Recently I was buying a cup of coffee, and the barista taking my order asked me how I was. I smiled at her and said, “I’m spiffy thank you.” Her eyes lit up, and she said, “I love that word.” I smiled back, “then use that word.” I say the word spiffy at least several dozen times a week. I’m not sure why, perhaps because it sounds so spiffy. I like the way it rolls off my tongue. It’s just one of those words that not only means something fun, but is simply fun to pronounce.
Of course for many of you readers you might wonder what does spiffy mean. According to Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary, spiffy is fine looking, smart. I believe it can mean a lot of things. I feel spiffy; you look spiffy; gosh that was a spiffy; the list can be endless. Basically spiffy is a way of expressing something that is good, which now-a-days the slang for good is bad. So I suppose I should say wow the word spiffy is really bad. Who knows and who can keep up with slang?
Where does spiffy come from? My first thought was the “Leave it to Beaver Show.” Golly gee the Beaver said the word spiffy a lot so it must have come from the 50s. I was wrong. In fact, the slang word spiffy comes from the 1920s.
Slang is the informal style of language that everyone uses occasionally and is usually metaphorical in that it substitutes a colorful image for the standard word. Slang usually has a short life, because it is invented to fit a particular situation at a given moment; however, it is interesting to see how slang impacts what we say today.
Since I am so focused on the word spiffy and there is nothing I would love more than to bring the word back into common language, I want to explore the era that spiffy came from. So the retro buff that I am, the search began, lots of spiffy iced coffee, open the books and log onto the internet, and here is a small list of the slang that came out of the spiffy 20s. I will be glad to do the 30s and 40s next article.
All wet—Describes an erroneous idea or individual, as in, “He’s all wet.”
Applesauce—Same as horse feathers, As in “Ah applesauce!”
Bee’s knees—An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
Big cheese—The most important or influential person; boss
Blind date—Going out with someone you do not know
Bump off—To murder, to kill
Cake eater—An effete ladies’ man, or someone who attends tea parties
Carry a torch—To have a crush on someone
Cat’s meow—Something splendid or stylish; the best or greatest, wonderful
Cat’s pajamas—Same as cat’s meow
Drugstore cowboy—a guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up girls
Fall guy—Victim of a frame
Flapper—A stylish, brash, hedonistic young woman with short skirts and shorter hair
Flat tire—A dull-witted, insipid, disappointing date
Frame—To give false evidence, to set up someone
Giggle water—An intoxicating beverage; alcohol
Gin mill—An establishment where hard liquor is sold; bar
Hard boiled—A tough, strong guy
High hat—To snub
Horse feathers—Same usage as applesauce
Jake—OK, as in, “Everything is Jake.”
Joint—A club, usually selling alcohol
Keen—Attractive or appealing
Lounge lizard—A guy that is sexually active
Moll—A gangster’s girl
Neck—Kissing with passion
Ossified—A drunk person
Pet—Same as neck, but more so
Pushover—A person easily convinced or seduced
Scram—Ask someone to leave immediately
Sheba—A woman with sex appeal
Sheik—A man with sex appeal (from the Valentino movies)
Speakeasy—An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor.
Spiffy—An elegant appearance, neat, good, nice, smart
Struggle buggy—the backseat of a car
Stuck on—Having a crush on
Swell—Wonderful. also: a rich man
Take for a Ride—To drive off with someone in order to bump them off
Torpedo—A hired gun
Upchuck—To vomit when one has drunk too much
Whoopee—To have a good time
Stay tune next time and we will explore slang such as dibs, grody and germsville.
Until then, have a spiffy weekend.