18 Old-Timey Words and Terms to Use at Your New Year's Eve Party

Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images
Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

Spice things up at your New Year’s Eve shindig tonight with these delightful old-timey slang terms, courtesy of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

1. Barney

According to Green’s, this slang term—which has Irish origins—is defined as “an enjoyable social occasion; a rowdy party,” and dates to 1859. It fell out of popular usage in the 1960s.

2. Dressed Up Like a Lighthouse

This phrase is used to describe someone “flashily, ostentatiously dressed,” and dates to 1933.

3. Muffin-worry

This term for an evening party dates to 1855. Just a few years later, it would come to mean “an old ladies’ tea party.”

4. Blow Off

This term has two potential meanings that could apply to tonight: The first, which you’ll hopefully avoid, is “an emotional outburst; a sudden fight or argument,” and was used between 1863 and 1952. The second, from 1886 and in use until 1915, is “a party, a celebration.” Here’s an example usage, from the book Knocking the Neighbors: “The Blow-Off came on the Trip to the City. That was the Big Entertainment.”

5. Bugged Up

Another way to describe getting dressed up, this slang term dates back to 1893, and fell out of use in the 1930s.

6. Spreeing Cove

You’ve probably heard the word spree used in reference to partying, but you’ve probably never heard of a spreeing cove, or “one who is enjoying a party or jollification,” a term that dates to 1846.

7. Jazzer

We’re about to enter the 2020s, so why not use a term from the 1920s tonight? A jazzer is term for a party-goer and dates to 1922.

8., 9., 10., 11., and 12. Conversation Water, Joy Water, Swell’s Lush, Sassy Suds, and Wealthy Water

These are all slang terms for champagne: Conversation water dates to 1880. In the U.S., joy water meant alcohol, generally, between 1903 and 1945, but in Australia, it specifically referred to champagne and was in use from 1919 to 1924. Swell’s lush is another Aussie slang term for champagne, in use in 1876.

Sassy suds and wealthy water date to 1907; Walla Walla, Washington’s Evening Statesman provides an example of their usage: “When we entertain fittingly we ...‘Lick up the wealthy water,’ or the ‘Sassy suds.’"

13. Champagne Charlie

This term, which means “a devotee of champagne,” dates to 1867, when H.J. Whymark and Alfred Lee released the popular song “Champagne Charlie Is My Name.” Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

"I’ve seen a deal of gaiety throughout my noisy life
With all my grand accomplishments I ne’er could get a wife,
The thing I most excel in is the P. R. F. G. game,
A noise all night in bed all day, and swimming in Champagne.

"For Champagne Charlie is my name, Champagne Charlie is my name
Good for any game at night, my boys, good for any game at night, my boys,
Champagne Charlie is my name, Champagne Charlie is my name
Good for any game at night, boys, who’ll come and join me in a spree."

According to Green’s, “The original Champagne Charlie was a wine-merchant who was very free with gifts of his stock.”

14. and 15. Laughing Soup and Laughing Soup Parlor

Laughing soup is another slang term for champagne, dating to 1903; a laughing soup parlor is a bar.

16. In One’s Airs

A person could end up in one’s airs—a.k.a. drunk—after drinking all of that champagne. None other than Ben Franklin defined the term in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “They come to be well understood to signify plainly that A MAN IS DRUNK. [...] He’s in his Airs.”

17. Catch a Fox

Slang term for being very drunk, in use from 1630 to the 1720s.

18. Roll in Someone’s Ivory

You might be doing this at midnight: To roll in someone’s ivory, which dates to 1780, means “to kiss.”

'Turdsworth': Lord Byron’s Not-So-Affectionate Nickname for William Wordsworth

GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images

For those of you who thought William Wordsworth was a not-so-subtle pseudonym meant to further the literary brand of a certain 19th-century poet, think again: William Wordsworth’s real name was actually William Wordsworth.

The fitting, alliterative moniker makes it hard to forget that Wordsworth was a wordsmith, but it also made him an easy target for mockery at the hands of other Romantic era writers.

Some of it was the type of clever wordplay you might expect from England’s elite poets. In an essay for the London Review of Books, Michael Wood highlights the time that Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent his poem “The Nightingale” to Wordsworth, writing, “And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth/You’ll tell me what you think, my Bird’s worth.”

While Coleridge’s witty rhyme poked fun at Wordsworth in a playful way, not all of his contemporaries were quite so kind. As Literary Hub points out, Lord Byron referred to Wordsworth as “Turdsworth.”

Byron’s jab sounds like something you’d hear at an elementary-school kickball game, but, then again, the eccentric poet was never one to adhere to anybody’s expectations—during college, for example, he often walked his pet bear around the grounds.

As for the word turd itself, it’s been around much longer than you might have realized. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it derives from the Old English word tord, meaning “piece of excrement,” and it’s been used as a personal insult ever since the 15th century.

If fecal-themed nicknames aren’t really your thing, here are 42 other Old English insults that you can fling with abandon.

[h/t Literary Hub]

14 Colonial-Era Slang Terms to Work Into Modern Conversation

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When you think of Colonial America, soldiers marching to fife and drum and Benjamin Franklin flying a kite are probably what come to mind. But the Colonial Period—which stretched from roughly 1607 to 1776, starting when America was just a group of colonies on the east side of the continent and ending with the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence—was a fascinating but complicated time in which settlers from England forged a proud new identity. These new settlers brought the English language with them when they came, and whenever English finds a new home, it often takes on a new life. America was no exception. Here are 15 slang words that were recorded in and around this period of American history.

1. Kedge

What It Meant: Doing well

In you lived in a country town in Colonial-era New England and someone asked how you were doing, you might have replied, “I’m pretty kedge.” It’s a bizarre but wonderful term that essentially means in being in good health—but it also kind of sounds like something a teen in an ‘80s movie would say.

2. Cat's-paw, or to be made a cat's-paw out of

What It Meant: To be a dupe, to be used as a tool.

This colorful expression came from a fable, The Monkey and the Cat, where a monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of a fire, promising the cat its share. Spoiler alert: The cat doesn't get any. So to be used for someone else's gain is to be made a "cat's paw out of."

3. Chuffy

What It Meant: Surly or impolite

If someone is short with you, tell them they don’t have to be so chuffy. It’s a strange, old word with obscure origins, and one that sounds a bit softer than “jerk.”

4. Scranch

What It Meant: To crack something between your teeth

Though this apparently “vulgar” term sounds like it was named after what it sounds like to crack something with your teeth, it supposedly comes from the Dutch word, schransen.

5. Gut-foundered

What It Meant: Very Hungry

This word, which dates to 1647, is believed to be regional Newfoundland slang. Gut-foundered could easily become a new hyperbole for us pampered moderns to employ, like “starving.”

6. Fishy

What It Meant: Drunk

Possibly no one invented more ways to say “drunk” than colonial Americans. Benjamin Franklin alone compiled 200 ways to say it. Fishy was meant to also imply the way the drinker looked: “Bleary eyes and turned-down mouth corners make a drunk resemble a fish,” writes Richard M. Lederer, Jr. at American Heritage.

7. Macaroni

What It Meant: Fancy

When Yankee Doodle called that feather hat “macaroni,” he wasn’t being a weirdo. Macaroni was a term used at the time to refer to a particular men’s fashion from England that was intentionally flashy, over-the-top, and androgynous.

8. Twistical

What It Meant: Unfair or immoral

This word—which according to 1848’s Dictionary of Americanisms was primarily used in New England—feels like it could just as easily have been invented today. Slip it into conversation in the next time you experience something unjust.

9. Savvy, Savey, or Sabby

What It Meant: To know or understand

While we still use this word to mean something like “literate” (computer-savvy), in Colonial times, it was actually used more like the way Jack Sparrow uses it. So you might say, “I don’t want to come to work anymore, savvy that?” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s derived from sabe, which means “he knows” in Portuguese. This became sabi in Creole, and later, “savvy.”

10. Adam’s Ale

What It Meant: Water

If you’re feeling thirsty for water, try using this slang term that was popular on both sides of the pond in the Colonial era. To quote a 1792 American poem by Philip Freneau, “In reason’s scale his actions weigh’d / His spirits want no foreign aid / Long life is his, in vigour passes / A spring that never grew stale / Such virtue lies in Adam’s Ale.”

11. Shaver

What It Meant: A young or adolescent boy

To call a boy a shaver was to imply that they were young enough that they just started shaving. Which is fitting, if a little condescending—like they’re not embarrassed enough already!

12. Jollification

What It Meant: Celebration or merrymaking

It's hard to even say jollification without sounding like a reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg. And though jollification sounds like it would be a good thing, it seems like there was also such a thing as too much jollification: The August 10, 1772 edition of The Pennsylvania Packet used the word in a morality tale about a man named Hilario: "What jolification [sic] could be complete without Hilario? Cards succeeded cards every morning to invite him to dinner, to routs, to dances; his only excuse was prior engagement, and he had not resolution to withstand the temptations.” By the end of the tale, according to Children In Colonial America, "a life of cards, women, and wanton spending slowly whittled away his wealth ... no woman would marry him, and even his good looks had failed him."

13. Simon Pure

What It Meant: The real deal, authentic, untainted

A delightful phrase that rolls off the tongue and could be dropped into many modern sentences. And when someone asks you, “who the heck is Simon?” you tell them that Simon Pure was a Quaker character who has to prove he’s the real Simon Pure in a 1718 play by Susanna Centlivre called A Bold Stroke for a Wife.

14. Circumbendibus

What It Meant: Roundabout

Of all the ways to describe something unnecessarily roundabout— like someone telling a rambling story or taking a weird road when driving somewhere—this word, which dates to 1681, might be the most delightful. It also shows how much we fun we had and still have with language, combining prefixes and suffixes to make new words.

Joe Gillard is the author of The Little Book of Lost Words, and the founder of History Hustle.

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