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1920s Slang Terms to Bring Back in the 2020s

Roaring 20s Clip Art

So you’re a bit of an antiquarian. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you look at how exhausting our modern-day world is! The Roaring 20s was full to bursting with art, music, razzle-dazzle, flare, and all other sorts of colorful history. There’s a reason Downton Abbey was so popular.

Here at FamilyWise, we like to think of ourselves as culture curators. That’s why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to compile a list of the most cheeky, quippy, witty catchphrases of the 20th century’s wild second decade. Whether you’re emulating Sinatra, feeling a little nostalgic, or just fascinated by your great aunt’s hilariously dated banter, then you’ve definitely come to the right place.

“Tell It to Sweeney!”

This saying takes the popular saying “Tell it to the Marines!” to the next level, used as an expression of disbelief. The expression dates back all the way to the early 1800s when Englishmen used the term “Sweeney” as a stereotypical nickname for their rival Irishmen.

“Glad Rags”

This silly phrase is just another way of referring to party clothes. Out for a night on the town? Make sure you’re decked out in your hottest glad rags!


Basically, this word refers to a half-smoked cigarette. Don’t ask us why. Our guess is as good as yours.

“The Berries”

If you’re tired of using the word “awesome” to describe literally anything good, you might as well just replace it with this cute little phrase. Back in the age of the flapper, if something was deemed “the berries,” it was categorically awesome.


Who knows why they couldn’t just call ’em legs?


So, this refers to a wedding ring. We don’t want to get into all the psychological and institutional precedents that contributed to the use of this term.


Not to be confused with the more modern term “brown-noser,” if someone called you a bluenose back in the day, you were probably not their favorite person. Essentially, it means that you’re a buzzkill.

“Iron your shoelaces”

Whoever came up with this one was probably squeamish. If someone’s gone to “iron their shoelaces,” it means they’ve gone to use the restroom.

“Know Your Onions”

We’ve got a winner for the weirdest and whackiest phrase of them all. This basically means the act of knowing what you’re talking about–aka being coherent and articulate.

“Let’s Blouse!”

This is a phrase that you would probably have to hear twice to make sure you heard right. But don’t worry, it means the same as what you thought you heard initially: “Let’s bounce!”


It’s another way to say money, moolah, cheddar, etcetera. There’s nothing like strange-sounding nonsense words to replace perfectly acceptable words like “money”.


You can probably guess what this one means. It’s a more appropriate word to use after you stub your toe.

“Noodle Juice”

This is a funner word for tea. If you’re having a stressful day, or need a nice sip of relaxation, just make yourself some noodle juice.


If a guy in the 20s called you a tomato, the proper and merited response would be to slap him in the face. Not that we’re promoting violence, but if a man says this to you, it basically means he thinks you’re all beauty and no brains. And if there’s one thing we definitely do NOT promote here at FamilyWise, it’s disrespect!


Way before the world became familiar with the lovable Disney character of this name, the word “goofy” was used in lieu of “I love you,” or “I’m crazy about you.” In pretty uncertain terms, if someone was “goofy for you” in the 1920s, your relationship was headed in a positive direction.

“Chewing Gum”

This term was often used to refer to the rehearsed banter of politicians. It’s the all-too-familiar backtracking sorts of hypocrisy that come out of government representatives’ mouths.


If you’re a cake-eater, you’re a guy with a littleĀ too much charisma. When it comes to the ladies, you’re pretty much a womanizer.


Yeah, you know this as the popular super-food, but back in the day, “kale” was just another way to refer to money, moolah, cheddar.


If you wear glasses, anyone from the 1920s would likely say you’ve got yourself a quality pair of cheaters. That’s right, this word used to be synonymous with spectacles or glasses.

“Alarm Clock”

If someone is an alarm clock, they’re basically the party-pooper. If you try to call someone an alarm clock today, you’ll probably get a few weird looks.

“Butt Me”

Get your mind out of the gutter. Back in the 20s, this meant something entirely different than how it would be interpreted today. Instead of asking for a cigarette, one would simply say “Butt me.”


This is one of the more popular adjectives of the 20s that is still used today. If you’re a clean-cut, put-together individual, you emulate the “dapper” style of the olden days. Stay classy!

“Father Time”

Any man over 30 was playfully called Father Time. It’s a low-key burn.


If something is Jake, then it’s absolutely A-OK.


Before you call a woman a bearcat, be sure they know what it means. Especially because this is a word to describe a fiery, spirited woman.


This word was used to describe a macho man or an especially manly individual.

“Cancelled Stamp”

Essentially, this refers to a shy gal–someone who would rather spend a night in than go out on the town.

“Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels!”

This is what you would say to someone likely to do something dumb.

“Go Chase Yourself”

This phrase basically means “get outta’ here.”


Not that you really need another word for a car with terrible gas mileage, but this is here in case you want one.


This is the best word you could use to describe someone you think is good-looking.

“Oliver Twist”

No, not the fictional character, just a random nickname people would call you if you had some mad dancing skills.

“Petting Pantry”

This one is pretty hilarious. It’s just another name for the movie theater, but it’s also got some double meaning.


AKA another term for a teen dance party or get-together.


It’s not like there’s really an overwhelming demand for alternate names for doughnuts, but this popular one from the 20s is a good option if you’re looking.


This is just another name for a really important event.

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