‘50s Slang: 21 Ginchy Terms You Should Know

Don’t be a square—slang from the 1950s went way beyond ‘cool.’
She’s not from squaresville.
She’s not from squaresville. / George Marks/RetrofileRF/Getty Images (woman), shellpreast/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (background)

The 1950s were the decade when youth culture became the dominant culture. Young people were inventing new ways to date, dress, and get around, and they had a unique language to describe their lives. Some slang terms from the era made an impact on the way we talk today, while others were splitsville by the end of the decade. From beatnik to backseat bingo, here are some notable pieces of lingo popularized in the 1950s. 


These days, the term beatnik defines the most prominent subculture of the 1950s, but the word wasn’t coined until 1958. That year, columnist Herb Caen added -nik (a suffix derived from the satellite Sputnik, which launched in 1957) to beat to describe members of the Beat generation. A typical beatnik was a free-spirited artist who rejected societal conventions, with American novelist Jack Kerouac being one of the most famous examples. 


Originally part of African American Language (a.k.a. African American Vernacular, or AAVE), cool emerged from the jazz scene in the 1940s. In the 1950s, it became mainstream with the youth of America. Anything trendy and desirable—from a fashionable outfit to a catchy song on the radio—could be described as cool.

Backseat Bingo

The 1950s saw the explosion of American car culture, and with it came a wave of new car-related slang terms. Backseat bingo referred to hanky panky that took place inside a vehicle. Parking was a less colorful way to describe the same activity.


1950s living room interior.
That’s one cool pad. / imaginima/E+/Getty Images

Though pad can refer to any place of residence today, it had unsavory connotations in the mid-20th century. A 1950s beatnik may have used the term when referring to a place to crash, or a room to use (or recover from having used) drugs.


If a friend said you were “the ginchiest” in the 1950s, that would have been high praise. Unfortunately, ginchy—which meant “excellent” or “attractive”—didn’t have the same staying power as its synonym, cool.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

This phrase can be interpreted multiple ways. Originally, if was someone was cruisin’ for a bruisin‘ in the 1950s, they were looking for an excuse to pick a fight. Sometime in the 1970s, the meaning changed from cruisin’ to give a bruisin’ to cruisin’ to get a bruisin’. A person insulting their friend with a short temper would qualify for the second definition.


Singer Elvis Presley...
What a dreamboat. / Getty Images/GettyImages

The word dreamboat first surfaced in the 1940s, but it really took off in the following decade. It described any person (usually a man) worth swooning over. Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and James Dean all qualified as dreamboats.

Squaresville and Cubesville

If you really wanted to ramp up your slang game in the ‘50s, all you needed to do was slap a -ville at the end of a well-known term. For example, you could take square and cube, which were both used to describe a boring person, and amplify them to encompass an entire fictional town full of dullards. That ho-hum co-worker of yours who barely says a word? He’s from squaresville, daddy-o. Your uncle who keeps telling you to get a haircut? He’s the mayor of cubesville.


On the other end of the spectrum, there was endsville, which the Oxford English Dictionary describes as a fictional place full of all the good things (and people) in life—like a town where your favorite bands and restaurants reside.


Young people at a dance in the 1950s.
Totally antsville. / FPG/Retrofile RF/Getty Images

Any spot that made a person feel like they were packed into an ant farm—whether it was a movie theater or a sockhop—deserved the designation antsville.

Burn Rubber

The complete phrase burn rubber appeared early in the history of the automobile. A 1921 issue of Sunset magazine described a driver moving so fast that he “may burn rubber for ten yards.” Though it originated in the 1920s, the slang term for gaining speed behind the wheel gained new prominence in the car and street racing culture of the 1950s. If the tires created enough friction against the street to create smoke, the phrase became literal. 

Vomit on the Table

This phrase was another way to say “speak up” or “spill your guts.” Luckily for the easily grossed-out among us, vomit on the table didn’t stick in the lexicon. 

Get Pinned

1950s couple talking on telephone.
Tim MacPherson/Stone/Getty Images

Getting pinned was synonymous with “going steady” with a significant other in the 1950s. The dating lingo was literal, as male suitors would offer an actual pin for the object of their affections to wear as a sign of their commitment. 

Off the Cob

Thanks to the popularity of corny in the Gen Z vernacular, the phrase off the cob (as in corn cob) might be poised for a comeback. It was first used to paint something as overly hokey and sentimental in the 1930s. In the 1950s, it was embraced by Beatniks wanting to seem too cool for school.

Climb the Six Foot Ladder

The six-foot ladder in this euphemism for dying only goes in one direction: down. 

Atomized, Bagged, Incognitoed, and Skunky 

There are countless synonyms you can use for drunk. To do so in an authentically 1950s way, you can use slang terms like atomized, bagged, incognitoed, or skunky.

Passion Pit

Neon sign that reads "drive-in" at night
One ticket to the passion pit, please! / Thomas Winz/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Drive-in movie theaters were at their peak in the 1950s, with more than 4000 of them spread across the United States by the end of the decade. But it was more than just a spot to go and see a cheap B-movie with your friends—drive-ins were also the place for teens in heat to bring a date. And thanks to all of those high-school sweethearts locking lips behind the wheel of their Ford Thunderbirds, these outdoor theaters quickly became known as passion pits.

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A version of this story ran in 2023; it has been updated for 2024.