How to dig jive talk


Pay heed: the cat who wrote this is really in there. (Via Working Stiff 925)



  1. Wow, this is really informative. I’ve been hearing a lot about “hipsters” lately and wondering what they were.

    1. Were? WERE? Dig and be dug.

      A hep cat goes into a diner, orders a slice of pie. The waitress says, “The pie is gone.” Cat responds, “Crazy. I’ll take two.”

  2. I assume that’s a troll Abe, as the meaning has changed significantly since then :P

    I like the fact that half of them are translated into almost equally incomprehensible slang. One of the translations is “go crazy” when it means “become angry”, or “putting you wise”, which I guess means “correcting your incorrect beliefs”. Another is “cornfed”, which I don’t understand at all.

  3. What a great addition the flapper dictionary! Paired with the post on Quantum Mechanics. Dig what i’m puttin’ down; I’m ready to fall on down through time. But you better believe, i’m gonna take it slow.

    1. Am I the only one who would swear her voice was dubbed? I want to know who really spoke those lines.

  4. while the meaning of hipster has changed, the look really hasn’t, relative to the times of course.

  5. I thought hipster meant a gainfully unemployed caucasian man child with facial hair and an assortment of hats ranging from snappy short brimmed panama to edgy used to be gangsta Kangols.

    and the def for “square” being “cornfed”, what is that slang for? I guess that might be more apropos for “hipster”.

    1. Square = Cornfed = mainstream conformist, likely caucasian in ethnic origin, possibly raised in a rural environment. The subject is uneducated about and inexperienced with cultures other than the one s/he was raised within.

    2. I thought the “hipster” term and description was just too literal and there can’t possible be people like that..

      until this morning…

      I was walking out of my apartment to work and met one of the area’s apt. neighbors. He has a young guy with a unkempt beard with wild hair, copper-rim glasses, wearing a panama hat with some crazy t-shirt and shoes, drinking some coffee.

      Never met one in real life before, so I stand corrected. :)

  6. Don’t be a Clyde – ‘cornfed’ is coolspeak for a bumpkin, a rube, a farm boy who just fell off the turnip truck.

    Unless they knew about Duckman’s buddy.

  7. Uhhhh.. I’m almost certain that their definition for “ball all night” is not quite right.

    1. I can’t find any evidence to the contrary, but I actually doubt it. I think its origins have more to do with ball, as in ballroom dancing.

      The modern day slang usage of ball as in ‘baller’ has different meanings which I think may be colouring our perception of this old phrase. I had the same thought as you when I first read it.

  8. I can’t decide if ‘your stickin'” should be “you’re stickin'”. “You’re stickin'” makes more sense but “your stickin'” is deliciously oblique.

  9. A hep cat’s sitting on a bench in Washington Square park (Greenwich Village, for the cornfed)

    And a little old lady walks up to him and says, “Do the cross town buses run this way?”

    And the cat says, “DOO-dah DOO-dah”

    Heard it on a Dave Van Ronk record.

    Yes, record. They were big and round, and we loved poring over the covers.

  10. This is from the back side of Harry “The Hipster” Gibson’s compilation called “Boogie Woogie in Blue.” The man could play an amazing boogie and was a hilarious song writer despite his schooling at Juilliard. He grew up in Harlem which probably explains a lot of his musical leanings. Unfortunately, his career was torpedoed when the industry took offense to his song “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.” Check it out and get you some education:

  11. The last one should be “You’re” instead of “Your.”

    I was Hep when it was Hip to be Hep. Or vice versa.

  12. I believe this is vintage, thus some of the slang that survived had a different meaning back then.

  13. The stuff is 1940’s and late 30’s. Pretty square stuff being passed off as hip. See Lord Buckley for the real thing. Hipster=hot jazz? NFW

    Cool is the operative word, not hot. Hot was for jitterbugs, not hipsters.

  14. “Drifter” means “floater”? Isn’t a “floater” ad dead body in the water?

    Yo cat! I’m laying it on you straight man. You better take it slow and get straight or cut out. ‘Less you end up a drifter like Howlin’ Jack.

  15. Hey you sass that hoopy, Ford Prefect, there’s a frood who really knows where his towel is!

  16. It’s interesting that the term “Like a motherless child” is in there, meaning sedate, since in the 40’s there was a famous gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who had a some called “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. Could it be a reference to that?

    If you’re interested, Mahalia can be found singing it here:

    at 2:29 in the vid (which is a medley of Summertime and Motherless Child). Well worth a few minutes of your time, if just ‘cos of the amazing set of pipes that woman had.

  17. That dog won’t hunt. The best sendup of slummin’ argot in Merkah today is the (deliberately) fake dealer jive in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Unless you count the notorious “I speak jive” routine in Airplane.

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