Ever get confused by some of the words or phrases when you watch a pre-Code film? Luckily regular reader Andrew Gilmore has been keeping a record of some of the slang and sayings that our stars are uttering. Here’s a listing:

A clambake A boring or unsuccessful event
A pip Something wonderful; also, an attractive woman (or both)
Aces The best
All wet Incompetent
And how! “Definitely!”
Bad egg Not a nice guy
Be yourself! Behave, stop being silly
Beat it/take a powder To leave in a hurry
Beat the rap To escape punishment for a crime
Beau Boyfriend
Beef To complain
Beezer Nose
Big noise A blowhard
Bird A guy
Blue Sad, depressed
Bozo Fool, idiot
Bright Intelligent
Bub Term of address to a man
Bunco To con or trick
Bunk Nonsense, bullshit
Bury the hatchet To settle an argument
Bust A miserable failure
Cad A cruel person
Can ya beat that? “Well, I’ll be damned!”
Card An eccentric character
Chassis Body
Chicken An attractive young woman (later shortened to “chick”)
Chiseler A con artist or dishonest person
Chum Friend
Chump A gullible idiot
Cinch Something easy to do
Cut in To interrupt or disrupt
Cut it! “Stop it right now!”
Dame A woman
Dandy Wonderful
Darb Something excellent or wonderful
Darn tootin’ “Damn right!”
Dish An attractive woman
Doggone Euphemism for “goddamned”
Dogs Feet
Don’t I know that? “I’m aware of that, you idiot!”
Don’t make me laugh! “That’s ridiculous!”
Don’t take any wooden nickels “Don’t do anything stupid”
Dope An idiot
Double-cross To cheat or betray
Dough Money
Ducky Delightful
Dumb cluck A foolish or idiotic person [also a euphemism for ‘dumb fuck’]
Egg A guy
Fella A guy
For the love of Mike! “For God’s sake!”
Four-flusher A cheat or liar
Fresh Impudent, or smartaleck
From hunger Mediocre, awful (often prefaced with “strictly”)
Gams A woman’s legs
Get a load of this! “Check this out! Watch this!”
Get the lead out Get to work, get on with it!
Gigolo Male prostitute- colloquially, a ladies’ man
Glad rags Fancy clothes
Good egg A nice guy
Grand Wonderful, excellent
Green Naive
Heel/pill A jerk
Hokum Insincere nonsense
Hooch Alcohol
Hooey/baloney Nonsense
Hot dog! “Wow!”
Hunky-dory/hotsy-totsy Wonderful
I go for you “I’ve got a crush on you”
I know it “I’m aware”
I smell a rat “Something very suspicious is going on here”
I’ll be seein’ ya “See you later”
I’ll fix it for you “I’ll arrange it for you”
I’ll put a stop to that “I’ll solve that problem”
I’ll tell the world! “I agree with you!”
I’m from Missouri “Prove it!”
I’m wise “I understand”, “I’m aware of what’s going on here”
In a big way Very much so
In a pig’s eye “Like hell!”
In the groove On a roll
In the pink Healthy
In wrong To have a bad reputation with someone, often mistakenly
In your hat! Short for “Go shit in your hat!”, equivalent to “Shove it up your ass!”
Is my face red! “I’m so embarrassed!”
It was this way “This is what happened”, prefacing an explanation
It’s all over but the shouting “It’s practically done!”
It’s good for what ails you “It’ll make you feel better”
It’s in the bag It’s all taken care of, it’s a sure thing
I’ve got a T.L. for you “There’s something you should know”
Jake Good, fine
Jane Girl
Joint Place, building or house
K.O. Variation of “OK”
Keep your shirt on! “Be patient!”
Lay off To leave alone
Louse A contemptible person
Make it snappy! “Hurry up!”
Mug Face; or a crude disreputable person
Mum’s the word “It’s a secret.”
My big moment Potential boyfriend or girlfriend
Nertz! “The hell with it!”
Nix “Stop!”, “Don’t do that!”
Number A song
Oh yeah? “I don’t believe you”
Old maid A spinster
On the bum Defective or mediocre
On the level Honest, sincere
On the make Looking for sex
On the spot In a difficult situation
Out of this world Amazing
Palooka A stupid or crude person
Pan/puss/map Face
Phony Artificial, insincere, or hypocritical
Piker Cheapskate
Pipe down! “Be quiet!”
Plenty A lot, or to a great extent
Punk Awful
Quit yerkiddin’!/clowning “Stop joking around!”
Racket A fraudulent business
Riding for a fall Asking for trouble
Rub out To murder
Sap/dunce A fool or idiot
Say! “Listen!”, “Wait a minute!”
Says you! “I disagree!”, “I don’t believe you!”
Scram! “Get out of here!”
Screwball A crazy or eccentric person
See? “Understand?”
Sitting pretty Carefree
So help me! “I mean it!”
Sore Angry
So’s your old man! “To hell with you!”
Sowing wild oats To behave recklessly
Sucker A gullible or naive person
Swell Excellent, wonderful, great
Take a shine to To like
Take the rap To accept blame
That ain’t hay “That’s a lot of money!”
That lets me out “I would be of no help whatsoever to you in that situation”
That’s a hot one! “Bullshit!”
The berries Wonderful
The low-down Gossip
There are no flies on you! “You know what you’re doing!”
Through Finished, or fired
Tickled pink Extremely pleased
To be off one’s nut To act in an insane or eccentric way
To be on the lam To have escaped from prison or the police
To be stuck on To have a crush on
To be true to To be monogamous and faithful
To blow one’s top To lose one’s temper
To buffalo To confuse or deceive
To call it square/square oneself To deal with someone fairly and make things even
To do things up brown To do an excellent job
To get one’s goat To frustrate or anger
To give one a tumble To pay attention to, give one a fair chance, or to engage in physical intimacy
To give one the air To contemptuously ignore or mistreat
To give one the runaround To be evasive
To give one the slip To evade or escape from
To go to town/to paint the town red To party, have a good time
To gum the works To screw up or ruin something
To have a bun on To be drunk
To jilt To leave or reject one’s lover
To know one’s onions To be knowledgeable and confident
To lay an egg To fail
To lick To defeat, or beat up
To make a bum out of To belittle or cause to appear foolish
To make it hot for one To cause trouble
To neck To make out
To pan To denigrate or belittle
To pinch To arrest
To pitch woo To make out
To railroad To con
To rate To deserve
To rib To playfully make fun of
To ride To ridicule or make fun of
To salt away To save in storage
To savvy To comprehend
To settle someone’s hash To silence someone
To slip one a mickey To poison one’s drink
To sock To punch
To spill the beans To reveal a secret
To spoon To kiss
To turn turtle To overturn or change around
Tomato An attractive young woman
Toots Term of address to a woman
Washed up A complete failure
Well-heeled Rich
Wet blanket A spoilsport
Whadaya know about that? “That’s a surprise to me!”
What of it? “What’s your point?”
What’s eatin’ you? “What’s bothering you?”
What’s the [big] idea? “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Whoopee! Exclamation of joy or euphemism for physical intimacy
Wouldn’t you like to know? “I’m not telling!”
Yellow Cowardly
Yen Desire
You ain’t just whistling Dixie! “You’re not kidding!”
You bet! “I agree with you!”
You don’t know the half of it “You can’t imagine how bad it really is!”
You don’t say! “Really?!”
You said it! “You’re absolutely right!”
You want to make something out of it? “Are you trying to start a fight?”
You’re telling me! “You’re not kidding!”
You’ve got me all wrong “You misunderstand me!”

Suggestions? Confusion? Other slang and sayings from the pre-Code Hollywood era that we’re missing out on? Leave a comment below!


Andrew Gilmore · June 14, 2014 at 4:56 am

Gee, thanks for the swell plug, chum! I was too lazy to alphabetize and organize the list, but you did it up brown, and how! I’ll be seein’ ya.

    Danny · June 16, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Totally! Yeah, my preferred method for alphabetizing things is Excel which unfortunately ate up your quotation marks. But I’ll have you know that the page appears quite popular. Thanks for letting me share it!

chuckinsandiego · August 28, 2014 at 5:42 am

Making love. As in “are you making love to me?”. Back then is was used to say in today’s parlance …”are you coming on to me?”.

Lynn · January 31, 2015 at 10:29 am

I have a feeling that I’m longer in the tooth (older!) than you are ;-). Here are some additions to definitions, based on the way I’ve heard the words/phrases used:

All wet–often means “all wrong”
Bird refers to a woman as well–in fact, I’ve never heard it used to refer to a guy–weird, huh?
“Bury the hatchet” means to forget about the argument or disagreement (bury the enmity) rather than to settle it.
A cad is an ungentlemanly man who treats a woman poorly, specifically by ruining her reputation
“May I cut in?” was a way to take away another guy’s partner during a dance.
Don’t take any wooden nickels=don’t fall for any tricks–be street wise
“Wise” is like “savvy”–wise to the ways of the world
It’s all over but the shouting = the action or event is over (or decided). All that’s left is the reaction.
Joint-originally a word for a “low-class” place
Racket originally referred to mob-controlled business, especially extortion,if I’m not mistaken.
Sitting pretty=in good financial circumstances (often used sarcastically–undeserved $, or fake innocence)
Sowing wild oats = young men’s reckless but tolerated behavior before settling down to marriage (boys will
be boys).
The low-down = the truth
There are no flies on you! (because you’re moving too fast for them to land). Quick-witted, fast thiinking.

I’m loving this site, by the way!

    Philosopher Jay · January 23, 2017 at 6:41 am

    YOU’RE A PEACH, Lynn. At first, I thought this site was NIFTY, but now I see WHAT’S WHAT, Tell this young UPSTART, I’m MOVING IN ON THE ACTION. ARE YOU GAME, Lynn? We better MAKE A DASH FOR IT.


Peter Hyatt · May 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

I love this site. I pull up a cup of joe and relax and read.

Mike W2LO · November 18, 2016 at 2:18 am

“It’s Jake with me if you if you have a roll in the hay with that Jane”, said the torpedo to the boss.

John Carpenter aka The Movie Man · January 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm

ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING A COLLECTION ! The thought of doing this has come to me each & every time I watch a 30’s picture ! SUCH A COMPILATION OF ADJECTIVES & THEIR DESCRIPTIVE MEANINGS IS INCREDABLY VALUABLE TO A GEBRE RECREATIVE FILMMAKER SUCH AS I & FILM HISTORIANS ! THANK YOU for taking the time & effort to make this needed list a reality — IT IS A DARB ! regards John Carpenter aka The Movie Man

Elise · January 18, 2017 at 3:25 pm

To be “all in”—which I think means feeling under the weather or just wanting to chill out. I love your list!

Elise M. Fila · January 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

CAKE EATER –an effeminate party-going dandy. Here is a song with the term–from the late 20’s–HELP!. You wouldn’t believe the lyrics.

John Carpenter · March 6, 2017 at 9:27 am

THIS WAS A DARB !!! And a very much needed info text to have when finding oneself at the local Speak & wanting to say just the right thing – in just the right period slang way when trying to make a Hocha Mamma get blistering ! Truly swellegant ! John Carpenter

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