Will These Words From The 1920s Come Back In 2020?

Calling all flappers and fly boys! As 2019 comes to a close we’ll find ourselves back in the Roaring Twenties … 2020, that is. This new decade marks 100 years since the iconic Jazz Age. It was also the time of Prohibition, first-wave feminism, and the automobile.

The 1920s were rich in slang … we’re sure you’ve heard some of it from films and books set in the time period. But, some ‘20s slang is a bit more obscure.

So let’s take a linguistic trip through time and look at some words from the 1920s that we could bring back in this new year.

alarm clock

The sound of an alarm clock is usually met with moans and groans; the same reaction after learning there’s going to be a chaperon at a dance or on a date.

Alarm clocks, a slang term for “chaperon,” at the dance in the 1920s meant you couldn’t neck on the dance floor … or pet each other in the petting pantry (which is the movie theater, of course).

cash or check?

Alarm clocks at the dance often led to the question cash or check?

Translation? Apparently “should we kiss now, or later?”

Likely, the answer would be “cash”—and quick!—before the alarm clock screeches again.


No matter if the kiss is the bee’s knees or a flat tire, when a guy turns out to be nothing but a dewdropper, all bets are off.

Dewdroppers don’t “dew” anything at all; they’re lazy guys who snooze all day and don’t have jobs.

But, beware, because you also didn’t want a cake-eater in the 1920s (he’s a player who samples too many sweets). What you were looking for was an air-tight (“super attractive”) guy who knows his onions.

know one's onions

Speaking of knowing his onions … this doesn’t refer to the vegetable.

This phrase was first recorded in a 1922 issue of the magazine Harper’s Bazaar. If you know your onions, it means that you know what you’re talking about, or are knowledgeable about a particular subject.

Nowadays, we tend to simplify this phrase as know one’s stuff, but comparing it to food seems more interesting!


Now, an egg, as slang for “a person,” goes all the way back … to the 1600s. But by the 1920s, egg took a rotten turn, shall we say.

Egg as insult for an “obnoxious person” was popularized in the 1920s. A particularly bad egg was a double-yolker.

But it’s not all bad for egg because old egg, an affectionate 1920s slang term for one’s partner, was a popular phrase as well!


If you were called a face-stretcher in the 1920s, you were being bullied.

Face-stretcher means “an old woman trying to look younger.”

One way one might attempt to accomplish the impossible is by putting on too much powder (which just settles into fine lines and wrinkles and makes them even more noticeable). And even worse, if you were known as a face-powder addict, you were a flour lover.

giggle water

Giggle water is the stuff the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement fought tooth and nail against—booze.

This term, specifically used for champagne, whiskey, and gin, was popularized in the 1920s, though recorded in the previous decade.

ossified / spifflicated / zozzled

No matter what, with the alarm clock permanently unplugged, thus enabling the giggle water to freely pour, you were bound to get ossified, spifflicated, and downright zozzled. Excessive consumption of alcoholic brews naturally zozzles the mind.

Strange to think how dappers and flappers in the 1920s linked getting drunk with ossification (“the process of turning to bone”).

These slang terms for “being drunk” were notable in the 1920s, though a term like spifflicated  goes back to the early 1800s!


Hotsy-totsy generally meant “excellent” or “first-rate.”

But if you saw your date as hotsy-totsy, it meant you found them “attractive.”

And a situation itself could become hotsty-totsy too … meaning it was pleasing and fun.

icy mitt

Get ready for some old-school ghosting.

In the 1920s, if your date excused herself to iron her shoelaces (“use the bathroom”), she may actually be giving you the icy (or frozen) mitt, instead. That means they left your date without a word.

No need to fret though, because we found the perfect phrase to use to laugh it off (technically from the 1910s): ish kabibble (curious babble for “what do I care?”).

phonus balonus

If you received an icy mitt on your date and couldn’t ditch the alarm clocks … then your night may have been “totally ridiculous, pure bushwa (“BS”), complete nonsense, absolute applesauce.”

In other words, you may say your night was phonus balonus.


This word might seem familiar to some, as it’s still used today to refer to something excellent. But this slang sense was actually coined in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, if someone was an ace at something they were great at it. It could be applied to almost anything, including someone’s quality as a person. It would have been a huge compliment to call one of your buddies ace!

cat's meow

The 1920s were an exciting time in the United States. It’s probably why there were so many words and phrases used as synonyms for good! There’s bee’s knees, cat’s pajamas … and the cat’s meow.

Saying something is the cat’s meow has a bit of a different connotation than the others. If your doll was dressed in a get up that looked swell, you could say her outfit was the cat’s meow; it was stylish and charming.

let's blouse

No, this doesn’t mean “let’s take a trip to the department store and try on some clothes.” Telling a group of friends “Let’s blouse from this joint” meant it’s time to get out of there!

The etymology of this isn’t entirely clear. However, the image of a woman’s blouse ruffling and whipping as a car whizzes by on a busy street lends itself to this phrase.


This version of anyhow was popular in the 1920s. It’s a good transition word to use when wanting to switch up a conversation.

It also sounds like you’re a true 1920s fellow when used with other slang words: “Anyhoo, I told my pals let’s blouse before the coppers got to the speakeasy.”


This is another slang word from the 1920s that we still use today. It’s mainly seen in the form of bad apple, or someone who isn’t a good influence due to bad behavior.

Beginning in the ‘20s, this slang word is usually preceded by an adjective like poor or tough, or even married to describe someone’s quality or status as a person.

The slang form of apple literally means “person.” Just like that little egg you read about previously.

run with the ball

Invert the structure of this phrase and you get take the ball and run, which we understand to mean as “taking an opportunity and following it.”

But run with the ball seems like a good phrase to bring back into 2020, as it means something slightly different.

Back in the speakeasies, run with the ball meant when someone “assumed responsibility and tackled problems head-on.”

blind date

Being in a blind date situation can either be magical or embarrassing! The mystery, the intrigue … the icy mitt?

But regardless of the good or bad outcomes, blind dates have been such a popular phenomenon in the US that the phrase actually goes all the way back to the 1920s!

Blind is a metaphor, referring to the fact that a blind date is arranged by a third person for two people who haven’t met.


Here’s a term of endearment you might have used with your own significant other … and another entry into slang centered around food.

A cutie-pie, usually a young woman, is someone who is adorable or attractive. You’d be lucky to have one as a blind date!


The sweetest things in life are free. The people of the Roaring Twenties must have thought so, too! This word, which especially applies to a sample or promotion, was spelled both freebie and freeby.

It’s thought that freebie could have originally been a phrase, free bee. In this case, bee could be put the bee on, or borrowing money without paying it back.

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