Mental Floss
WORDS

15 Funky '70s Slang Terms

Jake Rossen
The '70s had some great slang.
The '70s had some great slang. / Ajwad Creative (speech bubble), photovideostock (disco ball) // iStock via Getty Images Plus
facebooktwitterreddit

The 1970s may be best known for giving us some of the greatest films ever made, Pop Rocks, and the Watergate scandal, but it was also the decade when some very far-out lingo was coined. If you’re up to speed on the tubular ‘80s slang and the wicked vernacular of the ‘90s, check out some terms and phrases that made the ‘70s groovy.

1. Deep-Six

When you want to be rid of something, you can "deep-six" it. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) speculates that the term may come from the notion of being buried at sea six fathoms deep. While its use dates back to the 1920s and referred to a grave, the phrase was resurrected in the 1970s, thanks to coverage of Watergate and testimony that someone was asked to deep-six incriminating documents.

It was a peculiar enough term at the beginning of the decade that fans of Ann Landers wrote in asking what she meant by the phrase in reference to a reader's lying husband. "I wasn't recommending homicide," Landers clarified.

2. Space Cadet

Once a literal term for a person engaged in space travel, the ‘70s gave way to space cadet describing someone neurologically affected by excessive drug use and detached from reality. Green’s Dictionary of Slang defines the term as “any heavy user of drugs, especially cannabis or hallucinogens, who is continually ‘flying.’” Sci-fi legend Robert Heinlein also used it as the title of a 1948 novel, which was focused on an interplanetary patrol and was (foreshadowing alert) set in 1975.

3. Guilt Trip

If you’ve ever felt remorse over something you did—or didn’t—do courtesy of someone else’s shaming, you’ve had a guilt trip laid upon you. The OED dates the phrase back to 1972’s Any Minute I Can Split, a novel by Judith Rossner, where a character states that "nobody's sending me on any guilt trip over money." It had, however, been used earlier in print in 1970 via a quote by Bernardine Dohrn of the Weather Underground radicals group.

4. Shaggin’ Wagon

The advent of vanners, or van aficionados, in the 1970s gave way to vehicles that were tricked out with side murals, furnishings, and pseudo living spaces. Because they were often the site of carnal activity, the party vans came to be known as shaggin’ wagons. While The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English dates shag wagon and its variations back to 1966, the rise of shaggin' appears to be a product of van fever in the proceeding decade. Even car dealers were comfortable using the term in newspaper ads for Chevrolets.

5. 10-4

The radio code meaning “message received” grew pervasive in the 1970s with the rise of CB radio hobbyists and the hit 1975 song "Convoy," credited to C.W. McCall. It was often joined with a term of address dating back to the 1940s to form the response “10-4 good buddy.”

6. Couch Potato

Spending too much time in front of the television could net you a label of couch potato. Green’s, which describes such a spud as “one who is addicted to watching TV and who does this while lying on the couch, as inert and brain-dead as a potato,” states the term was coined in 1976 and may have come from another TV-related slur, boob tuber.

7. Jive Turkey

An “insincere, deceitful, dishonest person,” a jive turkey is not one to be trusted. Green’s places the usage back to 1975, though jive as an adjective and without the avian noun dates back to the 1940s.

8. Burnout

According to Green's, in the 1940s, burnout had aerial meaning when a jet’s engines gave out. Beginning in the ‘70s, a burnout turned into a noun that referred to someone heavily abusing drugs. It was also coined as a verb by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who wanted a term to describe his extreme work stress.

9. Primo

In the market for something first-class and excellent? Then you want some primo product, which was often used to describe the quality of a street drug, particularly marijuana.

10. Lame-O

If you knew someone to be a social disappointment or otherwise a bit of a dweeb, you might consider them a lame-o. The phrase got some public airtime during a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live.

11. Keep on Truckin’

While trucking was used to denote locomoting as far back as 1936, keep on truckin’ grew in popularity in the 1970s thanks to cartoonist R. Crumb and his ubiquitous art, which first used the phrase in 1967.

12. Tighty-Whitey

Does the term underwear not do it for you? Green’s puts the date of origin for this slang phrase for men’s briefs back to 1978.

13. Wedgie

Formerly a term for a shoe with a thick sole, wedgie took on more sinister connotations in the 1970s. When grabbing someone’s tightey-whities, you can deliver a wedgie, or what Green’s describes as pulling “an unsuspecting victim’s underpants up between their buttocks.”

14. Airhead

The OED declares an airhead to be a “foolish, unintelligent, or frivolous person.” It originally referred to horizontal passages providing air to mining areas in the 1800s and was later a word for an airbase in the 1940s. By the late 1970s, it was a popular insult in school hallways.

15. Whippet

Yes, it's a dog breed, but you may know the word as something a little less innocent. Drug users who liked to inhale nitrous oxide from cans of whipped cream took to calling them whippets, a term Green’s dates to 1976—and a pretty surefire way to arrive at space cadet and burnout territory.

facebooktwitterreddit