Speak like Gatsby: Learn the English of the Jazz Age
This is the story of the jazz age and the technological and cultural advancements that took place during the era and the changes in our lives and our language that has carried through to this day. It all began around 1919, soon after the horrors of the First World War. But there is no consensus as to when it finished.
F Scott Fitzgerald puts its end date at the stock market crash of 1929. But Fitzgerald was writing in 1931. And despite the economic downturn of the 1930s, the Jazz era was still in full swing. Jazz was the dominant popular musical form in America, and this carried on into the 1930s and beyond.
And it was during this age that American English finally emerged from the shadows and shared center stage with British English. And this coincided with the rise of the US as the global economic superpower. Most of the expressions and vocabulary that originate from the jazz age came from American English. But the majority of these words filtered into British and English around the world.
And in the second part of this video with my friend Jack will look at some of these expressions in more detail as well as their origins, and will end with a sketch using all the vocabulary that we have learned. You won't want to miss this. So stay tuned to that and talk TV. So let's start with some facts. If you were a young adult living somewhere in the US in 1905, you would have lit your home by Gaslight or Candles.
By 1925. Most homes would have had electricity in 1905. You would have journeyed by train or tram or perhaps subway if you were living in a city such as New York or Chicago. But by 1925, half of Americans owned cars. Cheap automobiles had become affordable due to the introduction of the assembly line by Henry Ford. By 1924, 10 million Ford model TS had been sold.
The car brought isolated communities together, created suburbs, and provided a private space for individuals outside of the home. In 1905, if you wanted entertainment, you'd go out to the music hall or the theater, or maybe meet with fellow parishioners at a church. By the end of the 1920s, three quarters of Americans went to the movies at least once a week. If you went to a movie back then, the biggest stars would included Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Buster Keaton.
Clara Bow. Louise Brooks, and more. By 1925, most American households had a radio where you could hear shows, news or even a speech by the president in your own home. Most inventions that we still use today, including radio and film and the automobile and the light bulb and also the elevator and the fridge, the telephone, the escalator, the vacuum cleaner. They were all invented in the second half of the 19th century, but it was only in the 1920s that they became available to the masses. Now, if you compare our lives in now to the end of 2022 to what we had 20 years earlier.
Yes, we've got fast Internet and smart phones and GPS, and they are significant. But I would argue far less significant than the groundbreaking technological upheaval of the 1920s. That's not all.
There was social change. Women finally won the right to vote in elections in the US in 1920. In New York, a law was passed in 1908, making it illegal for women to smoke in public.
But by the 1920s, the taboo was gone and women smoked openly and widely. Women had more freedom in their social life. By the 1920s, many women went on a date. Unchaperoned. Unchaperoned.
Men and women looked different from those times. For women, the bob was all the rage. And this is the first time in history when most men didn't wear beards.
That's because the disposable razor developed by Gillette had become affordable and widespread during this era. So before that, it was very difficult for a man to shave and actually quite dangerous because you could cut yourself quite easily. The country got richer in the 1920s. The economy doubled. People had disposable income for the first time, which meant that millions of American consumers could afford to purchase those automobiles, fridges and vacuum cleaners.
It was a golden age for literature and the arts. The Great Gatsby, The Great American Novel was published in 1925, written by F Scott Fitzgerald. Alongside that, there was Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Eugene O'Neill, Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes was part of a golden age of African American culture, centered around Harlem in New York, which came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance or Harlem Renaissance. However you want to pronounce it. It was a flourishing of music and literature and visual arts, as well as the literature and poetry and paintings.
There was jazz. Louis Armstrong. Paul Robeson. Josephine Baker Duke Ellington Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and many more.
America was a country divided. The 1920s was a long way from the shake up of the civil rights movements that were to follow in the 1960s. But the first loosening of racial segregation was happening at that time. The jazz musicians were instrumental in this change.
Pun intended. Pop out onto Main Street. And you can see reminders of this great era in the form of art deco architecture in New York. You have the magnificent Chrysler Building, which was the tallest building in the world where it was constructed in 1930, only to be surpassed by another art deco masterpiece.
The Empire State Building a year later. These were the best of times, but they were the worst of times, too. It was the time of prohibition. Alcohol couldn't be legally consumed in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933.
This led to the creation of speakeasies, illicit drinking dens, and at the height of the prohibition era, New York alone had 32,000 speakeasies as well as drinking speakeasies were venues for jazz, music and dancing. However, it also led to the rise and rise of the mob. Al Capone made millions on the back of bootlegging and illegal alcohol sales. Skyscrapers went up, but the economy went down. The 1930s brought depression and mass unemployment.
But this video is about language. The words and phrases of that era, many of which we still use today. Words and phrases that reflect its time from speakeasies and from the jazz clubs of the chorus line of Tin Pan Alley, of the movie theaters and the penny arcades. This is the English of the Jazz Age will continue in a moment. But first, a word from our sponsor, Ground News Ground News is a website, an app that keeps you informed about breaking news.
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and subscribe for unlimited access. Thank you to Ground News for sponsoring this video. Today, I'm joined by Jack once again. Hello Gideon. If you don't know, Jack's already joined us on two previous videos which were.
Do you remember? Was the Scottish accent and the transatlantic accent? Yeah. That's correct. And you did very well, according to the comments made. Not so well. And today you're going to join us for the Jazz Age Slang. Wonderful. Yeah. Okay. Have you looking forward to it? Yeah.
Have you read The Great Gatsby? I have a Long, long time ago. Worth a read. I should say, though, that this video, I think, is going to be called something like speak like Gatsby, because he's kind of like the poster child of the jazz age. But I recently read the book again as research for this very video, and he doesn't actually use much jazz age slang. Even though he has the parties, he drinks the drinks and dances the dance, he doesn't actually use much slang Nevertheless, he's so recognizable that, even though it's slightly inaccurate, I'm still going to go with that title.
So do bear that in mind and it's a great book. I wrote it for a second time. It's worth a. Definitely. Yeah, as a classic. What we're going to do is it's going to be like a quiz for you guys, too.
And I'm going to go through some expressions that originated from the jazz age. See if you know them and how you would use them and also some vocabulary and what you have to do. Jack, is you have to say, do we still use it today? Because some of those expressions are still used, still in everyday use. Most of them are American expressions, but many crossed over to Britain.
So is it used in Britain as well as the US? And what's the meaning of it? So we'll start with some idioms. And the first one is a big shot. Yeah, this is used in the UK. I would say someone who's quite important, someone who's influential or like for example, he's a big shot in the world of cinema or finance or whatever. Yes, it's sometimes used sarcastically Yeah.
He's being made assistant manager and he's, he thinks he's such a big shot now, you know, the origin? I guess it's not to do with gun crime. It is to do with gang violence. It is to do with. Yes. Yes, it is. I guess you had a big gun. Yeah. The bigger than the others. You were a you were you were the big shot. Yes.
So this something to the size of the. If you had a fire. You had a Tommy gun, I guess. Exactly. get the boys together. Run away. Where?
Ground, not me. you're the big shot around here. I'm only the office, boy. Next one is from black American slang it's entered the mainstream English language and it is mojo Yeah, well, I think many people of my age group were acquainted with this phrase because of the film series Austin Powers. I guess that's your reference. Is it?
Yeah, I guess it means your sort of strength, your character, your your use of your energy. I haven't been performing so well, but I've got my mojo back Exactly. So it's has Two meanings kind of. One is a sexual meaning.
I got my mojo... the ability to influence women shall we say? diplomatic. And the other meaning is your strength, your abilities. So this football team, they lost many games, but they've won the last three. They've got their mojo back.
I've been trying to write this forever. I can think what to say, but yeah, to this morning I got I've got my mojo back. Yeah, it is. Well, no offense to Stevie, but you got to have mojo, baby. Yeah. The next expression, the real McCoy means your authentic thing.
The authentic, not a fake. Yeah. If I show you my watch, I say it's a Rolex. Yeah, a Rolex. You a Rolex. Is that is that the real McCoy. Yeah. I go, I got it in the market for, for €10.
Okay. The origins, it goes back further than the jazz age. He goes back to, I think in the 19th century there was some guy called McCoy, but then there was another guy in the 1920s who during the Prohibition era, and there was lots of dodgy alcohol during the Prohibition era too. bathtub gin people would die from drinking the wrong brand. So if you had the goods, the good stuff. Yeah, then you drink that.
the real guy, McCoy produced good quality. I'm not sure was it was a whiskey or something. It was a Scottish name and. Yeah, this is America. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. You don't have to have Scottish names..
No, no. But but anyway, yes, he was McCoy. he made good stuff so people would ask they don't want to die of alcohol poisoning. So this is a real McCoy and that's we got the phrase. Yeah. Fascinating. Now, this is.
An actual Giorgio Armani, the real McCoy. Don't ask how I got it, but here it is. Next one. Fat chance. No chance. Yes, yes.
There's no way in hell I will do this, you know. Fat chance. I will appear in another video.
Yes, we you appear in the next video? Of course I will. I think it's kind of the slang when you say he opposite of what you actually mean That's why you when I teaching English and you say fat chance people assume it means is a big chance but it means the opposite. Yeah. Means it means no chance. Yeah. No chance at all. Will Scotland win the next World Cup? I'm sorry to expect. Fat chance.
I thought you were going to say yes they will. He thinks he'll get me. Fat chance This one is to carry a torch. Do you know this one? I guess this means to. To really advocate for something, to be a proponent if something.
no I got the wrong stick to you, Jack. I'm sorry you got this one wrong. It actually goes back to ancient Greece. and obviously there's a lot of references to torches like in the Olympics and things. However, the expression carry a torch is from the jazz age. What it means is you carry a torch, but you've broken up with the person that you love a long time ago.
But he or she is still there in your heart. You broke up with him five years ago. You still carry torch for him. Okay. Yet, because in the 1920s there were torch songs where these sad songs about break ups were sang and they would literally carry a torch while singing the song.
Yeah. Are you and Doris going to get back together again? I thought you were about to ask me am I carrying a torch for someone? Well, we won't go into that. Yeah, maybe another time Ask Jack in the comments He'll answer those questions. Yeah, that's for pay for subscription for LetThemTalk Divulge our secrets. I remind you someone used to be madly in love with, but then she ditched you for another guy.
And you've been carrying the torch ever since. noodle juice. Oh. What's that? It's not. It's something drug related or. No, it's not exactly.
If that's how you define drugs. Noodle juice is drink all right? Yeah. Or it could be literally juice noodle. Juice Of the noodle amore commonly at that.
Time because it came from China, I guess to is a. Oh, I guess so. I didn't think of. Chinese culture tea historically so I guess that makes sense yeah yeah yeah.
So that's the link. Do we use it today? No, no, I've never heard that before. Are you going to use it from now on? No.
Well, I know I possibly may. He may be on the odd occassion. Yeah, that's it. And it just means tea. What about baby grand baby. not to do.
money? That's a British perspective. It's not to do with money or. No, no. No. It's a big guy. Like big bruiser. Yeah. I think so. Yeah. Dead soldiers.
Of course. It's got no war time reference. 1920s being soon after the First World War. And it's it's not.
Well, maybe it directly does, when you finish your beer bottle, you line up your beer bottles. You know. You've drunk the beer and now there's no beer left So they are dead soldiers. They look like soldiers.
So. Yeah. So that you got some dead soldiers. Here, let me get you some beer. So that's, that's a nice one actually. Yeah. I might use that one. cheaters.
This is a good one. Cheaters. When I tell you it will be obvious. I can only think of it in a sporting sense.
glasses. Okay. just your spectacles. Yeah. You haven't got a eyesight
and your cheating with the aid of an optician. Yeah. What about Live wire? He's a live. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is a Talking Heads Psycho Killer. But, of course, that's 50 years later, Don't touch me. I'm a real livewire.
But when David Byrne sang that in the seventies, I think he meant that you're I guess you're ready to explode. You don't know what you might do next. Yeah, exactly. Lively, unpredictable. Yeah, exactly.
I think it's still used today - Loose canon - Don't touch me I'm a real live wire psycho killer qu'est-ce-que c'est Next one is joint. If I say we've got to get out of this joint. Oh, yeah, out of this place. Yeah, exactly. I think is. Yeah. More American. I would always understand it, Exactly. I think it's a bit more American. Yeah.
Of all the gin joints and all the towns in all the world, she walks in and mine swell. So it's great. Wonderful. Yes. So it's familiar. Yeah. I've heard it. Watch any old film they always.
say that was swell Well if you watch from the film The Golden Age of Hollywood, but it's very American. Yeah, it's very American tha definitely didn't cross over Flo. Yeah. You're a swell dame. Yeah, Johnny's a pretty lucky guy. What you're doing for him makes me think this ain't such a bad world after all.
Well, you're not such a bad guy yourself Jack giggle water. What is giggle water? Alcohol. Yeah, yes. Yes. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
I just I guess I. Think that's nice. We don't use it, but yeah. No, never, never heard that. But I guess it's fairly self-explanatory.
Exactly. Yeah. A bit more giggly, a bit more joyful. After a few sips of what's everyone's favorite concoction is. We thought we'd stage a little party later on. Yes.
And it's going to be a gay one. Go right ahead. Don't let me stop you. We've got plenty of giggle water, but we can find any gigglers to go with it. What about a manacle or handcuffs? I guess it suggests you're being sort of attached or chained to something. Yes, exactly.
You've got a wedding ring, all right. Or a ring. Okay. You say you see a guy in the jazz club and she's wearing a manacle. because she's got a fiancé.
Like the right. Guy in. Prison as he's. exactly in prison. tomato. Or tomato, I guess. Or tomatoes. The Americans. I think would be.
Tomato. Yeah, it was more American. Yeah. Not used much today. No, no, but I say. You see that girl over there? Which tomato? All right. Oh, she's.
She's quite a looker. Exactly. She's a. Real sad tomato.
She's a busted Valentine A cake eater I guess it's maybe some kind of. A person who eats cake? Yeah. Yeah. It's a it's a ladies man. Yeah. All right. Yeah.
A ladies man. Okay. I was you goofy on anyone at the moment? What does goofy mean? I guess from your helpful tip there, it means you're keen on someone. Exactly. Yeah. You're crazy about a person, you know in a romantic way So head over heels. Yeah. Yeah. Is it still used today? No, no, not really.
I think maybe some old fashioned people might use. Bit old fashioned it. So this time it's a Brazilian girl. What a Brazilian girl. I'm goofy about her.
I am crazy for her. Matter of fact. I like her. Dipped the bill. To the bill. Is it someone who doesn't buy their round or something? No, no. It means you have a drink. This is a very important one from the jazz era.
a flapper. Yeah. It's refers to the sort of fashion trend of the 1920s that women adopted of having short hair and quite masculine clothing. As a yes. Androgynous sort of looking.
Liberated Liberated maybe had jobs. Yeah. Yeah. And they wore short skirts. Yeah sure. Short skirts then came up to the knee and they might smoke in public.
Yeah. So they might go around without a chaperon. Oh, wow. Shocking.
So let me ask you, are you carrying a gat? not a cat I'll give you a synonym, a piece, a rod, a heater. is this, perhaps be a firearm. Yes, it is.
But that quintessential American. tool, I guess, if you've. Obviously seen some gangster movies and. Scorsese movies. Yeah. I think gat is quite old fashioned. I'm not sure. Yeah. That didn't reach this. Side of the
Atlantic. Yeah. What about to mooch? Do you know that one? Yeah, I think it means to to hang around, perhaps to laze around that's interesting because that's what it means in British English you just mooching around and so sitting around doing nothing but no. But what it means is is to scroung to obtain something without. Paying for it. Yeah.
You come over here and just mooching my wine and my cigars. Yeah, my cigars Exactly. divided by a common language. Exactly. Thank you, Jack. But don't go away. No.
Because you are going to act because you are a good actor in a play. In a play. But I have contrived a play based on jazz age slang will use a lot of the expressions we've just used, plus some more. So do follow along at home or with your theater group or wherever. It's going to be great. So let's do it.
So, Jack. Jack, sit down. Hello, Gideon. How's it working out? Just fine. What brings you here? You've come to mooch another free lunch, have you? Cut it out. Get in. Don't razz me.
Times are good now. I got myself a job as a doorman at the Clarendon Hotel. I got a Roadster and an apartment too. An apartment? You don't say. Heck Gideon. It's grand.
It's got a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, and even one of those machines, that squeezes oranges for you at the press of a button. They exist. Wow. That is grand, Jack, but I don't need it.
My butler takes care of all those things. I dare say. What are you drinking? Just some noodle juice. Here you are, Jack. Noodle juice. 70% proof. If you insist. Gideon. So what brings you downtown? Well, if you must know, I've got myself a gal now.
On the level you always were a cake-eater Oh, geez. This time it's different. I feel a romantic yearning, shucks, she's. She's grand. Where did you meet this broad?
She's a cigarette girl. This joint up in the village. The moment I saw her.
I mean zowee She's a real hot tomato and all dolled up I called out to her, see, I said, come over here, babe, and take the weight off those lovely gams. A cigarette girl. No kidding. What happened next? We dipped our bills into a few glasses of giggle water and we went, well, we drank, we danced and we had the gayest of times. And she has class for the capital K? Yes. Siree. And now? Well, I'm just goofy about her.
Only thing is she was wearing a manacle a fiancé. Say you don't say. I'm not crazy about it, but she's going to break up with him. She says he's a flat tire and she's going to give him the icy mitt.
She's only sticks within because he's a big shot, you get my drift? He's got a lot of mazuma. What's her name? Tracy. That's funny, but my girl's also called Tracy, and she's also a cigarette girl. What she look like? Cut it out, Gideon. There are lots of dames called Tracy.
She's got a mole on her cheek just above her lip. So has my Tracy? Why you good for nothing? Double crosser. I ought to take a sock at. You, No, Gideon. I didn't know. Honest.
I didn't. Quit your bawling you rat. Is that a gat? Nobody plays me for a sucker. Why? I'm going to fill you so full of lead You got me kid I'll get. I'll get help. The meat truck will be here soon.
Listen, fella I know I'm licked. Take care of her. See? She's a swell dame, Treat her nice. Take it to the movies.
Silent movies?. Is there another kind? Hmm? Get her a fur coat. Give her champagne and caviar, but don't give her no cheese. Why not? Because she's lactose intolerant. Oh, I see. And don't make fun of that mole in her right cheek.
She's very sensitive about it. Her left cheek. Right. You don't think I know my own doll? How do you spell Tracy.
T R A C Y No T R A C E Y Well, how do you like that? It's a different broad And you know what I'm feeling? Okay. I just remembered I put blanks in that heater. It's only to give folks the jitters.
Well, ain't that something? Drink up your noodle juice before it gets cold. Cheers, Jack. Thank you, Jack. Thank you. Thank you for watching.
And if you like that, do leave a comment. But in the style of the jazz age. See you soon. Bye.