Slang terms

A woman texting (Stock)

I recently received a text message from a friend and fraternity Brother, Jerome Dean that began with “GM.” After reading its contents, my eyes went back to its beginning; I assumed that the text message was intended for someone whose name the letters GM identified. So, I texted my friend for clarification and he responded by pointing out that my response was funny. Why, I asked? He indicated that GM simply meant, “Good Morning.”

I later learned that the use of this text abbreviation is common for millennials and those that text regularly. As I shared this experience with friends, several reminded me that while we had no mobile telephones that enabled us to use text messages, we used terms that were once common for my generation. So, my thoughts turned to those old slang terms that were regularly used by my generation, back in the day.

I visited slang terms in a previous column. In that column, I did what I feel compelled to do today; to define that which we include as slang. Funk and Wagnalls’ College Standard Dictionary defines slang as “Inelegant and unauthorized popular language; grotesque usage of legitimate speech.” Some of you will recall some of the slang that was popular during my generation. “I am going to see the man!” “I am going to my gig!” In both instances, you were simply acknowledging that you were going to your place of employment. Speaking of employment, what day did the “eagle fly?” This was simply, Friday that was payday. It may also have identified the day you were going to work to get some “digits.” There are many slang terms popular during the 50’s and 60’s that continue to be used in 2019. For example, “a gig” was a job back then and is a job today. The same can be said for a “pad” or a “crib.” Most of you know that this is a home. A “drive” or “wheels” has always been and remains a car. Back in the 50’s I recall men referring to well-endowed females as being “phat.” Some men still use this term today. Others once used the terms “stacked” and “brick (expletive) house.” Has the term “clean” or having nice “threads” which describes a well-dressed male disappeared from the vocabulary of men of all ages? When is the last time you heard a well-dressed man described as “chocked up.” Some of you will recall the popularity of describing one as an “air-head” in the past. I have no doubt that some of you have used this term in recent years when referring to someone that was not smart. While females were generally assigned this term, males, that were viewed as not smart or who engaged in mischievous behavior were labeled, “knuckleheads.” Then there are other terms that have found their way into 2019. My “old lady” as many of you know is one’s girlfriend or “significant other.” I know that there is no confusion when a pretty young lady is described as “a knockout.” She may also be described as “fine,” a term that I heard growing up and one that I frequently hear today. So, is “jacked up,” referring to someone that has taken a beating verbally or physically still used today, or has it been left, back in the day.

I find it interesting that many of my generation’s slang terms have died. In a conversation with several friends that are much younger, they gave me a puzzled look when I asked if they were familiar with the term, “Pepper head.” Perhaps I should not have been surprised as the 1960s brought in the “Black is Beautiful Movement” and the natural hair styles, and today’s trend with weaves, wigs and extensions have made the so-called kinky look a thing of the past. But, during my teenage and young adult days, Pepper heads were shunned. If you are not familiar with the term Pepper head, perhaps you used “tack head” instead. If you were around, back then, and witnessed this look, you know that Pepper heads had a difficult time. Now, here is a term that was used in the past but is one that is inadvisable for use today. Some of you will recall the wide use of the term “broad” when referring to a female. This term was and remains, disgusting. So, how was an attractive young lady described in the past? In my West Philadelphia neighborhood, she was “500.” She might also have been described as “a looker” or “fine.” A male might refer to his female companion as “my squeeze” or others may be told that the two are “an item.” So, if a young man loved to flirt and had lots of girlfriends, how was he described? You might remember that “he had game.” Back in the day, we did not hear about many unmarried couples living together. But, today it is a different time and lots of couples are “shacking up.” Who recalls couples having “shot gun weddings?” This was what happened when an unmarried couple were expecting a child and the family insisted or required that they get married. Under these circumstances, you did not hear words like, she is expecting, or she is pregnant. What we heard, back then, I have not heard in many years. You might recall being asked if you had heard that Mary or Susan had been “knocked up.” This is clearly from back in the day.

Let us look at a few more slang terms from the past. What was money called in the past? Some of us called it “bread.” Others referred to money as “greenbacks.” Can I borrow a “10 spot” was a term a friend frequently used. Or, can I hold some “change?” So, what did people call the police in the past? Does “heat” ring a bell? You are really from back in the ‘50s if the police was referred to as “the red car.” For those of you that were not around, back then, all Philadelphia police cars were red. Does anyone recall being “uptight” or annoyed and responded with “go fly a kite?” In other words, mind your business. Did anyone get “jacked up” for not minding their business? In such cases, you were physically or verbally abused. I could go on and on with slang terms as they are endless. Some of you have used “shut eye” when referring to sleep and “chill out” was a way to suggest that one should be cool. If something has been “creamed” it was badly damaged; “hip” is occasionally used and most people know that it means to be in the know or to be cool; “dig” suggests to understand; “no sweat” indicates that it’s no problem; “shot down” simply means failure. Has anyone been told to get off the “horn?” This is the telephone, in case you are not from, back in the day.

The next time you are in the company of some teenagers and they confuse you with their hip-hop language, turn the tables and bring a blank look to their faces. Just use some of those terms that were part of any casual conversation on the part of those of us who are old school and grew up using slang terms that were popular, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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