WW2 Civilian Slang

Askew's WW2 Civilian Slang

Introduction
This list deals primarily with English slang that might be common during the war years, 1939-1945, both in the military and at home. Foreign words that were adopted by the general English-speaking public may also be included as well as words that were in use before and after that period. It's not an academic work by any means. No sources or references are listed. I mean this material to be useful for gamers and writers who'd like to spice up their work with some of the language of the time and that's all.

A great deal of WW2 slang on both sides of the Atlantic came from US pop culture such as radio programs, comic strips, music and movies. This, and the fact that I myself am American and don't know other slang as well, means that  the list below is mostly from the US. Slang used by mostly jazz and swing musicians in the 1920s and 1930s can sound very modern (groovy, rock, reefer, cool cat, etc.), and, since it  was not  used by the average person, I haven't included very much, only bits that seem to me to have been in more common usage in the 1940s.

If anyone knows any other appropriate slang of the period, I'd be happy to add it to the collection.

Send information and questions to faskew at yahoo dot com.

NOTE: I've written the address this way to thwart the evil spam bots that harvest addresses from Web sites. Redo the address to the typical name@ company.com. before using.

Military Terms
Soldier Slang
Acronyms
US WW2 Phonetic Alphabet
WW2 Main Page

1A US - (One - A) Prime candidate for for military service, likely to be drafted.
4F US - (Four - F) Ineligible for military service due to physical or other conditions.
all wet US - Wrong, bad. - "This whole idea is all wet."
and how! US - Strong affirmative. - "Do I want to go home? And how!"
applesauce US - nonsense, silliness - "That's all applesauce."
Arsenal of Democracy US - The United States, as a major supplier of weapons and material to Britain and the Soviet Union both before and after entering the war.
attaboy US - That's the boy - praise for something well done. 
balled up US - messed up - "This operation is balled up."
balls-up British -  confusion, chaos
baloney US - Strong negative, not true. - "Baloney! That ain't the way it happened"
beat it US - go away
beat your gums US - Useless chatter, "Stop beating your gums and get to work."
beef US - a complaint or to complain. - "What's your beef, Mac?"
beeswax US - business, concern "That's none of your beeswax."
brush US - mustasche
buck US - The lowest or smallest. For example, "one buck" being one dollar, the smallest US bill.
buddy US - Way to address a male stranger. - "Hey, buddy, you got a light?"
bum's rush US - being thrown out of a place, such as a bar - "After he started yelling, they gave him the bum's rush."
bushwa US - bullshit
chap British - man, guy - "He's a nice chap." - plural, chappies
cheaters US - eye glasses
clam US - a dollar
copacetic US - very good
dame US - a woman

Dear John letter

US- A letter from a wife or sweetheart at home telling someone serving overseas that she was getting a divorce or breaking off the relationship. These sometimes led the receiving solder into depression or suicidal actions.
dogs US - feet - "Are my dogs tired? I'll say."
doll US - an attractive woman.
don't know from nothing US - Lack of knowledge - "He don't know from nothing," meaning he doesn't know.
don't take any wooden nickels US - be careful, don't let them fool you
double-cross US - betray
dough US - cash, money
dry up US - shut up - "Aw, dry up, you."
dukes US - fists, "Put up your dukes," - a challenge to a fistfight. 
earful US - complaints, gossip, news - "I got an earful from him about his job."
fag British - cigarette
Fair Dinkum Australian - fair deal or OK
for crying out loud US - expression of exasperation
four bits US - 50 cents. In the early days one-dollar coins were often cut into eighths to make small change, each "bit" being worth 12.5 cents.
four-flusher US - from poker, a bluffer, a fake
gangbusters US - powerful, "He came on like gangbusters." From a popular radio show. 
gams US - legs, especially those of a woman
get in a lather US - Become excited or angry. - "Don't get in a lather about it."
get lost US - go away
gimp US - a cripple, someone with a limp
gimpy US - broken, not working properly
gin mill US - place to buy cheap liquor
glad rags US - best clothes
go chase yourself US - go away
gold-digger US - a woman who hopes to marry a rich man for his money, or at least to get as much of his wealth as she can before he dumps her.
goof US - Person who is a simpleton OR to make a mistake
hard-boiled US - tough
head up his ass US - someone not paying attention, usually with disastrous results
heater US - pistol
heebie-jeebies US - the creeps, the jitters - from a comic strip
high hat US - someone who wears a top hat, a snob. Also a verb meaning to snub- "He highhatted me at the party."
hooey US - nonsense
hooch US - liquor
ish kabibble US - "What do I care", not my problem, dismissive. Also, the name of a musician in the Kay Kyser band. 
I got to go see a man about a dog US - I have to leave now - especially to go buy liquor. 
Is this trip really necessary? US - Slogan of a publicity campaign to get civilians to stay at home and not waste precious fuel. 
ixnay US - Pig Latin for "nix" - no, stop, watch out
jake US - fine, good - "Everything's jake."
jalopy US - a worn-out old car
java US - Coffee [from the coffee producing island of Indonesia].
jeepers creepers US - swearing euphemism for "Jesus Christ!"
jeez or geez US - swearing euphemism for "Jesus!"
jitterbug US - A type of dance with lots of jumping and swinging.
joe US - Coffee.
joint US - place, for example, a bar or nightclub - "Let's blow this joint." -  let's go somewhere else. 
juice joint US - a speakeasy or other place that sells liquor
knocked up US - pregnant
killjoy US - someone who kills the joy around them, a grump
lay off US - leave someone alone - "Aw, lay off him, will ya.'"
left holding the bag US - to be cheated or framed
let George do it US - Let someone else do it. 
line US - falsehood, scam. "He fed me a line of bull." Standard pickup patter used by males in nightclubs, "Do you use that line on all the girls?"
live wire US - lively person, full of electricity or energy
lollapalooza  US - Extravaganza, extraordinary [1930]
Loose lips sink ships US - Part of a publicity campaign warning civilians and military alike that there were potential Axis spies lurking everywhere. Many ships were supposedly lost in the Atlantic convoys due to German U-Boats having knowledge of when the convoy left port and/or where it was headed.
mac US - Way to address a male stranger. - "Say, mac, whatcha' doing?"
mate British - friend, pal - "Gavin's me mate."
meat hooks US - hands
mind your potatoes US - mind your own business
mooch US - to beg, con , or steal
moonshine US - homemade liquor
nix US - Possibly related to German "nichts" - negative, no
noggin US - head
no sweat US - easy to do, not a problem
nuts, nutty US - crazy
off his nut US - he's crazy
OK US - Fine, all right [abbreviation of oll korrect (all correct) used by 19th century comic character?] (1839)
on a toot US - on a drinking binge, drunk
on the lam US - wanted by the police
on the level US - honest
on the up and up US - honest
pal US - Way to address a male stranger. - "Hey, pal, is this your java?"
palooka US - An incompetent professional boxer. Therefore, anyone bad at something. Used as an insult.
PDQ US - Pretty Damned Quick, "I want that done PDQ."
phiz US - face
pill US - An irritating person. - "She's a real pill."
pinch US - to be arrested, "The cops pinched him last night."
pipe down US - shut up
plummy British - Too respectable, dull, slow
puss US - face
put on your glad rags US - dress up in your best clothing, to go out on the town
regular US - Ordinary in a good way. - "He's a regular guy."
rube US - Short for Reuben - a hick or country bumpkin
rugged US - Something hard to endure, "Last night was really rugged."
rummy US - a drunk
sawbuck US - ten dollars
say US - Sentence starter. - "Say, Mac, you got a light?"
says you! US - Strong negative response
scat US - Jazz singing that uses nonsense words [1929]
scram US - go away
screaming meemies US - the shakes, terror, a bad experience - "That job gave me the screaming meemies."
screwy US - crazy
She'll Be Right in a Fortnight or 18 Days Australian - Things will be fine in a couple of weeks, more or less
shiv US - knife
simoleon US - One dollar
sinker US - a doughnut [from the habit of dipping doughnuts in coffee?]
six bits US - 75 cents. In the early days one-dollar coins were often cut into eighths to make small change, each "bit" being worth 12.5 cents.
smashing British - excellent - used a lot in the RAF
schnooz US - nose
so's your old man US - a retort when insulted
speakeasy US - place that sold illegal liquor during Prohibition
spill US - to confess, to tell all -  "He spilled his guts to the cops."
stilts US - legs
sweat it out US - Uncomfortable wait for action or a result, "We really sweat it out last night, but everything was OK by dawn."
swell (adj.) US - good - "Gee, that's swell!"
swell (noun) US - Upper class person - "He's a swell from a rich family."
swing US - Big band jazz that built on the structure of pop music and blues songs. Both the music and the related dancing were often considered improper or vulgar.
tell it to the marines US - I don't care about your problem. Go tell someone else.
the goods US - the right stuff, the truth - "She got the goods on him."
the real McCoy US - the real thing, genuine
torpedo US - a hired thug or killer
two bits US - 25 cents. In the early days one-dollar coins were often cut into eighths to make small change, each "bit" being worth 12.5 cents.
What's eating you? US - what's wrong with you?
whoopee US - fun, celebration
V for Victory Allied - Part morale booster, part propaganda, the V became a symbol of the Allied war effort. Churchill was often photographed making the V sigh with his fingers. Morse code for V being dot-dot-dot-dash, the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (dum-dum-dum-duuuum) was used as a sound version of the V symbol.
Victory Gardens US - Due to the rationing of food, civilians were encouraged to use all available land for small vegetable gardens.
wet blanket US - a person whose depression brings others down
you slay me US - You're funny, you make me laugh.

 

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