23 Skidoo! Downton-Era Slang For Every Vocabulary

Downton Abbey came back for its fourth season last night (for our more law-abiding North American readers anyway), and that talkie is the cat’s. I’m not just beating my gums here — the ’20s were the start of our modern pop-culture age, and the slang was the bee’s knees.

Incorporate some of these phrases and you’ll sound like your favorite sheik or sheba in no time!

23 skidoo! – leave quickly

  • Example: The coppers are busting the gin mill. 23 skidoo!

And how! – I agree with you SO HARD.

  • Example:

Herman: Those flappers sure are showing a lot of ankle!

Hattie (showing a lot of ankle): And how!

Bank’s Closed: stop making out

  • Example: It’s a speakeasy, not a hootenanny. Bank’s closed, Sam and Ida!

Beat one’s gums – to talk a lot of nonsense

  • Example: Lula says the stock market’s going to tank, but I think she’s just beating her gums.

Beef – a complaint. Actually, just like how we use it now. Thanks, ’20s!

  • Example:

Myrtle: What’s your beef?

Maude: You borrowed my stockings and got rouge all over the knees!

bee’s knees – really, really awesome

  • Example: Boy, Josephine, these movies that you have to read sure are the bee’s knees!

bimbo – a macho, overly manly man

  • Example: Reginald’s always lifting barbells on the boardwalk. What a bimbo!

blind date – a date with a stranger. Actually, just like how we use it now. No thanks, ’20s!

  • Example: George missed his blind date with Thelma because he was stuck on top of a flagpole.

blotto – drunk

  • Example: Mabel is completely blotto off that moonshine!

bubs – boobs, but way more fun to say

  • Example: Now Mabel’s showing her bubs! Geraldine, get her home!

cancelled stamp – a shy, wallflower-y girl who’s not very fun.

  • Example: Say what you will about Mabel, at least she’s not a cancelled stamp like old Gertie!

cat’s pajamas – particularly great. Often abbreviated to just “the cat’s.”

  • Example: Ida and Roger think dance marathons are the cat’s pajamas!

dead soldier – empty beer bottle

  • Example: Clean the dead soldiers off the field, boys! A football game’s starting and they could scratch our leather helmets!

drugstore cowboy – a guy who hangs out in public trying to look good and pick up ladies. See: the text of No Scrubs.

  • Example: Bernice bobs her hair, and next thing you know she’s taken off with some drugstore cowboy!

Dumb Dora – an unintelligent lady

  • Example: Maxine’s such a Dumb Dora – you can get better conversation out of a silent film!

gasper – cigarette

  • Example: Harold says that gaspers can make you sick, but I think he’s just beating his gums.

giggle water – booze

  • Example: Slow your roll, Mabel. Enough of that giggle water.

half-seas over – drunk

  • Example: Mabel is completely half-seas over off that moonshine!

handcuff – engagement ring

  • Example: George has the handcuff on ol’ Thelma and he’s never at the speakeasy anymore.

icy mitt – to coldly blow off a person who’s trying to get with you

  • Example: Now that Ruth’s a coed, she’s giving all of the townies the icy mitt.

Let George do it – something that you’d say to get out of work.

  • Example: I don’t want to work on my financial planning for 1929. Ah, let George do it!

Moll – a gangster’s lady-friend

  • Example:

Moll: No, Irene, this is just the name my parents gave me. I’m not affiliated with the mafia. But I hope my great-granddaughter will be named after me, because what are the chances that the name Molly would be associated with a seedy subculture again in 100 years?

ossified – drunk.

  • Example: Mabel is completely ossified off that moonshine!

quilt – an alcoholic beverage that keeps you warm

  • Example:

Mabel: I sure am cold after that sledding party! Somebody get me a quilt.

Ethel: Oh, you’ve had quite enough, Mabel.

Mabel: I meant a literal quilt, though.

petting pantry – a movie theater. Still relevant for anyone who’s gone to the movies only to realize that it was apparently the couple’s show.

  • Example: Let’s go to the petting pantry! There’s a new Louise Brooks flick. And I want to make out.

So’s your old man – a response to somebody who said something that irritated you. Sort of a “your mama” for the 1920s crowd.

  • Example:

Phyllis: I saw your beau Jimbo at the petting party with Olive. He’s courting a hussy!

Gladys: So’s your old man!

sheba – girlfriend (or a good-looking lady). For millenials, that usually translates to “this girl I’m kind of hanging out with, I don’t know.”

  • Example: Arthur’s sheba is Lucille.

sheik – boyfriend (or a good-looking man). Millenials: “that guy I’ve been seeing or whatever, not really sure what we are.”

  • Example: Lucille’s sheik is Roy. Don’t tell Arthur.

spifflicated –  drunk

  • Example: Mabel is completely splifficated off that moonshine!

struggle buggy – a car’s backseat

  • Example: Wow, it sure is easier to neck in a struggle buggy than it was in a regular buggy! I always felt like the horses were watching.

Tell it to Sweeney! – I don’t believe you. Tell it to someone who does.

  • Example: Sick from gaspers, Harold?! Tell it to Sweeney!

zozzled –  drunk

  • Example: Mabel is completely zozzled off that moonshine! I think she might have a problem.

Old trends don’t die as soon as a new one starts. Case in point: 40-something women who still dress like they did in the class of ’87. So, some of the early ’20s Downtoners were still using their World War I and Edwardian-era slang. It’s not too late to start using these words, too:

balmy on the crumpet –  crazy

  • Example: Henrietta is wearing bloomers! She’s gone balmy on the crumpet.sybil

blue devils – feeling down in the dumps

  • Example: Aminta has the blue devils because her best corset just broke.

beaver – a man’s beard

  • Example:

Jonesy: Why the long face, Jamesy?

Jamesy (whose face is hairless):  I can’t give Clorinda what she wants. I’m a baby-faced boy, but she likes the beaver.

Jonesy: Perhaps she can find a beard elsewhere.

boner – a mistake

  • Example:

Ronald: I made a real boner while I was courting Flossie in her parents’ parlor. I think I really ruined my chances.

Donald: A boner while courting in her parents’ parlor? What was it?

Ronald: A boner while courting in her parents’ parlor.

cheese it! – stop it!

  • Example: Cheese it, Edmund! You have to take your cod-liver oil!

clergyman’s daughter – a whore

  • Example: Bridget’s a clergyman’s daughter, and mark my words, in ten years her little Mabel will be just as bad.

cootie – crabs

  • Example: Bridget has cooties.

curtains – the end

  • Example: So… I guess that means it’s curtains for you and Bridget, then?

fittums – a great fit

  • Example: Constance, your new hobble skirt is just fittums!

jumping jesus – a fanatic

  • Example: I mean, I’m as excited about the coronation as anyone, but Nigel is a bit of a jumping jesus about the whole thing.

off his chump – crazy

  • Example: Now Henrietta wants to vote, as well? She’s off her chump.

pad the hoof – walking

  • Example: Ready to pad the hoof to the magic lantern show? It’s really the best entertainment option at this point in history.

pipe off – lose interest (in a romantic relationship)

  • Example:

Edwardine: Why did you pipe off Simon?

Thomasine: He spent more time with his hair tonic than I did on my pompadour!

Razzle-dazzle – to go out there, stir up some trouble, and get some ladies!

  • Example:

Bert: Shall we go razzle-dazzle, Simon?

Simon: I’m actually less interested in razzle-dazzling than you might think.

Teagie – tea gown

  • Example: You know, calling it a teagie makes it seem like it would be pretty casual, but it takes like three handmaids to change into this thing.

What priced head have you? – How bad’s the hangover?

  • Example: You really hit the music-hall hard, Basil. What priced head have you?

yeah – yes

  • Example

Charles: In 100 years’ time, will old people still get mad when you say “yeah” instead of “yes?”

Charlotte: Yeah.

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5 thoughts on “23 Skidoo! Downton-Era Slang For Every Vocabulary

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