These words and phrases from the 1700s are so obscure, they might look like total nonsense to us in the 21st-century. Some of are silly, some are dirty, and others are just plain awkward. Think you can decipher the meanings of each before reading the translations?
Translation: Crazy. “He’s dicked in the nob!” Nobody’s sure where the word “dicked” comes from here. Back then, it apparently didn’t mean what you think it means. “Nob,” on the other hand, simply meant “head.” No innuendoes here, folks. Move along.
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Translation: Drunk. “I was shipwrecked last night, blokes!” Back in the 1700s, what was getting wrecked the most? Ships, of course. This one’s kind of cute, no? We can’t stop picturing a tipsy sailor.
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Translation: To provoke intensely. “Don’t go waking snakes at your ex’s wedding, Alex.” There’s a mix of witchery and/or biblical references in there. Either way, we definitely won’t be waking snakes anytime soon.
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Translation: An ever-smiling face. “That clown’s gigglemug is creeping me out.” This one is pretty literal. Can’t trust a gigglemug. This includes shady fellas, perpetual liars, and, of course, the ever-so-frightening clown face.
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Translation: Male genitalia. “Never play the silent flute in public.” Grow up, weirdos. There are enough euphemisms for the you-know-what to write a whole encyclopedia. This one is much better than some others that come to mind.
Translation: A beating. “He’s gonna get the ol’ oil of gladness, that’s for sure.” This one’s pretty ironic. Jesus was “anointed” by God’s oil of gladness, which, if you’re familiar with Jesus’ story, didn’t turn out all that great for him.
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Translation: Someone drunk/with messy hair. “I found Carl in the yard this morning, looking like an owl in an ivy bush.” Again, we are graced with a term from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. English pubs used to hang ivy over their doors — apparently attracting messy-haired drunkards.
Translation: A doctor who diagnoses with pee. “I’m gonna have to see a piss prophet for this burning sensation.” Back in the day, “urologists,” better known as piss prophets, used urine to diagnose just about everything. At least, that’s what we hope they were doing with it.
Translation: Meaningless conversation. “This reality show is a bunch of whipt syllabub… but I can’t stop watching!” A “whipt syllabub” was a popular drink that was sweet, not very strong, and a little thick — just like some people’s conversations.
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Translation: To literally fall head over heels. “Check out this YouTube video of this guy going arsey varsey!” This one just feels so appropriate. “Arse” refers to your bottom, so “arsy varsey” literally means to fall “ass up.” Gotta love it.
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Translation: Humorless or dim. “That bottle-headed fool doesn’t realize we’re laughing at his jokes.” Since wine bottles are generally smaller up top, this seems like a very appropriate way to describe someone who isn’t too bright. Great… now we’re craving cabernet.
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Translation: A big, clumsy guy. “Thank goodness Santa isn’t a big ol’ gollumpus or he’d fall down chimneys all the time!” The word “gollumpus” comes from a 1785 book titled A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, packed with enough fun words to make your great-great grandmother blush.
Translation: Mouth. “Shut your bone box before I shut it for you.” This is another fun term included in the updated version of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The first edition referred to the mouth as a “hatchway.” We prefer “bone box.”
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Translation: Shady. “This Uber driver’s rating is only 3 stars. Pretty skilamalink if you ask me.” In Victorian London, this term was used to describe gang meet-ups and sketchy “business” meetings. If you can pronounce it, you’re free to use it.
Translation: Sausages. “The best bags o’ mystery are in Central Park.” What’s in a sausage? No one knows. It’s quite literally a bag of mysteries. Well, some of us know what’s inside, which is why some of us won’t go near ’em.
Translation: A mouthy person. “That screw jawed Facebook commenter was a troll.” Here’s another sample from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The person mouthing off is implied to have a screw loose in their jaw, hence all the nonsense flying out.
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Translation: Potatoes. “I could go for a baked Irish apricot right about now.” This was a term used to poke fun at Irish ships that were full of potatoes. What’s wrong with potatoes? We like potatoes!
Translation: A bald head. “Check out the fly rink on that guy!” Picture a fly wearing ice skates on all six of its legs. Now picture it skating around on a bald guy’s head. There you have it; fly rink. Makes perfect sense to us!
Translation: Smart and fashionable. “You look positively afternoonified in that Armani dress, Madam!” Oddly, this has nothing to do with the time of day. Upperclass rich folks would use this term to describe things (and people) they considered high-society. Snooty much?
Translation: Having sexual intercourse. “Hey! No rantum scantum in there, you two!” This one’s pretty similar to the term “hanky panky.” But for some reason, “rantum scantum” sounds a lot more graphic to us.
Even slang terms from 200 years later look like gibberish to modern English speakers. The 1950s were the postwar boom that gave rise to fast cars, rock and roll, mass consumerism, and some really bizarre phrases.
Every pompadour needs a touch-up now and then. Elvis and other greasers went to their local barbers for a regular wig chop, or haircut. Obviously, the “wig” part is just a joke, though Elvis (a natural blond) did dye his hair!
Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega would’ve approved of this slang. The reptilian idiom is an invitation to dance, perhaps to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”
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A favorite activity of sweethearts at the drive-in theater, this is slang for making out. Unlike actual bingo, your chances of winning this game are decently high — plus it’s actually fun most of the time.
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Decades ago, phones couldn’t take photos or play Candy Crush. All you could do was call friends and hope they’d pick up. This request meant that you wanted someone to call you, as folks used to actually look forward to a ringing phone.
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Luckily, this term doesn’t refer to some mad science experiment gone awry. A bird dog, like a bloodhound following a trail, is a shifty guy who tries to steal someone else’s date.
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Contrary to the Cold War tensions of the era, 1950s folk described incredibly popular things as “radioactive.” This probably made sense because nuclear technology was relatively new at the time, although now nobody would want to get close to radioactive food or clothes.
Often followed by, “After a while, crocodile,” it’s just a cool way to say goodbye. Bill Haley and His Comets even managed to score a hit song in 1955 called “See You Later, Alligator.”
It’s not just Charlie from the famous YouTube video that has a biting problem. Apparently ’50s tots were constantly sinking their teeth into their parents’ legs, because adults coined “ankle biter” to refer to any young child.
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A nice shadow is more than just a way to avoid sunburn at the beach. This idiom describes an ideal situation where nothing is wrong or something that is a total success.
You can add this suffix to any adjective to describe a place, real or imaginary. Coolsville is where all the hip daddy-os hang out. Squaresville is full of nerds. And Nashville, well, that’s actually just the name of a city in Tennessee.
Tough guys like James Dean dropped this catchy line to let other fellas know that they were seconds away from instigating a fight. Violence is never the answer, but at least these toughs had a passion for rhymes.
Frank Sinatra would’ve done this after a long night of performing and partying with the Rat Pack out in Vegas. It just means going to sleep — with or without the most famous set of blue eyes in the world.
How did people in the 1950s feel about fruit? Well, if something got your proverbial berries razzed, then you felt excited or impressed. There’s no evidence of anyone’s berries ever being cranned or blued, however.
At the end of a long digression, people used this phrase to get a conversation back on track. The phrase is a reference to western dramas, which were everywhere in the 1950s, and was meant to curtail blabbermouths, who are still everywhere.
Hear those motors rumbling in the distance? That sound usually follows this phrase, which is a challenge to drag race. The winner would get the pink slip to the loser’s car, giving him ownership.
Ralph Kramden probably wasn’t hip enough to know the slang of his time, but the main character of The Honeymooners certainly knew what it was like to get your ears bashed, or to get talked at too much.
If you’re familiar with this dish, then you know you won’t find it on an actual menu. A knuckle sandwich is nothing but a punch delivered straight to the mouth. Worst of all, it doesn’t come with fries.
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You might be thinking this term has something to do with the space race, but you can get those images of rockets and satellites out of your head. Earth pads the strips of rubber keeping your feet off the dirt, otherwise known as shoes.
This saying isn’t literal, so no need to start a brawl with your driveway. It’s roughly equivalent to “let’s go,” but with lots of extra syllables. Perfect for when you’re at a boring place, but aren’t in a hurry.
Every greaser knew daddy-o referred to a man, usually a cool one. And while Americans won’t find a self-described daddy-o outside of a vintage diner, there is one place in the world where plenty of people still hold on to that label.