"A Swell Time in 1929" - A Poem in 1920s Slang / by Linda Eve Diamond

As this blog is titled The Pig's Wings, it seems fitting to start with a little poem I wrote in 1920s slang expressions. As many of these terms are long outdated, all are defined in italics below the poem as well as in the opening of the recorded poem (posted below the text). Even if you don't catch the meaning of every phrase that goes by, I hope you have a swell time listening! 


By Linda Eve Diamond

Mac, I’m no pushover, but this doll was the bee’s knees.
Yessiree, she was the cat’s pajamas and all the berries.

She was a floorflusher, a real smudger, too, but I was just a heeler. 
So we’d flap gums—then Oliver Twist would take her hand and steal her.

One night she left the joint early, so I stopped up and knocked on her door. 
Let’s Misbehave was blaring, so I knocked a little more.

When she opened the door, she was still in her glad rags, looking swell.
The place was littered with dead soldiers, but I didn’t care and she could tell.

I took her in my arms and asked: Cash or check?
Check, she said with a smile, reaching for a deck. 

We sat and spat about Gatsby and taking flight.
Then I said, Baby, I really need that cash tonight.

What happened after that is none of your beeswax, Mac.
She’s my sweetheart now, and that’s all there is to that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see a man about a dog.

For those who don’t happen to know 1920s slang…  A floorflusher was one who loved to dance, and a great dancer was an Oliver Twist. A smudger danced close—very close. A heeler was a bad dancer, prone to stepping on your toes. One who was the bee’s knees was the tops—also known as the cat’s pajamas and all the berries, too. If you talked or had a chat, you’d say you flapped gums or spat. Empty bottles were sometimes (and sometimes still are) called dead soldiers. A deck was a pack of cigarettes, and reading was known as taking flight. When a man asked a woman, “Cash or check?” that meant “Kiss me now or kiss me later?” (A man could only hope she wouldn’t say the bank was closed.)  

A Swell Time in 1929, @2103 Linda Eve Diamond, The Beauty of Listening

About the Photograph… The beautiful woman in the heart-shaped photograph was my grandmother, Ruth. As she was a fun, bold, and loved to dance, I hope she would have gotten a kick out of having her image shared with this poem. She was—and will forever be—the cat's pajamas and all the berries, too!


rose divider copy.png

And now for a little poetry/film pairing…  If you enjoy 1920s slang, you'll love "The Man of the Century" (1999). This silly, sweet film features Johnny Twenties, a character who dresses, speaks and lives as if he's learned everything he knows about language and life from watching 1920s ganger movies. It's a bit hard to find these days with a few rare and used copies around.

Here's the trailer (which is a fun little trip in itself)… 


Speaking of movies… How about one last fun expression from that era?  If you wanted to go to the movies with your sweetheart, you'd ask what was playing at the petting pantry.  :) 

Well, that's it for now from the 1920s. Heading back to the age of the Twitterverse. See you there…