Popular 1950’s Slang Everyone Should Know

Every generation in history has its own concept of what’s cool or fashionable, and slang terms are the very reflection of this ever-changing language fashion. The American English slang of the 1950s is also known as teen-speak, and it’s heavily inspired by jazz terms. Rhyming also had a special place in teen-speak, with phrases like “see you later, alligator” having originated during this era. These 10 words and phrases are the essentials of 1950s slang, some of which we still use today, so if you want to learn who’s a cube and what apple butter means, simply continue reading.

1. Having a blast (1953)

1950's slang Having a blast (1953)

Meaning: to have a wonderful time or enjoy something.

Example sentence: “I had a blast at Jane's birthday party.”

We still encounter this first slang term in modern speech from time to time, but this slang phrase actually comes from the 1950s, where "a blast" could mean a wild or noisy party. By the late 1960s, the meaning changed a little to refer to simply a good time.

2. Nerd (1951)
1950's slang nerd 1951

Meaning: (noun) an overly intellectual, introverted, obsessive person who is often lacking social skills.

Example sentence: "Josh was such a nerd in high school, but he grew up to be quite successful." 

This slang word hardly changed since the 1950s and it's still used to characterize a specific type of person, but we must point out that today the term is used in a much less derogatory sense than in the past. As for the etymology of the word, it was first mentioned in Dr. Seuss's "If I Ran the Zoo" book as the name of one of the imaginary creatures in the zoo, but the slang meaning was first mentioned in Newsweek Magazine as a synonym for "square" among the youth in Detroit, Michigan.

3. Tube Steak

1950's slang tube steak

Meaning: (noun) a frankfurter/hotdog (humorous).

Example sentence: "Pick up a few tube steaks for dinner, will you?" 

Although it's difficult to determine when exactly it originated, we know that it's a rhyming reference to "cube steak" (a tenderized slice of meat) with a twist referring to a hotdog's shape. Interestingly, we found over 18 synonyms to this word in American English, which certainly reflects the extensive popularity of hotdogs in the US.

4. Calling dibs

1950's slang calling dibs
Meaning: (verb) claim something for yourself that belongs to everyone.
Example sentence: "Who's got dibs on the chips?"
The word "dibs" likely stems from the now obsolete 19-century children's game, but we first started using "dibs" to reserve the front seat in the car or get the last donut in the box in the 1950s. Dibs is an extremely clever invention and it so doesn't surprise us that it's still popular today, although mostly among kids.

5. You Dig?

1950's slang  You Dig?
Meaning: (phrase) do you understand me?
Example sentence: "Don't drink milk out of the bottle, you dig?"
This phrase is actually more complex than it seems, as it can mean a few things. Today, most people would agree that "dig" is a synonym of liking something, as in "I really dig your new shoes", but before the late 1960s, the phrase was used more as a confirmation request that you understood something.

6. Split the Scene (1956)

1950's slang split the scene
Meaning: (phrase) to leave.
Example sentence: "Why are you splitting the scene already? The party just started."
This phrase was first recorded in 1956, but it's likely it originated even earlier, but it gained wide use only by the 1960s as an informal way to communicate that someone left or is about to leave.
But don't split the scene just yet, we have a few more fun phrases to remind you.

7. Apple Butter

1950's slang Apple Butter apple butter
Meaning: (noun) smooth talk, flattery.
Example sentence: "Can't you see? Her words are nothing but apple butter."
What could be as smooth and sweet as apple butter? Apparently, very few things, according to the youngsters of the 1950s, so much so that "apple butter" was used synonymously to flattery and smooth-talking someone. Even nowadays we say you're buttering someone up when you're smooth-talking them.

8. Made in the Shade

1950's slang Made in the Shade

Meaning: (phrase) success guaranteed.

Example: "After she got into that college, she has it made in the shade."

We can observe the tendency of how a lot of these phrases are based on metaphors. The same way as it was with "apple butter", a pleasant place in the shade is associated with wellbeing and success, hence the phrase "made in the shade".

9. A Cube (1959)

1950's slang A cube (1959)

Meaning: (noun) a boring person.

Example: "Don't be a cube, read the article until the end."

Until the mid 50s, a boring person who is absolutely out of touch with anything fashionable would often be called "a square", but at the brink of the '60s, this word got an upgrade, and the same type of person would be called "a cube", meaning that he/she is even worse than a square.

10. See You Later, Alligator (1954)

1950's slang  See You Later, Alligator (1954)
Meaning: (phrase) another way of saying good-bye.
Example sentence: "We gotta go now. See you later, alligator."
As we have hinted in the introduction, one of the peculiarities of teen slang in the 1950s was rhyming, and it was cool to improve and build upon existing phrases or words with words that rhyme. This is exactly how the phrase "See you later, alligator. In a while, crocodile." was coined. However, by the 1960s, this type of rhyming was already considered outdated, and it seems like it never came back. Even today, most people would most likely use this popular phrase ironically.
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