Roaring 20's Flappers

1920’s Slang

From Word Genius

It’s been 100 years since flappers, mobsters, and speakeasies were all the rage. Prohibition was in full swing, leading an entire subculture of risqué clothing, dancing, and tongue-in-cheek humor. This energetic era had its own rebellious language to match, and nonsensical words littered conversations in dimly lit speakeasies and on hectic city streets. Some of these terms are still in use today, but with the 2020s just getting started, it’s high time to bring more of the colorful terminology into this century’s roaring ’20s.


Maybe you’ve heard of “phoney-bologna,” but what about its more sophisticated cousin, “phonus-balonus”? This ridiculous phrase is a direct way to call out someone’s nonsense, but we promise you’ll feel more regal when you say it out loud. 

Voot, Clams, and Kale

Got any spare clams? How about some kale? No, we’re not making a salad. “Voot,” “clams,” and “kale” are all slang terms for money or currency. Given kale’s recent revival, we think this would be the perfect term to bring back in the 2020s. 


Since Prohibition was top of mind, a lot of 1920s slang words were more like codenames for drinking. It was easy to get zozzled (drunk) on giggle water (alcohol) at speakeasies and gin mills. And let’s be honest, “zozzled” sounds more fun than “intoxicated.” 

Bee’s Knees

Following a socially oppressive Victorian era, the 1920s were still focused on appearances. Women were wearing a little less, and men were dressing in different styles, so people needed new ways to talk about it. Acceptable ways to refer to an attractive person of either gender would be to call them the “bee’s knees,” the “cat’s meow,” or the “cat’s pajamas.” “Hotsy-totsy,” “keen,” and “spiffy” also refer to a visually pleasing person. But in the 2020s, we’re getting past judging people solely on their appearances, so save the bee references for when you dig someone’s record collection or admire their humor.


For every fun-loving person there exists a curmudgeon. Call your prudish friends “bluenoses” or “Mrs. Grundy,” and that boring date from last weekend a “flat tire.” 

Drugstore Cowboy

A drugstore cowboy was a fella who hung around on street corners trying to pick up girls. In 2021, it might be the perfect term for someone who spams women on Tinder. 

Tell It to Sweeney

We’re not exactly sure who Sweeney is, but he’s probably full of phonus-balonus. The 1990s had “talk to the hand” but “tell it to Sweeney” will cut short any efforts from that drugstore cowboy.

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