September 21, 2023
Music History

How to Talk Like a Hipster–In 1939.

Sorry, that should be “hepster,” but it’s the same thing. This glossary of hepster language put together by singer Cab Calloway just before World War II comes via Open Culture.


Anything we can adopt for today?


  • A hummer (n.) — exceptionally good. Ex., “Man, that boy is a hummer.”
  • Ain’t coming on that tab (v.) — won’t accept the proposition. Usually abbr. to “I ain’t coming.”
  • Alligator (n.) — jitterbug.
  • Apple (n.) — the big town, the main stem, Harlem.
  • Armstrongs (n.) — musical notes in the upper register, high trumpet notes.
  • Barbecue (n.) — the girl friend, a beauty
  • Barrelhouse (adj.) — free and easy.
  • Battle (n.) — a very homely girl, a crone.
  • Beat (adj.) — (1) tired, exhausted. Ex., “You look beat” or “I feel beat.” (2) lacking anything. Ex, “I am beat for my cash”, “I am beat to my socks” (lacking everything).
  • Beat it out (v.) — play it hot, emphasize the rhythym.
  • Beat up (adj.) — sad, uncomplimentary, tired.
  • Beat up the chops (or the gums) (v.) — to talk, converse, be loquacious.
  • Beef (v.) — to say, to state. Ex., “He beefed to me that, etc.”
  • Bible (n.) — the gospel truth. Ex., “It’s the bible!”
  • Black (n.) — night.
  • Black and tan (n.) — dark and light colored folks. Not colored and white folks as erroneously assumed.
  • Blew their wigs (adj.) — excited with enthusiasm, gone crazy.
  • Blip (n.) — something very good. Ex., “That’s a blip”; “She’s a blip.”
  • Blow the top (v.) — to be overcome with emotion (delight). Ex., “You’ll blow your top when you hear this one.”
  • Boogie-woogie (n.) — harmony with accented bass.
  • Boot (v.) — to give. Ex., “Boot me that glove.”
  • Break it up (v.) — to win applause, to stop the show.
  • Bree (n.) — girl.
  • Bright (n.) — day.
  • Brightnin’ (n.) — daybreak.
  • Bring down ((1) n. (2) v.) — (1) something depressing. Ex., “That’s a bring down.” (2) Ex., “That brings me down.”
  • Buddy ghee (n.) — fellow.
  • Bust your conk (v.) — apply yourself diligently, break your neck.
  • Canary (n.) — girl vocalist.
  • Capped (v.) — outdone, surpassed.
  • Cat (n.) — musician in swing band.

There’s plenty more here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37083 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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