10 slang phrases that perfectly sum up their era (2023)

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10 slang phrases that perfectly sum up their era (1)Image source, Alamy

Lexicographer Jonathon Green selects the slang words and expressions that encapsulate the age in which they were coined.

I've been collecting slang and and publishing books about it for 30 years. My database contains 125,000 words and phrases and they keep coming.

One thing I've learnt - the more slang changes, to half-inch the well-known phrase, the more slang stays the same.

Politically correct, even polite: I fear not. But humanity at its most human, absolutely.

(Video) 10 slang phrases that perfectly sum up their era -- BBC (with English captions / subtitles)

As examples I offer a selection of terms that display some of slang's nuts and bolts.


Image source, Getty Images

It was there in the first ever glossary of slang, the collection of criminal jargon published c.1532, and it's still going strong. Booze: Alcohol, drink, and as a verb, to drink. It came from Dutch buizen, to drink to excess (and beyond that buise, a large drinking vessel) and the first examples were spelt bouse. Over the centuries it spread its wings. We find the boozer (both pub and person), the booze artist, -gob, -head, -freak, -hound,-hoister, -rooster, -shunter and -stupe, all drunkards. There are the pubs, saloons and bars - the booze barn, -bazaar, -casa, -crib, -joint, -mill, -parlour, -factory, -foundry and -emporium. Across the mahogany (the bar counter) stands the booze clerk, -fencer or -pusher. If we hit the booze too heavily, we get a booze belly, and maybe a trip on the booze bus, Australia's mobile breath-tester.


Image source, Alamy

Slang, being subversive to its very core, doesn't have much time for rules but like all language it has to accept one - words are always older than you think. Let's take diss. Meaning - disrespect. Origins - African-American, spread like so much of that slang-filled language via the worldwide success of hip-hop and rap music. Date - ever since the late 1980s. Except, with the exception of the meaning, all that is wrong. Go back, search among the vast number of online databases that are lexicography's gift from the internet. Look, digitally, at the Sunday Times of Perth, Western Australia. Specifically at 10 December 1906 and find: "When a journalistic rival tries to 'dis' you / And to prejudice you in the public's eyes." The next example is 1981. The only question now - what about the examples in between?


I had met slang earlier - you couldn't read writers such as Sapper or PG Wodehouse and fail to note that not all language was restrained to the standard - but I doubt if I really started thinking "slang" till the 60s. Groovy, heavy, bag (of which Papa had a brand new…), uptight (and outasite), thing, cool, dope… such were hippiedom's key words. That they came, unaltered, from an American black vocabulary that was around 30 years old was irrelevant. Ignorance, if not bliss, did not impede our use. Some were laid to rest; others flourish. Dope still means drugs, as well as affirming excellence. Cool marches on, re-minted for every youthful generation. As for groovy, it began life meaning conservative ("stuck in a groove"); now the young use it to mock those who pose as latter-day freaks.

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Image source, Alamy

The original hipster wore Italian suits, listened to Charlie Parker's brand of "cool" jazz, shot up heroin and doubled as what Norman Mailer, in a famous essay of 1957, christened "The White Negro". Mass-marketed, he was the idealised stud of Hugh Hefner's "Playboy philosophy", at his incomparable best the taboo-shattering stand-up Lenny Bruce. Something cooler and blacker than the beatnik, he was a cut above the hippie, which, pre-bells and beads, signified a failed or at best wannabe hipster. He vanished around 1960. Now he's back (and she too) and the Urban Dictionary describes "a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter". Been there, dare I say, done that too.

Image source, Thinkstock

Not all there

Slang fails on caring, sharing and compassion but it does a good insult. Modernity lacks the 18th Century's excellent "you are a thief and a murderer: you have killed a baboon and stolen his face" but there is much on offer. Slang, as noted, pooh-poohs political correctness and has no time for euphemism, however justified, and while mental-health professionals might deplore the fact, lists a wide range of terms it defines as "mad". The over-riding image is "not all there". Take your pick from:A couple of chips short of an order, a butty, a happy meal or even a circuit-board, a few bob short of the pound, a few snags short of a barbie, one brick short of a load, one sandwich short of a picnic, one stop short of East Ham (yes, "barking") or two wafers short of a communion.


Image source, PA

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With "older than you think" still in mind, there's dosh - money. Like many of slang terms for cash, the inference is "something you need", e.g. the needful, bread, as in "the staff of life" or quid, from the Latin for "what", with "one needs" left unspoken. Dosh, which started life around 1850, may come from a mix of "dollar" and "cash" but the root lies more likely in doss, a sleep, bed or lodging house, itself rooted in Latin's dorsus, the back, on which one rests. Dosh was the money required to get that very basic necessity.


Image source, Alamy

Slang, being what Americans would term a contrary cuss, is never happier than when rendering its topics and terminology inside-out, upside down and generally turning all available arses about-face. Never more so than with those alleged poles of morality, good and bad. It is a vocabulary, after all, in which do good means to make substantial profits from crime and get good to become drunk. And bad? Quite simply, in slang's looking-glass environs, bad means good. Albeit with a special sauce of sexiness and outsider cool.

It all starts with rum. In cant, the language of criminal beggars, rum meant good. The reason is lost, though there may be links to Rome, both as a former imperial capital and in Romeville, cant for London. The image is of the great and powerful city epitomizing something desirable.

"Good" rum offered over 120 compounds. There was rum booze, which was good strong beer, there was a rum diver who was a competent pickpocket and a rum doxy who was a pretty girl. A rum kiddy was a smart young villain and rum nantz the best-quality brandy (from Nantes, whence it was exported). Then, around 1760, it all changes. We meet the rum cove, an odd or eccentric character, the rum phiz, a deformed face (phiz as in physiognomy), and of course the rum 'un, a dubious individual.

"Bad" rum's descendants start emerging in the early 19th Century. There is terrible, nasty, awful, mean and hell. There is also, though today's young might find this surprising, wicked, which turns up in 1842. Then it promptly disappears and does not re-emerge until 1908, often describing food (a "wicked ragout") or drink (a "wicked punch"). One can also shake a wicked foot. Exclamatory wicked! arrives in the 1970s (in the 50s musical Grease, though the "real" fifties offer no examples) and really gets going - stand up, Jamie Oliver - in the 90s.

Much is owed to hip-hop. Ill appeared in 1987, dank and skanky (used elsewhere of drugs and floozies respectively) in 1989 and ghetto in 1996. The new century has added roughneck, beasty and treacherous.

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Whole nine yards

Image source, Thinkstock

Why do people read slang dictionaries? Not for the spelling, nor the pronunciation. What they want is the etymologies - the stories behind the words. Usually we can give them, although a surprising number are simply playing with standard English. Thus dog, with its compounds, offers 161 meanings in slang. But sometimes we can't. What, for instance lies behind the phrase the whole nine yards? We know that it comes out of US regional use, and is so far first recorded in 1907. But its origins? Most suggestions involve standards of measurement, from the dimensions of a nun's habit to the capacity of a cement truck and the length of an ammunition clip to that of a hangman's rope. However, few, when checked, actually run to nine yards. It may be no more than the use of nine as a form of mystic number. Your guess, dare I admit, maybe be even better than mine.


Slang may stay the same but the lexis evolves. Standard English laid down such terms as drunk or sexual intercourse centuries ago. Slang, not so much a language (where's the grammar?) but rather a vast compendium of synonyms, has respectively 3,000 and 1,750 terms for each. That the former tend to suggest some form of physical ineptitude and latter, sadly, too often boils down to "man hits woman", does not mean there won't be more. But there are real novelties. Nang, meaning first-rate, is an example of slang's current cutting edge, Multi-ethnic London English (MLE). This mix of Jamaican patois, American hip-hop, Cockney classics and the coinages of youthful Londoners has added much to slang's vocabulary. Nang, imported from the Caribbean where it means ostentation or style and rooted in Mende nyanga, showing off, is one of the better-known examples.


Image source, Getty Images

Slang is ephemeral. So runs the critique. As booze and thousands of other terms make clear, this is far from the rule. But yes, some things don't last. Yolo - you only live once - was the flavour of the month, even year, not that long ago. Today few slang users worthy of their attitude would be heard using it. It is far from alone. In 1840 Charles McKay, in his book Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, listed a number of defunct, yet once hugely popular catchphrases. Among them - has your mother sold her mangle? walker! quoz! flare up! and there he goes with his eye out! Each, as Mackay noted, was "the slang par excellence of the Londoners, and afforded them a vast gratification". And now? All gone, not to mention forgotten.

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What are 5 examples of slang? ›

An Introduction to English Slang: 30 Wonderful Examples
  • Bee's knees. This perplexing rhyme is a nonsense phrase that describes something excellent. ...
  • DIY. ...
  • Lost the plot. ...
  • Killing me. ...
  • Gutted. ...
  • Chuffed. ...
  • Ace. ...
  • Sarnie and more food-related slang words.

What are some slang phrases? ›

Popular American slang phrases
Slang phraseEnglish meaning
I'm gameI can join you/I will do it
I'm downI can join you/I will do it
I'm inI can join you/I will do it
Have a blastHaving a great time
52 more rows
23 Feb 2022

What are 90s slang words? ›

20 Slang Terms Every 1990s Kid Will Remember
  • Talk to the hand. Shutterstock. Whatever the other person is trying to tell you has been rejected. ...
  • As if! Shutterstock. ...
  • Booyah! Shutterstock. ...
  • Scrub. Shutterstock. ...
  • Not! Shutterstock. ...
  • Monet. Shutterstock. ...
  • Aiight. Shutterstock. ...
  • Crunk. Shutterstock.

What are some old slang sayings? ›

List of 1950s Slang:
  • Antsville: A congested place.
  • Knuckle sandwich: A punch in the face.
  • Shiner: A black eye.
  • Tank: A big car.
  • Ain't that a bite: That's too bad.
  • Ball: A really good time.
  • Flip your lid: Go Crazy.
  • Made in the shade: Something's guaranteed to be a success.
17 Aug 2020

What are the most popular slangs? ›

'Ghosted' and 'salty' are top slang words of 2022, survey says. But 'bae'? Not so much.
  • Slang isn't going away. ...
  • Nearly all Americans (94%) use slang, a higher number than the 84% figure this survey found last year.
  • The most popular slang terms remain "ghosted" (to cut off communication) and "salty" (angry).
3 days ago

What are some slang words 2022? ›

With that said, here are the new English slangs you'll want to understand for 2022:
  • Vibe Check. Vibe Check is a term that you'll use when you want to know if someone is down for a particular thing. ...
  • Drip. ...
  • Rent-Free. ...
  • Cheugy. ...
  • Bussin. ...
  • Caught In 4k. ...
  • Sending Me.

What are some 80s slang words? ›

1980s Slang Words And Phrases
  • Gag me with a spoon! Meaning: That's disgusting! ...
  • Gnarly. Meaning: amazing, awesome; or, disgusting. ...
  • Eat my shorts! Meaning: a crude remark to tell someone to go away, stop bothering you, etc. ...
  • Homeboy, homegirl, homebuddy, etc. ...
  • Veg out. ...
  • Wannabe. ...
  • Where's the beef?
27 Aug 2021

What is Pepa in slang? ›

(Latin America, slang) clitoris.

What are 5 slang words used from the 50's? ›

Corny 1950s Slang Terms

A few examples originating in the 1950s could include “cruisin' for a bruisin',” “knuckle sandwich,” “Daddy-O,” “burn rubber,” “party pooper,” “ankle biter,” “get bent,” “cool cat,” and “got it made in the shade.”

How do you talk like the 70s? ›

The disco era is known for many other groovy slang sayings and expressions.
  1. You decent? - asking if someone is dressed.
  2. You jivin' yet? - ...
  3. aww sooky sooky - yeah, baby.
  4. Can you dig it? - ...
  5. Catch my drift? - ...
  6. catch you on the flip side - see you later.
  7. check ya later - see or talk to you later.
  8. close the shades - shut up.

What is a 20 slang? ›

What's your 20? is part of a system of radio codes called 10-codes. They developed in the late 1930s when police squads began using two-way radio to communicate. One was 10-20, meaning “location.” Asking What's your 20? emerged as a way to seek another's whereabouts.

What's a 49 slang? ›

49: An informal social celebration at an Indian gathering such as a powwow. 49in': Partying at a 49.

Is 143 a slang? ›

What does 143 mean? 143 is code for I love you, especially used on pagers back in the 1990s.

Which English slang is the best? ›

Top 10 British Slang Words You Must Know!
  • Dead. "this party is dead" means this party is boring or it might also mean there is not many people in the party. ...
  • Shade. Throwing shade at someone means subtly disrespecting someone. ...
  • Boujee. ...
  • Extra. ...
  • Done. ...
  • Bare. ...
  • Cheers. ...
  • Mardy.
29 Oct 2019

What is the biggest slang in the world? ›

What's up? – Hey, what are you up to? This word is at the very top of the list of common slang words in the english language.

Is cool a slang word? ›

While slang terms are usually short-lived coinages and figures of speech, cool is an especially ubiquitous slang word, most notably among young people.

What is a 40 slang for? ›

The term and slang “40” was popularized in Chicago, Illinois as a word referring to handguns and the gun's caliber.

What is a 30 slang for? ›

Meaning. 30. The End (sign of completion at the end of a news story) showing only Slang/Internet Slang definitions (show all 2 definitions)

What is a 250 in slang? ›

+ Follow. Did you know that the number 250 (二百五 èr bǎi wǔ) means “idiot” in China? In Chinese, 二百五 (two hundred and fifty) is a term used as an insult, which means "stupid person" or "to be a simple person". Why? One explanation is that it comes from diào, a currency unit of ancient China.

What is slangs and example? ›

Slang refers to a type of language that's too informal to use in certain situations. You can tell a word or phrase is slang when it becomes uncool to use it after a while — like "groovy" or "far out." Often, slang terms are considered vulgar or offensive to use in polite conversation.

What is some cool slang? ›

21 Slang Words That Should Still Be Cool To Use In 2022
  • On Fleek.
  • Buggin'
  • Trippin'
  • Illin'
  • Word.
  • Poppin'
  • Bomb.
  • Flava.
28 Mar 2022

Is LOL a slang word? ›

Lol is an acronym of laugh out loud. It can be used as an interjection and a verb. Lol is one of the most common slang terms in electronic communications. Even though it means laugh out loud, lol is mostly used to indicate smiling or slight amusement.

What are 4 interesting slang terms of the 1920s? ›

  • Goofy. Silly.
  • Gyp. To cheap someone out of something (short for.
  • Hard-boiled. Tough; without feeling or sentiment.
  • Heebie-jeebie. The jitters, the creeps.
  • Hep. Wise.
  • High-hat. To snub someone.
  • Hokum. Nonsense; something not to be believed.
  • Hooch. Bootleg liquor (from Hoochinoo, a tribe of Alaskan.

What was the most popular slang word in 1977? ›

Check out the rest of the list to see the most popular slang term the year you were born.
  • 1970: Dorky.
  • 1971: Deadheads.
  • 1972: Guilt Trip.
  • 1973: Carbo.
  • 1974: Motorhead.
  • 1975: Detox.
  • 1976: Hardball.
  • 1977: Brewski.
11 Apr 2019

How do you say cool in 1920s slang? ›

Berries: Something cool or desirable, similar to “the bee's knees.”

What was slang for cool in the 80s? ›

Tight. Not only were the spandex tight in the 80's, but so was the slang. Tight means cool, awesome, rad or right on.

What was the most popular slang in 1985? ›

1985: Cool Beans. Nowadays, you're not exactly considered "cool" if you throw out the phrase cool beans in everyday conversations. However, when the term was adopted by Merriam-Webster in 1985, it was a pretty cool slang phrase used to "express agreement or approval."

What are some gangster slang words? ›

Gang slang terms
  • BG -n.- Baby Gangsta; an adolescent gangster.
  • bluh -n. - a slurred pronunciation of Blood. ...
  • Cuzz/Cuzzo -n. - Crip. ...
  • G -n. - a gangsta. ...
  • OG -n. - Original Gangster. ...
  • overhoe -n. - derogatory term towards a Ova Soldier gang member.
  • suwitchboy -n. - derogatory term towards a D.T.B ganster.
22 Mar 2019

What are some 1930 slang words? ›

A number of interesting slang terms for drugs and alcohol became part of the vernacular during this era.
  • booze - whiskey.
  • cadillac - an ounce of cocaine or heroin.
  • giggle juice - whiskey.
  • hooch - whiskey.
  • jive - marijuana.
  • muggles - marijuana.
  • weed - marijuana.

What are some 1940s slang words? ›

Bygone Forties Slang Terms
  • Active duty: A promiscuous male.
  • Ameche: Telephone.
  • Anchor cranker: Sailor.
  • Cheaters: Sunglasses.
  • Crumb: A jerk.
  • Doll dizzy: Girl-crazy.
  • Dead Hoofer: A bad dancer.
  • Ducky shincracker: A good dancer.
30 Nov 2017

What does WAP mean from a guy? ›

What does WAP mean? WAP is a slang acronym that stands for wet-ass pussy. The acronym was created and popularized by hip-hop artist Cardi B in her hit August 2020 single “WAP.”

What does Pancho mean in slang? ›

As a proper noun, Pancho is the nickname of your friend's uncle Francisco. As an abstract noun, pancho means an unfounded and unnecessary drama or tantrum.

What does Chava mean in slang? ›

Spanish-speaking countries have a TON of slang words to refer to children, and Mexico is no different. Chavo or chava is the Mexican equivalent for the English word 'kid.

What was the most popular slang in 1976? ›

  • 1967, "freak flag"
  • 1968, "bippy"
  • 1969, "out of sight"
  • 1970, "dorky"
  • 1971, "deadheads"
  • 1975, "detox"
  • 1976, "hardball"
  • 1977, "brewski"
18 Apr 2017

Which of these is a slang term for the sum of 20? ›

Cockney Money Slang

The first things you gotta learn are that five pounds is a fiver, and ten pounds is a tenner. Then you gotta know the key money values: £20 is a Score, £25 is a Pony, £100 is a Ton, £500 is a Monkey, and £1000 is a Grand. Here's our list of terms from the dictionary that are money-related.

How did people say cool in the 70s? ›

Hip. There are many, many ways to express the word “cool,” but “hip” was the all-time favorite term during this groovy decade. If you were cool, then you were hip. Being hip often meant cool car, cool clothes, cool vibe.

What was cool in the 70s? ›

15 Top Trends from the 70s
  • Bellbottoms. Bellbottoms were like the clothing mullet before the mullet was really a thing. ...
  • Platforms. Wanting to be taller is a common wish among people. ...
  • High-waisted jeans. ...
  • Tie-dye. ...
  • Feathered hair. ...
  • The afro. ...
  • Corduroy. ...
  • Circular sunglasses.

What was the 70s nickname? ›

31, 2017, in New York. From the “Roaring '20s” to the “Me Decade” in the 1970s, decades in American history are often known by nicknames.

What is a good example of slang? ›

Compound Slang
  • Crashy - Crazy and trashy, like a trainwreck.
  • Crunk - Getting high and drunk at the same time, or crazy and drunk.
  • Hangry - Hungry and angry.
  • Requestion - Request and a question, or to question again.
  • Tope - Tight and dope.
22 Aug 2022

Is lmao a slang word? ›

The meaning of lmao

You can think of it as a stronger version of lol, which stands for laughing out loud. Lmao came about at the beginning of 1990s, and the people who used it first were early adopters of online communication. Today, it's a part of textspeak and Internet slang.

What is slang short answer? ›

Slang is vocabulary that is used between people who belong to the same social group and who know each other well. Slang is very informal language. It can offend people if it is used about other people or outside a group of people who know each other well. We usually use slang in speaking rather than writing.

What is a 30 slang? ›

Meaning. 30. The End (sign of completion at the end of a news story) showing only Slang/Internet Slang definitions (show all 2 definitions)

Is Bro a slang word? ›

It became a synonym for “guy” in the mid-20th century. Around the 1970s, African-American men began to use both “bro” and “brother” as slang for their male friends, and the usage spread from there.

What means UwU? ›

or UwU (ˈuːwuː ) exclamation. slang. an expression of admiration for something that is considered cute, used esp in text messaging and social media.

What does BRB mean to a girl? ›

BRB: Be right back. BTW: By the way. CTN: Can't talk now.

What Emoji is FML? ›

What Emoji is FML? Description: FML is an abbreviation for "F*** my life," which is sometimes used in chat slang. The emoticon represents a sad person, where the "D" is a frown and the apostrophe (') is a tear.


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