Jun 11, 2014

Old Slang

I recently picked up the Back To The Future trilogy for eight bucks so the kids and I watched all three movies in a weekend. (The kids loved them - it was fun).  The first movie was made in 1985 and there were a couple of slang phrases in it that were ubiquitous at the time, but have since disappeared from use.  It got me thinking about other slang that has fallen from use.

There are a bunch of US, Australian, English and New Zealand slang terms that were all pretty big when I was a kid and teenager. (That's mid-seventies to late eighties).  Hardly any of them have survived, though a few have. Some have morphed into shortened versions ("veg out" became "veg"). Some have evolved into updated versions ("Get serious!" was replaced by "Get real!" which is now used slightly differently as "Let's get real"). Some have survived, like linguistic artefacts, as ancestors of former phrases (we no longer say "kick the bucket" but we do have a "bucket list").

Some fell out of favor and then came back. The best example I can think of is "Far out!", which was a quaint, funny seventies slang term not used in the eighties, but is now back in use. I think maybe it's because it's a handy stand-in for "F- - -!" to use in polite society or in front of children.

There were some that seemed funny and totally fine at the time but seem a bit offensive in retrospect - "ghetto blaster" comes to mind, along with "spazz" and other playground insults best left in the past.

Slang is funny. The ones that stick are easy and clever, and there are others that try too hard, take too long to say (e.g., "technicolour yawn") or just won't work. ("Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen").

Some are resisted, uselessly. In New Zealand in the eighties I remember an Anglophile newspaper columnist bemoaning the use of the American "slang" term (keep in mind New Zealand was a pretty old-fashioned place back then) "hired and fired" and wondered why we couldn't use the "better" British English version "backed and sacked". As we say these days: good luck with that.

But even slang terms that are not resisted, are really popular and seem destined to stick around, seem to mostly eventually fall away. Just ask your parents what terms they used to use as teenagers. Or watch a movie from your own youth, and be reminded of all the things you thought you'd be saying forever.

Do you remember these?
  • That's heavy     (serious or profound)
  • Cosmic!
  • No shit, Sherlock           
  • Get serious!        
  • What a whacker     (Australian - was eventually replaced here by the English 'wanker')
  • It's a joke, Joyce    
  • Der, Fred
  • Choice!       (chiefly New Zealand)
  • Couch potato
  • Veg out           
  • Radical!     
  • Cool bananas      (still in use - supposedly ironically - by people my age; also 'Coolio')
  • Brill         (brilliant)
  • Brillo pad      (inevitable evolution of "brill")
  • Ace!    
  • Mondo                        
  • No way, Jose
  • "So funny I forgot to laugh"   (Sarcastic. I think it was a thing only kids said, but we said it a lot)
  • space cadet
  • yuppie
  • propeller head   (nerd)
  • Poindexter   (nerd)
  • spazz attack    (go crazy/freak out)
  • technicolour yawn   (vomit)
  • chuck a party
  • metal mouth / brace face    (someone wearing orthodontic braces)
  • Cowabunga!
  • As if!
  • Like, oh my god!   (ermahgerd!)
  • Go jump in the lake  /  Go take a long walk off a short pier    
  • Sit and spin
  • dirtbag
  • scumbag
  • (Something) City   - as in, if there were a lot of bad people somewhere, it was "Scumbag City"
  • pash   (kiss)
  • suck face   (kiss)
  • kicked the bucket  /  bought the farm     (died)
  • porchlight on dim   (one card short of a full deck; not all dogs barking; cuckoo)

How about these once popular sayings and quotes:

  • Whatchu talkin' bout Willis?                           (from the TV show Diff'rent Strokes)
  • Hang in there!                                                (poster - branch - kitten. Remember?)
  • It's hard to fly like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkeys    (also a popular poster)
  • Happiness is a warm puppy                           (from Snoopy)
  • You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.            (from the TV show The Incredible Hulk)
  • Let's be careful out there                                (from the TV show Hill Street Blues)
  • "Holy (something), Batman!"                          (from the TV show Batman and Robin)
  • Good thinking, Ninety-Nine                           (from the TV show Get Smart)

Have you got any more?

Alex/Flickr Creative Commons


  1. Here3's one more for you...." 'splan it to me Lucy" from I Love Lucy. We still use that one here.

    1. Oh Ricky! The one of his I still use is "Ay ay ay ay...."

  2. Jackie, thanks for sharing it's very interesting.

  3. Fun post, I had no idea how many of these are or were universal.
    We had one in Jr. High that I think never left our side of town. "Hit the right!" (tell the truth) From swearing in court. We may have had a few delinquents in our crowd.

    "Hit the right passed that test." "Hit the right you sucked face with Mary Lou!"

    1. See now that should have caught on - it's pretty good. Maybe was just too obscure to travel.

  4. Many of these are frighteningly familiar. And I still cringe thinking about my mother trying to use some of them.

    1. My dad used to just throw in some weird old slang from his school days sometimes and we'd all have a good old laugh at what weird things they used to say in The Olden Days.

  5. I still use half of these. And all the Young Ones quotes from way back then :Have we got a video?"

    1. I forgot about that one! My family still use from the Young Ones: 'now that, I did not expect' and Rik's quote during Trivial Pursuit 'Ooh I know this, I know this...'

  6. "Good night John Boy", from The Waltons, and it is still to be among our family at bedtime.

    "Oh, you are naughty", which I think was from one of the English female impersonators.

    Rapt is a word which my mother still uses and it sounds weird.

    Not so old but, "This is a local shop for local people", perhaps from League of Gentlemen.

    I think it is misquote, "You're not in Kansas now Dorothy".

    From a British tv comedy show, "It's only Sonia", called out by a frequently visiting neighbour at the back door.

    1. Yes, my family always did "Goodnight John Boy" too! And we never even watched The Waltons.
      Rapt - very much in use among my extended family. It's quite archaic I think.

  7. Recognised them all and realised that I still use most of them!

    'Whacker' was huge in my home town in the late 70s/early 80s, as was 'drongo'

    If you saw a loser, they were sometimes described as 'Not exactly a Tower of Strength'

    1. Isn't it weird? 'Whacker' was huge when I was a kid too, but now completely gone. Which is fine...
      'Not exactly a Tower of Strength' - yes I've heard that too. Love those "not..." phrases, they're really funny.
      I still use some of these too, but then you, me and Pandora are all the same vintage.

  8. really enjoyed that! I'd forgotten some of the slang on the list. A lot of it defines a Time, doesn't it. The kids have a few goodies at the moment - I like 'Honey, where IS my Super Suit?' (The Incredibles). Still partial to 'Run Forest, Run!' and 'You Numpty' - use that a fair bit! :)

    1. Yes! I like some of the ones the younguns use nowadays too. E.g.: "Ish". "I've done all my homework. Ish."
      And in our family unit we've adopted a couple of soft-swearing phrases from Madagascar: "Oh Sugar Honey Iced Tea!" and "Darn you! Darn you to heck!"

  9. I remember whacker and still use it, muttonhead was popular in my stepdad's house, apparently all his kids were muttonheads. One or two were Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    1. I like muttonhead - I've never heard that I don't think!

  10. I still use so many of those. I was a child of the 80's as well and went to every single one of my jr, high dances wearing a white suit jacket over a bright blue t-shirt because I was just so Don Johnson.

    My favorite one was when anyone was missing from anywhere, we would all ask, "Bueller? Bueller?" Has anyone seen Bueller?"

    1. My family still does "Anyone? Anyone?" from that movie.

  11. Fawlty Towers:

    "I'll deal with it Sybil". I still use that one, often through gritted teeth.
    "Papers in Fawlty?", from the Major. Not used for a while. Hard copy papers are becoming history.

    I had forgotten whacker, but that is from my childhood.

    Not used for a long time, but from The Naked Vicar Show:

    "Shop, Mrs Jackson" and "P*ss orf Bruce".

    1. Ah yes "Piss orf Bruce" - I'd forgotten about that one.
      My favorite ever bit of Fawlty Towers: when a guest asked if he could have breakfast brought up to his room because he wasn't feeling well, and Basil said politely "Your legs, is it?"



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