Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why I Love Slang by Gabriele Wills

Slang and colloquialisms help to define an era. What’s “cool” today was “far out” in the 1950s, “the bee’s knees” in the 1920s, and “swell” in the 1900s. “Cool” actually originated in about 1933, but seems so modern that I wonder if readers would consider it an anachronism if it were used in a novel set during that time.

Of course, a lot of slang is in common usage for more than a decade or two.  Although we might think these more contemporary than pre-WW1, expressions such as “not on your life”, “frigging”, “necking”, and “boyfriend” were already in use at that time, but “teenager” has only been around since the ‘30s.

You could have “given someone a piece of your mind” back in 1861, or “pi-jawed” them after 1891. It’s the delightful and mostly obsolete expressions like the latter that add a sense of historical place to novels. Something good is surely more fun when it’s “crackerjack”. A “top-hole” “chap” is the best kind of friend, and can also be called a “stout fellow”, or a “jolly”, “howling”, or “cracking” “good egg”.

A “flapper” who is too much of a “vamp” will have other girls “casting kittens” if she’s “canoodling” with all the “deevie”  “fly boys” or the “natty” “high-steppers”.

“Booze” has been around since about 1325, but “giggle-water” became popular in the ‘20s, and you’d be “squiffy”, “pie-eyed”, or “spifflicated” if you overindulged, as well as being just “high”, “tight”, or “plastered”.

If you “talk wet” someone may respond with “Applesauce!” or “Flapdoodle!” and might think that you’re either “tapped”, “dippy”, or “off your onion”. “You could have knocked me down with a feather” in 1741, but “Boy!” “I’ll be jiggered” if I’d rather not have a character in 1914 say “Zowie!” instead.

Words are such fun, aren’t they? I use several sources in my research, but the Oxford Dictionary of Slang is “the cat’s pajamas”!

The author of five highly acclaimed historical novels, Gabriele loves to recreate an era in which she can immerse herself (and readers), by weaving compelling stories around meticulously researched facts. Her characters are best friends, whom others are now calling “cherished friends”.
With degrees in the social sciences and education, Gabriele has had a varied career as an educator, literacy coordinator, and website designer, and has been an active community volunteer, particularly in heritage preservation. But writing fiction has always been her passion. Her first short story appeared in the Canadian Authors Association Winners’ Circle 5 Anthology. In 2001, she produced an award-nominated feature on CBC Radio’s “Outfront”.
Born in Germany, Gabriele emigrated to Canada as a young child. She grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, enjoyed several years in Ottawa, and currently resides in Guelph with her husband. She is the proud mother of an accomplished daughter, with whom she is collaborating on an historical YA novel. Visit her at Mindshadows.com for more information.

Gabriele Wills appears as part of a Premier Virtual Author Book Tour.


  1. Thank you for inviting me to do a guest post and share my love of slang!
    Gabriele Wills

  2. Thank you for inviting me to do a guest post and share my love of slang!
    Gabriele Wills

  3. This sounds like such a fun thing to research!

  4. Thanks so much for taking part in the tour!