History: Antiquated words and phrases — 1900 to 1920, part 2

Four men standing on the corner of 3rd and Main in downtown Edmonds circa 1910. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Part 2 of two parts.

In Part 1, the 1900s’ words flivver and gullywasher were defined. Here are the definitions of the remaining 25 words or phrases that were presented in Part 1.

Dead Soldier:  an empty beer bottle. It’s said that an empty beer bottle “gave its all,” which might have led to the “dead soldier” moniker.

Photo by Byron Wilkes

Wisenheimer: someone who thinks they are smarter than anyone else.  The origin of the word’s meaning is unclear.  There are alternative spellings of weisenheimer, and wisenheimer in various texts. 

Hawkshaw: a detective. The term came from a comic strip written by Gus Mager in the early 1900s entitled Hawkshaw the Detective.

Courtesy Wikimedia

“Duck soup”: something that is easy; an easy task 

Moll: a gangster’s girl

Bonnie Parker (the ultimate moll) with Clyde Barrows circa 1910. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

“Butt me”: give me a cigarette or take a cigarette.

Grifter: a con artist, or someone guilty of petty larceny.  Believed to have been derived from the word grafter.  Synonyms include: chiselers, defrauders, gougers, scammers, swindlers and flim-flam men.

Glad rags: someone’s best going-out clothes

Photo courtesy History of Fashion

“Bank’s Closed”: no kissing or making out.  Something a female would potentially tell a suitor. 

Flapper: a lively mid-teenage girl, or a young prostitute

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

“Butter and egg man”: the man with the money, an investor.

Cattywampus: the term originated in Colonial America and meant something that was directly across from something else.  Over time the term came to mean something that is askew or in disarray.

Collywobbles:  initially it meant having butterflies in your stomach. As time passed, it meant having an odd or unpleasant feeling in your stomach. It is believed that the term came about by combining “colic” with the word “wobble.”

Photo courtesy University of Virginia Medical School – Digital Collection

Malarkey: words which are insecure or foolish

“The cat’s meow”: something or someone who is cool…”she’s the cat’s meow”.

Jitney: initially the word meant a nickel. Over time it came to refer to a vehicle that provided a cheap ride.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

“The bee’s knees”: the term referred to a person or people who were liked.  “They’re the bee’s knees”

Hoosegow: a term for a jail or prison

1920 prison cells. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

“Shut your yap”:  be quiet, shut-up or shut your mouth.

“On the take”:  originally the phrase meant money obtained through a theft.  Later the term meant open-to-bribery.

Meathook: a hand or fist

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water”: the phrase meant to be careful that you don’t throw away something of value accidentally.  In the early 1900s people took weekly baths in the same tub of water that other family members did.  Normally the youngest child was bathed last, which meant the water was dirty, and needed to be discarded.  Even though the water was disgusting, you didn’t want to throw the baby out with it.

Blotto: drunk

“On the make”: flirtatious, seeking companionship

Juice joint: a tavern or saloon…also referred to as a gin house or speakeasy in the 1900s.

1910 Edmonds tavern. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. Thanks to the Edmonds Historical Museum, the Sno-Isle Genealogical Society, the Everett Library’s Northwest room where I encountered these words and phrases in various texts.

  1. Thank you, Byron Wilkes, for a fascinating article about antiquated words. As the author of 7 books, words are a big part of my life and I love working with them. When I was writing my latest book, “THE KEMPTONS: Adventures of a Montana Ranch Family 1880-1964,” published by Farcountry Press, I had to look up words and phrases that were used during those earlier years to use in my writing. It was fun going back in time to see how our language has changed.
    I hope to see future articles from you.

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