left in the patchouli-scented dustbin of history.

The Establishment

From the old French establissement, meaning “an act or process of establishing,” the use of the word in conjunction with “the” is defined by dictionary.com to mean, “the existing power structure in society.” The word once referred to an established church, property or business, but is now commonly used to describe the entrenched ruling class. The Establishment became the top target of youthful revolutions around the world, especially in the United States.

Flower Power

Flower power was an ethos that defined the late ‘60s and early 1970s, and it referred to the hippie ideal of peace, “free love” (borne of the sexual revolution and the development of the birth control pill) and a love of nature. A famous photo of the time depicts a young woman placing a daisy in the barrel of a police gun during an anti-Vietnam war protest. The image pretty much sums up flower power.

The Heat

It’s wasn’t just the heat - it was also the fuzz, the pigs, or the man. In a time of dramatically shifting social and political mores, clashes between law enforcement and frustrated, fearful young people were nearly a daily occurrence. There were a lot of colorful and derogatory names for police officers at the time, and now, when you hear most any of these phrases, it’s mostly meant to be ironic. "Pig" has an interesting and debatable etymology, with some reports of the word first being applied to both police and “unlikeable people” in the 1800s, and another, popular—though widely dismissed—theory involving gas mask-wearing officers often seen at demonstrations. "The fuzz" dates back to 1929, but the exact origin is unknown.

Cat

The jazz jive, or slang, of the 1930s gave us the word cat, meaning a very hip male person, often a jazz musician. But it caught on big in the ‘60s, becoming part of everyday street lingo. “Check that cat; I saw him truckin’ down Venice Beach yesterday, with a super foxy chick on his arm.”

Truckin’

A term purloined from early American blues (Blind Boy Fully sang, “Truckin’ My Blues Away” in the 1930s), truckin’ throughout the late ‘60s and early ’70s meant to walk, or strut, with a certain goal or focus; the opposite of wandering aimlessly. The Grateful Dead song “Truckin’” helped popularize the word, as did the underground cartoonist R. Crumb, whose “Keep on Truckin’” became iconic, much to his chagrin. He later complained: “I didn't want to turn into a greeting card artist for the counter-culture! I didn't want to do 'shtick.'”

Groovy

Groovy, far out, outta sight, a gas, cool—these words all became popularized in the 1960s as ways to refer to something that was quite amazing, impressive, spectacular. Only one of these terms is still in regular use today. Can you see the loss of cool in our everyday vocabulary? It’s kind of hard to imagine. It’s not so hard to fade “outta sight“ from our lexicon.

Square

A person who was decidedly not far out or groovy was square. Interestingly, square once meant to be loyal, honest and trustworthy. In the jazz parlance of the 1940s, the word transformed to mean someone uptight and traditional, and not “with it.” The beatniks of the ‘50s and the hippies of the ‘60s embraced the word with gusto, and it lived on into the counterculture of the early ‘70s.

Mop top

When the Fab Four—also known as the Beatles—took the world by storm, their “long” hairstyle (we might laugh at that categorization now) was referred to as a mop top. References to the use of the word “mop” to refer to hair can be found as far back as the 1700s.

Dough

Both bread and dough were commonly used to refer to money in the ‘60s. It appears that dough was used to imply “money” as far back as the 1800s, with bread following in the early 20th century, first appearing in the jazz scenes of the ‘30s. Making money the equivalent of food makes these synonyms seem natural.

Bogart

The great movie actor Humphrey Bogart often had a cigarette dangling from his lips, as if it were part of his anatomy. In 1968, the California band the Fraternity of Man wrote a song, “Don’t Bogart Me,” which became enormously popular after Dennis Hopper placed it in the counterculture film, “Easy Rider.” The lyrics advise sharing, not bogarting, or keeping to yourself, a marijuana cigarette. In addition to hogging something, to bogart also means to act tough.

Thongs

If you hear your grandmother referring to her thongs, please don’t picture her in risqué undergarments! Younger readers may not know that “thongs” once meant (and still do mean, in many circles), a flip-flop: a lightweight, inexpensive sandal that is held onto the foot with a—yes—a thong between first and second toes. (Same idea, different anatomical locale.)

Mellow

Another word that embodied the hippie and youth culture, to be mellow meant to be super relaxed, and free of worry. If you weren't punching a time clock and living by Establishment rules, being mellow was likely a daily state of being.

Hacked

Here's one that we've given a new meaning—in the '60s to be hacked meant you were righteously angry or aggravated. Hacked off is used occasionally today. It's the opposite of mellow.

Righteous

To be righteous was to be inarguably upstanding, super cool—to be right on. And right on was a term that could be used for anything that was good, on point, correct, righteous. Which is how many Baby Boomers view the ‘60s today!