Diva Author Jillian Larkin Shares Ten 1920s Phrases You Should Know

If you're looking to be transported back to the glitz and glamour of Prohibition era America, Jillian Larkin's The Flappers series will give you an inside look at the classy lives of 1920s girls. The last in the series, Diva, follows teens Clare, Gloria and Lorraine as they shake up Manhattan and experience a whirlwind adventure. But we all know any historical fiction wouldn't be complete without the lingo of the period, so today the author shares some of her favorite 1920s slang and why they should make a comeback!

Thanks to The Flappers series, I’ve spent a decent portion of the past few years wandering through a time period that looked and sounded quite different from our own. Legs were gams, cigarettes were butts, and there were so many names for alcohol that it often proved difficult to choose between them.

After a day of writing, it wouldn’t be odd for me to tell a girlfriend that a concert had been the eel’s hips, or to call another friend’s handsome new boyfriend a swell. But while some 1920s slang doesn’t translate to modern times, I’ve discovered that many of the choicest Jazz Age endearments and insults fit right into 21st-century speech

1. Glad rags: “Going out on the town” clothes

Do we even have a proper term to describe our “going out” clothes anymore? If there is one, I’m sure it doesn’t do anywhere near as good a job encapsulating the lazy joy of going out as “glad rags.”

2. Face-stretcher: An old woman trying to look young

This bit of slang may be even more apt for today’s times than it was in the Jazz Age. After all, they didn’t have plastic surgery back then.

3. Flat tire: A bore, a disappointing date

I’m pretty sure that as long as people are still driving bikes or cars, this one will still work. Though a bad date can be even worse than a flat tire—when you get a flat tire, at least you can replace it right away. Whereas you’re usually stuck with a bad date through dinner and maybe even dessert.

4. Mrs. Grundy: A priggish or extremely straight-laced person

“Mrs. Grundy” is kind of the feminine version of a “flat tire.” She’s the friend you can’t convince to come out to a friend’s birthday party because she has to stay home and wash her hair.

5. Get a wiggle on: Get a move on, get going

The word “wiggle” is hilarious. We should be taking every opportunity to say it that we have.

6. To beat one’s gums: Idle chatter.

“Stop beatin’ your gums!” proves a much more satisfying thing to yell in an argument than simply, “Shut up!”

7. Cash or check?: Should we kiss now or later?

Where was this slang in my adolescence? I was never sure if it was the right moment to kiss a boy. Back in the 1920s, those lucky teens had a specific question they could ask—I just ate lots of mints and hoped for the best.

8. Ossified: Drunk

This is one of the many, many wonderful slang terms for inebriation spawned by the Lost Generation. A few others are spifflicated, blotto, and zozzled. These words amuse me in themselves—they would be even funnier if drunk people tried to say any of them.

9. You slay me!: That’s funny!

I think we’ve all laughed hard enough at something that the laughter had become literally painful. This slang also lends itself very well to post-bad-joke sarcasm.

10. Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman with short skirts and shorter hair

Part of what inspired me to write The Flappers series was how many young women I noticed today that embodied the freedom, joy, and courage that made flappers who they were. Maybe our flappers don’t all have bobs, or perfectly beaded Chanel gowns, but they’re willing to shake their heads at what society tells them and forge their own paths. That’s truly the spirit of the 1920s, and I’m so glad to see it alive and well today.

- Jillian Larkin

You can pick up a copy of Diva, available in stores now. For more information on The Flappers series and to see the book series' video trailer click here. Additionally, you can always find more great YA reads over on our Everything Young Adult Page!