Written Rambles

"Splifficated" and Other Obscure Slang Words from the 1920s

The Roaring Twenties was an interesting time. The release of The Great Gatsby (2013) this week has reminded me of how purely ridiculous and wild everything was back then, including the vocabulary. I’m not just talking about “the bees knees” here (although that one is pretty swell too). I mean the real obscure slang, the kind your grandma might throw in to one of her stories when she gets overly excited. Some of these are so purely hilarious, I don’t know why they ever went out of style:

Applesauce (adj.): nonsense

Often used as an exclamatory phrase, applesauce represents a response to an outrageous claim, as in, “Can’t change the past? Applesauce! Of course you can!” I understand that not everyone likes applesauce (the food) because of its texture issues so when we bring all of these phrases back (notice how I used “when” and not “if” in order to express my determination), I will allow other fruit-purees to replace applesauce to increase the chances of reviving its popularity. The following options are acceptable: Grapesauce, Aprisauce (apricot-sauce), Bananasauce, Orangesauce, etc.

Wet Blanket (n.): a party pooper

I’ve never liked the term “party pooper” (unless Lucille Ball is saying it while drunk on liquid veggie medicine…anyone??). Wet blanket is an equally loving term meaning “someone who doesn’t like to have fun” or presumably, someone who brings down the party’s energy (puts out their “fire”). All I can imagine with this phrase is a soggy blanket with eyes walking into a room full of people and looking very out of place like those talking M&Ms that secretly give me nightmares. What? Moving on…

Glad Rags (n.): party clothes

“C’mon girls, get your glad rags on. We’re going out tonight!” Can’t you see this being the start some cheesy country song or rom-com movie? No? That’s just me? Well, regardless, glad rags is a much better way of saying “party clothes” in my opinion. Not only is it classier but it gets an assonance bonus. Plus, we can recycle the Glad trash-bag catch phrase. Break-up blues getting you down? Work tension causing you stress? Oprah bailed on your BBQ again? “Don’t get mad, get Glad!” See? It’s applicable for all of these situations.

Lalapazaza (n.): a good sport

Gatsby could have been an entirely different movie if some of these slang terms were thrown in there. “Of course, old sport,” becomes “Of course, lalapazaza.” Sure, it doesn’t sound as poetic as Fitzgerald may have intended but it provides some comedic relief to the classic American Lit tale. Add Leonardo Dicaprio’s intense gaze and 1920s accent onto it and wella, Leo can finally get his Oscar.

Razz (v.): to tease

Combine all of these terms into a conversation and what do you get?

Bettie: Those glad rags make you look like a wet blanket.
Beth: Applesauce! I think they look swell.
Betsy: Gosh, Beth, you’re such a lalapazaza. All everybody ever does is razz you when you’re really just the cat’s pajamas.

I have to stop myself. This is getting too entertaining, you guys. The point here is that “razz” is a more colorful way of the modern day term “rag” as in “to make fun of” (i.e. “Stop ragging on me”). Razz also has two Zs in it, which means a lot of Scrabble points if that’s any incentive to make it a popular word again.

Splifficated (v.): to get very drunk

What I found most interesting in my slang research was the abundance of terms I found related to liquor or being drunk. Splifficated was my favorite, along with “Giggle Water” (meaning alcohol) and “panther sweat” (meaning whiskey). Here are the others, if anyone was interested: blotto, fried, half seas over, hooch, ossified,  juice joint, bootleg, moonshine, on a toot, quilt, speakeasy, zozzled, bent, hair of the dog, etc.

It’s no coincidence that the most popular slang terms in the 1920s were related to alcohol and money, the two most defining aspects of the decade. It goes to show, I think how easily our language is shaped by our culture and our values. YOLO, lawlz, chillax, da bomb, peeps, ‘Rents, noob. We may not see it now but these terms tell us something about our generation. I don’t exactly know what but when I figure it out, I’ll let you all know. In the meantime, what’s your favorite slang word from the 1920s (or beyond)?

Image via The Gloss. Find more slang here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512784110 Rhiannon Evans

    Wet blanket and glad rags aren’t obscure! Or maybe they’re more of a British thing?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=538270478 Fiona Bruise Carton

      That’s what I was thinking… wet blanket and glad rags would be heard in Ireland…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1233669222 Nusiba Taufik

        Yep I think they’re more of a British thing coz I was just about to say the same thing!!!

    • Tyler Vendetti

      They might be! I certainly haven’t heard them used in the US. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=638538834 Erin Kavan

    I use razz all the time! I know Wet Blanket , and so want to start using Splifficated. Thanks for this post it was fun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1488533729 Tamra Huett Richardson

    I’ve used razz, wet blanket, and glad rags. Don’t know about it being a British thing, maybe just a US-regional thing since I’ve heard these terms quite often growing up in the south?

    Love the splifficated-themed terms but Really, Really want the Lalapazaza to make a comeback!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=684251231 Douglas Forasté

      Yes, my mother was from the South and I believe I may have picked up razz and wet blanket from her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040696925 Victoria Papadopoulos

    Wet blanket, glad rags and razz are all everyday expressions in New Zealand. Perhaps not with the *very* youngest segments of society, but I’m not exactly ancient.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=684251231 Douglas Forasté

    I have used “to razz” and “a wet blanket” and I’m only 59. I didn’t realize these were no longer current. I might have picked them up from my mother, who was born in 1912 but was hardly part of the Great Gatsby set.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001187281872 Edward Meade

    My two favorite words from the 20’s are ‘copacetic’ = just fine and ‘discombobulated’ = confused.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1437937443 Abbie O’Gallagher

    My mom used most of these all the time so they don’t sound odd to me. She said “spifflicated” instead of “splifficated” though. She often said to me “Don’t give me that applesauce.” I’ve never heard “lalapazaza” though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=198400687 Keith Beckman

    I’m with everyone else: “razz”, “wet blanket” (and “glad rags”, though generally only with very self-conscious irony) I hear quite a bit where I live in the southeastern US, and heard them growing up in southern California too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=789004406 Lissa Provost

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but there’s only one “z” in a scrabble game so popularizing “razz” won’t help you.

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