Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Words, Words, and more Words

Christina Rich, here and I love words, especially weird and outdated ones. I recently wrote a novella set in 1909, an era completely new to me. After researching things like modes of transportation, clothing, and popular food items, I did a search of slang terms and found an interesting list.

absotively – absolutely and positively
acknowledge the corn – admit responsibility for
Adam’s ale – water
all to the mustard – excellent
almighty dollar – money, god of America
applesauce – blah, tripe, nonsense, foolish talk
go to the bad – attend Sunday movies, dance, or otherwise offend the Rotary Methodist god
birthday suit – nature’s garb
cake eater – tea-hound, lounge-lizard, lady-bug
snake’s hips – something excellent
flumadiddle – humbug, flummery, nonsense
full of prunes – you’re crazy, you’re wrong
gibble-gabble, mulligatawny – foolish talk
to ride the goat – to be initiated into a secret society
fluzie – a daughter of joy, prostitute
Heavens! – formerly, god’s resident; now, an expletive
hotsy-totsy, tootsie-wootsie – a girl all to the mustard, all O.K.

#56, A Dictionary of American Slang

You might recognize a few of them and some are down-right silly, but I couldn’t help adding them into the story. Of course, I checked to makes sure they lined up date-wise.

You may be wondering what the big deal is with knowing the history of words. Well, you wouldn't find the Gestapo fighting alongside Genghis Khan and cavemen would not have used an airplane. I'm sure it seems a little ridiculous to you, huh? Honestly, though a genteel lady wouldn't tell a companion she needed to use the outhouse, not in Regency England, but she would ask for a powder room. Of course, a genteel lady probably wouldn't mention such things anyway, but if she were, she'd most likely use the word privy and bathroom would be completely out of the question since hat word, although used for a few hundred years, didn't come to mean what we Americans know it as until the 20th century.

As an historical author I try to take care with the words I use. If I'm not, I'm bound to receive hundreds of emails pointing out my mistakes.

What the Dickens?

Yeah, really! I'm not fooling you. Readers, especially those who enjoy and know their history, aren't always forgiving and since a lot of us writers are readers too, that means we probably know our stuff, especially when it comes to slang. I’m one of those guilty readers who looks up the usage date.

You want to know something interesting? You probably already know it, but I'm going to share it anyway. Much of the slang I've encountered are creative exchanges for curse words. *GASP* I know, right!
Just look at jiminy crickets. Do you know where it originated? No, not Walt Disney. According to the Internet, cause y'all know we believe everything we find there, jiminy crickets was used in England as a curse word to keep the speaker from being guilty of taking the Lord's name in vain. Seems it was used in a few movies before Pinocchio even made the screen in 1940, but who knows when it actually came into use.

Remember the good 'ol days of Leave it to Beaver? Jeepers, Wally! Yeah, those were the days when children were respectful, moms cooked, cleaned and looked like they spent the day at the spa, and dads used gentle discipline. It was a real, right upstanding show with lots of moral values. Now, I'm not saying anything against the Beave, because I loved watching all the reruns, but Jeepers is another one of those words used in exchange for the Lord's name. The word came into existence sometime in the 1920s, most likely made up by a good-little-church-girl turned flapper.

Here is one of my favorites, mainly because I've been dinged (and if I'm to be honest I probably dinged a few writers for it too) for using it prior to the 1800s. What the Dickens? I mean it only makes sense that this term is coined after Charles Dickens, right?


I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. What do you call your knight's name, sirrah?
Merry Wives of Windsor
William Shakespeare

That's quite a few years before Charles Dickens was born. Over two hundred years to be exact. I'm sure you already know what it means, but just in case, it's what the devil.

I love discovering the origination of words, not just because I need to know them for writing, but because I find them interesting. Guess I'm weird like that. 

What slang did you grow up with or have used over the years? Do you know the origination or why it came into existence? Care to share? Can you guess which three phrases from the list I used in my most recent novella?

*portions of this post have been previously published by Christina Rich


  1. Fun post, Christina! Thanks for waking me up this morning with a smile. :)

  2. So interesting. I love learn new words. I've heard my grandparents say some of those words. Thanks for a great post.


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