Some of the slang words used by the very coolest kids in the 1950s still infiltrate popular culture today, though others have fallen by the wayside. But just because some of these words are still around doesn’t mean that everyone understands them. Once you learn these terms, however, you might just find yourself using them, too.
Actor: Most people hear the word “actor” and think of people who act on the stage or screen, but in the 1950s, an actor was synonymous with a show-off.
Agitate the gravel: This is a term hot-rodders used that simply means to leave in your car quickly. Before the majority of parking lots and driveways were paved, they were covered in gravel. When backing out quickly, a spray of gravel was sent up.
Ankle-biter: An ankle-biter is a small child.
Ape: Ape doesn’t refer to the large animal found in zoos. Instead, “Sam went ape” means that Sam got really, really mad.
Backseat bingo: Teenagers in the 1950s had more access to cars than any generation that came before them. One way they used the freedom that cars allowed was to make out, or neck, in the backseat, an activity also called backseat bingo.
Bad news: This refers to a person who is depressing or difficult to be around.
Bash: This term sounds violent, but it has nothing to do with going ape! Instead, it means a great party. Often, great parties would serve old-fashioned candy and retro sweets.
Bit: A bit is a joke or act someone does.
Blast: A blast means a great time.
Chariot: Cars were an important part of teen culture in the 1950s, and a chariot was just another nickname for a car.
Cloud nine: If someone is said to be on cloud nine, that means they are really, really happy.
Cranked: “I’m so cranked about the concert tonight” is a very 1950s way of saying you are very excited.
Cruisin’ for a bruisin’: Are you looking for trouble or just in the mood to fight? If so, you are cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Cut out: This has nothing to do with scissors: To cut out is to leave quickly.
Dibs: Dibs means a prior claim.
Dig: If you dig 1950s candy it just means you really, really like it.
Don’t have a cow: Although younger generations identify this slang term with Bart Simpson, it predates him by decades. The meaning hasn’t changed, though: It still means “don’t freak out.”
Flick: A flick is a movie. The term comes from the fact that images flicker across the screen during a movie.
Flip: Although this word is typically associated with gymnastics, the coolest 1950s teens meant it as being very excited.
Heat: Hot-rodders used this term for the police.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch … : Westerns were very popular on television during the 1950s. Often, the action would veer away from the ranch, the main setting, and then a scene would explain what happened at the ranch while the other action took place. This birthed the term “meanwhile, back at the ranch,” which was used to corral a storyteller who had moved away from the main point.
Pad: Pad was a very cool way to refer to your home.
Passion pit: Passion pits were also known as drive-in theaters, popular places to play a little backseat bingo.
Peepers: Peepers are eyeglasses.
Punch it: Punch it means to give it gas and go fast.
Rattle your cage: If someone annoys you or makes you angry, that person rattles your cage.
Scream: “Matt came screaming down the street” means that he was driving very quickly.
Souped up: When you take a normal car and turn it into a hot rod capable of screaming down the streets, you’ve souped up your car.
Split: To split means to leave.
Square: A square is an uncool person.
Threads: Clothes are made up of cloth, and cloth is made up of threads; that’s where this slang term for clothes originates.
Total: Another car-related term from the car-obsessed 1950s. If you total your car, you’ve destroyed it past the point of repair.
Word from the bird: This term comes from a 1950s song called “The Bird is the Word.” It simply means the truth.