Every generation has its peculiar slang expressions. When I was younger, sentences were sprinkled with the terms “groovy” and “far out.” (Okay, don’t laugh.) Recently, my daughter used a term for shoes that was new to me—kicks. Now, I’ve heard of getting “a kick out of” something and “kick in the pants.” But shoes? Hmmm? Yeah, I can see it.
So I got to thinking about various words and phrases we may not hear anymore. I’m making a list and will throw one out in a post every once in a while.
I’ll start with this one. When was the last time someone younger than eighty called you the “cat’s meow?” Consider it your great-grandfather’s way of saying, “You’re awesome, dude!” or “That’s rad!” or…whatever.
It became popular during the 1920’s—the “Roaring Twenties”—a time of thumbing noses at prohibition, hiding out at speakeasies, and dancing the Charleston. The War To End All Wars was over, entertainment in the form of moving pictures was becoming increasingly popular, prosperity and new ideas ran rampant. There were many things in that decade considered “the cat’s meow”—until the stock market crash of 1929 that ushered in the Great Depression. Maybe that’s when the saying went out of fashion. People were no longer looking at the positives in life.
As I write my historicals, I must be careful of the language I use. To have one character call another “the cat’s meow” in the 1880’s might start at gunfight. It’s constantly at the back of my mind when I want to use a word or phrase that isn’t part of everyday speech. Was that common at the time? Fortunately, there are resources that help writers determine correct vocabulary and phrasing. If there weren’t, one of my characters might find himself ridden out of town on a rail.