Slang is a lot like fashion. The two change with the times. You might have a fashionable dress in 2019, but in 2020 it can look completely dated. The same applies to the words and phrases that our culture creates. Saying something is “da bomb” today is utterly passé. The young folks now say something along the lines of “that’s fire.” Do you recall what slang words were popular while you were growing up? For example, the word “hyper” didn’t come into general use until 1942. Read on to discover which years some of the most popular slang terms originated.
1950 – Beautiful People
One might not have ever imagined that the term “beautiful people” was ever slang. It seems like such a simple phrase that people have been saying since the conception of the word beautiful.
In the’50s it was Hollywood lingo that converted to the mainstream. You used it talk about those in the industry who were successful and gorgeous. These days, this “slang” can be applied to anyone and isn’t exclusive to a group of specific individuals.
1951 – Nerd
You’re such a nerd! Ouch, disparagingly using that word can be labeled as bullying these days and even in the ’50s. In 1951, Newsweek cited nerd and defined it as an alternative to the phrase “square.”
Anyone who doesn’t have a high enough confidence level might find square or nerd as demeaning. On the other hand, an individual could see it as a compliment due to the connotation behind it. What it really boils down to is that you’re smart and you take an interest in things like comic books, math, and knowledge.
1952 – Divey (Dive Bar)
You and your friends probably use the term “dive bar,” but probably don’t know when it originated. Up until 1952, how would one describe a bar that wasn’t the nicest, but it got the job done?
In an article from The New Yorker, a writer used the term “divey,” and since then, it’s become a staple for night goers. Dive bars might not be the prettiest, but they are certainly a popular destination.
1953 – Hippie
We now have the modern version of the word hippie, hipster, but what’s the origin of the word? Hippies might have ruled second half of the ’60s, but the slang term predates then.
If you wore exotic clothing (or not much) and you were fond of hallucinogenics, then you would classify as a hippie. We’ve brought back the term, but in a new way with hipster. It’s just a modern version of the word.
1954 – Boonies
Has anyone ever told you that you live in the boonies? This isn’t anything to take offense at, it just means that you live far away from the city. Some might enjoy living in the boonies more than others.
It’s said that this term originated in New Hampshire. Places like the woods are considered the boonies as long as they’re in the middle of nowhere. Be careful when you’re out in the boonies, because you never know what’s lurking there.
1955 – Cool
Are you cool enough to know that this term came about in 1955? It seems like so long ago, but now, you hear cool almost every day. You can sprinkle the word into plenty of conversations.
“Boy, that’s a cool shirt you’ve got there, pal.” It isn’t strictly to describe temperatures. Mad Magazine‘s slang round-up of the year wasn’t the first time the masses became exposed to this word, but they started using it a lot more afterward.
1956 – Nit-Picker
Aren’t nit-pickers your favorite type of people? Up until 1956, there wasn’t an efficient way to describe the folks that can’t ever let things go. Go ahead and call them nit-pickers.
Significant others can be some of the worst types of nit-pickers. You might think an argument or heated discussion is over, but they have to add a sly comment about how you never close the toothpaste cap completely. That’s what you call grade A nit-picking.
1958 – Nuke
The first nuclear bomb to go off was in a remote desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and it happened in 1945. One might think the word “nuke” would have originated at that time, but one would be wrong.
1958 was a very active year for nuclear testing. There were so many bombs being tested that a shortened term rose from the ashes and changed the way we talk about this dangerous activity.
1959 – Hot-Dog
No, this isn’t the processed meat that Americans love to devour on the 4th of July. The other way to use hot-dog is to describe someone who is showing off. The term comes from ’50s California surf culture.
If someone is riding a wave and they’re displaying a lot of cockiness, they’re a hot-dog, plain and simple. Today, the term still gets tossed around. “That dude over there is hot-doggin’ it up today, look out everyone!”
1961 – Bratty
Baby boomers were growing into teenagers and older kids during the ’60s. How entitled were they for the term “bratty” come around in 1961? Brat mostly carries a negative connotation, so they might have been pretty bad.
One publication described this word as “always appropriate” during this era. Ouch, that has to sting a little bit. There are brats spread across each generation, so baby boomers can’t take all the blame for that. Wait until Gen-Zers start to grow up.
1962 – Drop-Dead
Similar to “beautiful people,” it doesn’t seem possible that the phrase “drop-dead” was something new so long ago. It feels like it’s been a part of the English language for ages.
The phrase came from the fashion industry and was used to describe anything gorgeous or fabulous. It’s a pretty high-level compliment these days, so if you want to make someone feel special, you should consider giving it a whirl and see what happens.
1963 – Mickey Mouse
No, this isn’t about the fun-loving character from Disney that kids adore. That would be the pronoun, but we’re talking about something different that came from the military in 1963.
To “Mickey Mouse” meant to goof around. It makes sense because military men get cooped up in ships for months at a time. Things can get boring so what better way to have to some fun than to Mickey Mouse? It’s an excellent way to blow off some steam.
1964 – Aw-Shucks
Have you ever seen the show Family Matters with super-nerd Steve Urkle? Remember when he would do something egregious and when confronted, he’d simply say “did I do that?” That’s the same thing as aw-shucks.
When someone uses this phrase, they are usually feigning innocence. The writer Tom Wolfe is who we have to thank for this beautiful expression. It can be used in almost any situation, and can help get you out of messy circumstances.
1947 – Artsy
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably more than likely used the term artsy. With so many Millenials and Gen-Zers interested in the arts, it’s easy to label them as artsy. The word offers a quick and straightforward fix.
Costume designer Edith Head coined this cultural gem. She was ahead of her time when it came to design, so if anyone wished to imitate her, they would have to fall in the artsy category.
1945 – D’oh!
Long before the animated icon Homer Simpson screamed the word, “D’oh!” spilled from people’s mouths in the ’40s. This phrase is on the catchy side, so say it once, and you might be using it for a while.
D’oh! has its roots in radio programs. We have the BBC program “It’s That Man Again” to thank for introducing the phrase to us, although it didn’t appear in in the Oxford English Dictionary until 2001.
1943 – Duh
Sometimes you might find yourself dealing with an exasperating person, and all you can say is “duh.” We commonly associate this expression with the ’90s, but it predates that by decades. In fact, this now-common term didn’t come around until 1943.
The source was a “Merrie Melodies” cartoon, according to records. We can definitely imagine that, as the term sounds like something Daffy Duck would frequently use when dealing with foolish characters.
1949 – Jet Set
Today, we might call these individuals “influencers,” the people you see on social media who travel all over the world, living like kings and queens in the most lavish of settings. In 1949, these people would have been called “jet setters”.
The word jet set first appeared to describe wealthy people who lived fast and glamorously. It was, and still is, a lifestyle that many wish they could have.
1969 – Out Of Sight
In 1969, if you were “out of sight,” it didn’t mean that you literally couldn’t be seen. Being out of sight was a pretty good compliment to receive, so it’s a shame that no one uses it that much anymore.
Something that is out of sight is beyond belief. Did someone just arrive at the party wearing an outstanding outfit? You could say that their ensemble is out of sight because you can’t believe they put something so aesthetically pleasing together.
1970 – Dorky
“Dorky” is a term that never really died down. Today, it’s used in the vocabulary of both older and younger generations. Don’t get the word “dorky” confused with “nerdy,” though.
Dictionary.com defines dorky as “stupid, inept, or unfashionable,” while the word nerd describes “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit. A nerd can also be “a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.”
1978 – Pig Out
Who hasn’t done it? We’ve all fallen victim to gluttony once or twice in our lives. Up until 1978, you could have called it whatever you wanted, but now you’re “pigging out” when you consume a lot of food.
Records have the Washington Post using the phrase as it told people that it’s okay to devour a large amount of food. “In food, a moderate diet is always right, yet once in a great while a pig-out is desirable.” That’s probably not something you’d read today.