All That Jazz! 7 Slang Terms for Hepcats


Hey daddy-o, ready to jam out on some in the pocket slang words?

If you have no clue what we just said, fear not. You’re about to learn a whole new language: the language of jazz.

Jazz music is intrinsically intertwined with US history. This genre came alive in the very early 20th century along the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans and really took on a life of its own. Cultivated and celebrated by primarily Black Americans, jazz was a commentary on culture in America which eventually captivated the rest of the country. It evolved from dancing music, to smooth calming tunes people would just sit and listen to. Considering the life it took on, It’s only fitting that it has its own lingo, but did you realize you probably use it regularly?

The word “jazz” itself has some surprising roots, deriving from a 1860s slang word jasm meaning "energy, vitality, spirit,” However, it first appeared in American English in 1912 as a baseball term where it meant “lively, energetic.” It quickly became the label for the genre of music that we know today by 1915.  Eventually it took on other slang meanings like being a stand in for "rubbish, unnecessary talk or ornamentation" in 1918. Jazzy, another form of this majorly versatile world, also indicates a certain flare or panache.


Being a hepcat in the jazz era was a great thing to be. In Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary: Language of Jive (which was published in 1939), he defined the word hepcat as a guy or gal "who knows what it's all about." The hep prefix means "aware and up to date" while the jazz slang suffix -cat refers to a lover of jazz music; hence the birth of hepcat as we know it today.

By the late 1950s it was shortened to cat in common usage, and a decade later cat was documented as an accepted title for a jazz musician or lover when the jazz giant, pianist Thelonious Monk first heard revolutionary saxophonist Ornette Coleman and exclaimed "Man, that cat is nuts!"


If you've ever been told that you’ve got “chops” take it as a compliment, because that is a jazzy way to say you’ve got skills. Historically chops is thought to derive from chaps which refers to “jaws” on the side of one’s face.  

In jazz, it first began as a way a trumpeter applied his mouth to an instrument and eventually meant a player’s high skill level. Today it’s used like “The singer last night proved she had the chops to play such a larger theater.”


The word jam has taken on so many meanings in it’s time, but the modern usage is likely dated to the jazz era. 

Overall jam means “pressed together tightly” which first appeared in the early 1700s. By the 1850s, jam referred to “causing a malfunction in machinery,” which inevitably led to it meaning “an interference in radio airwaves” by 1914. 

Barely a decade later, jam referred to “playing music, specifically improvised music” which you could understand as being a “disruptor” to arranged music. Often times, bands “jamming” together results in some incredible music though. For example: The jam session was exactly what the group needed to get their creative juices flowing.

in the pocket

When a tune is really grooving and everyone in the room feels the beat in their bones, they’re officially in the pocket. The term refers fairly exclusively to the rhythmic section, and it means they are playing perfectly in sync with one another. 

Though there is little etymological evidence, Freddie Green's 1956 composition "Corner Pocket" has led many to believe that the term originated in pool playing vernacular, as in "I'm going to sink the eight ball in the corner pocket."


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