Do You Know The Meaning Of All Of These Old-Timey Words?

Isadora Teich

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Languages are always changing and evolving. While at the core they stay the same, there are definitely some words that your grandparents used as young whippersnappers that might sound a little funny and dated to modern ears. 

English, especially, has been spoken in so many countries and gone through so many changes over the centuries that it's chock-full of archaic (and sometimes downright funny) slang that most people today definitely do not regularly use. When was the last time someone said they were getting sent to the hoosegow? Perhaps it's time we resurrect it! On the flip side, Some modern words are older than you might even think. The word grifter, for example, has been around since roughly 1910. That's over 100 years of mileage! It can be a lot to grasp, but it's so much fun to see what wacky expressions people cooked-up in centuries past. 

Then again, people might look back at our slang and wonder why we thought "selfie" and "dumpster fire" were "hella tight." If you're a lover of the English language in all its colorful glory, take this quiz to see if you're really the bees knees!

You might be asked, "Are you writing a book?" if you do what?

This one comes from the 1950s. Someone might use this if they are being asked a lot of questions that they don't want to answer. It's meant to be a defensive answer.

If a man is "dizzy with a dame," how does he feel about her?

This expression comes from the 1930s. It was used to apply to men who were so in love with women that they didn't use sense, and therefore found themselves in bad situations.

If you've got the "morbs," how do you feel?

The phrase dates back to 1880. It indicates a state of melancholy. Morbid means, essentially, an obsession with dark and sad things.

Is being "mutton-headed" good or bad?

Someone "mutton-headed" was stupid. This one was taken from Francis Grose’s, "Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," first published in 1785.

Is "mutton shunter" an insult?

The Victorians loved their insults. "Mutton shunter" was a derogatory Victorian name for cops. "Mutton" was sometimes slang for prostitute, and policeman would shunt (shove) them out of an area.

What is an "ambidexter?"

Someone ambidextrous can use both hands. In the 1600s, an "ambidexter" was someone who would make deals with people and double-cross them.

Your "Sheba" is your:

While popularly used in the 1920s, this one has biblical roots. It goes back to the Queen of Sheba, who some people think may have had some sort of relationship with King Solomon.

If someone is a "dead hoofer," what are they bad at?

This slang comes from the 1940s. It was used to refer to people who couldn't dance. A "hoofer" was a dancer, so it's clear why a "dead hoofer" would call to mind a really terrible dancer!

A car is a "hayburner" if it's what?

The 1920s are not particularly known for their green way of life, and a car considered inefficient or a "hayburner" back in the early days of cars would have had to have been exceptionally bad. It means it went through gas as quickly as fire goes through hay (which is really fast.) A "hayburner" was also a losing racehorse.

Someone who is wearing "gas-pipes" is wearing what?

This was used in Victorian times. A man wearing gas-pipes was wearing way-too-tight pants, that looked, well, like the pipelines used to carry natural gas.

What does it mean to "cook with gas?"

This phrase originated when gas stoves were being advertised as more effective than wood-burning stoves, so to cook with gas literally meant to use the better technology.

If someone is "all show and no go," is it a compliment?

This one comes from the 1960s. It meant that someone was attractive superficially, but didn't have anything going for them on a deeper, personal level.

An "abercrombie" is a:

This word comes from the 1930s. While modern people know it better from the clothing brand, Abercrombie and Fitch, back in the day it was used to describe someone who thought they were smarter than everyone else.

An "egg" is a person who_______________.

This one comes from the 1920s. An "egg" is someone who leads an absurdly rich lifestyle. This is referenced in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, "The Great Gatsby," where the wealthy characters lived in the towns of West Egg and East Egg.

If you are drinking "dog soup," what are you drinking?

This slang comes from the 1930s. It referred to a glass of water. Water was alternately called "city juice" during the 1930s, as well.

If someone says "don't sell me a dog," what don't they want you to do?

This one was popular until about 1870. It was a reference to the fact that people who used to sell dogs would try to pass off mutts as purebreds.

If everything is "Jake," then everything is ______.

This expression dates back to at least 1914 in the U.S.A., but it was also used in Australia. it meant "excellent," but the precise origin is unknown.

What is a "hawkshaw?"

Hawkshaw was a word used in the early twentieth century. It's slang for detective. It actually came from the name of a character in an 1863 play called, "The Ticket of Leave Man."

What is a "gasper?"

This term likely originated as British Army slang from the Second Boer War (at the turn of the twentieth century.) It referred to high-tar, unfiltered cigarettes and their detrimental effects on the troops' ability to breathe.

Your "daddles" are your:

This one is from the Victorian era (we can think the Brits for lots of lovely slang!) It was another word for hands.

What is a "handcuff?"

In the 1920s, marriage was often referred to as a prison sentence through slang. Wedding rings were also referred to as manacles.

A "martinet" is what sort of person?

A "martinet" is a strict disciplinarian. This one was taken from Francis Grose’s, "Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue."

To describe something as "butter upon bacon" is to call it what?

This phrase is from the Victorian era. It was making fun of extravagance by comparing it to the excessive notion of eating butter on a piece of bacon.

A "dewdropper" is what sort of person?

This one is a Jazz Age doozy. A "dewdropper" is a type of guy that does nothing more than sleep during the day because he isn't employed.

A "bluenose" is a ______.

This word was popular in the 1920s to describe people who weren't really feeling the wild times. It means someone who is very obsessed with what they believe is proper and pious behavior.

If someone is "frosted," how do they feel?

This was a 1950s favorite. Someone who was "frosted" was angry. It's similar (though not identical in meaning) to how we say that someone is acting "cold" today.

Someone who is "bricky" is what?

This was popular during Victorian times. By the 1920s, the definition had morphed into a form of appreciation, such as, "Thanks doll! You're a real brick!"

Someone who is a "wurp" is what?

This one was popular in the 1920s. A "wurp" is a wet blanket or a buzzkill. Definitely not someone who could appreciate the Jazz Age in all its glory!

Someone who is "ossified" is what?

This one comes from the Roaring 20s. Despite Prohibition being in full swing, people still got wasted. We can thank the Irish for this particular piece of slang.

If someone is "mafficking," what are they doing in the streets?

This one is comes from the name of a town, Mafeking, that survived a siege during the Boer War. When it was over, the people celebrated (quite loudly) in the streets. This gave birth to the word "mafficking."

If a woman is a "canceled stamp," what is she?

This one comes from the 1920s. A shy, quiet, lonely woman who keeps to herself is a "canceled stamp."

A "drugstore cowboy" was a _________.

This expression comes from the 1920s. It was used to refer to men who hung out on street corners, trying to meet women.

What does it mean if "the bank's closed?"

This one comes from the 1920s. A woman would have said this to a man who was angling for a kiss when she didn't want to give him one.

If you are drinking "noodle juice," what are you drinking?

This one comes from the Jazz Age (the 1920s.) "Noodle juice" was tea; we know, it's not super obvious.

If someone is "poked up," what are they?

This was used during the Victorian era. If someone was "poked up," they were embarrassed.

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