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An Overview of the 1920's


The 1920's has a lot more than just gangsters and Prohibition going on so here is some food for thought that I would use when thinking about concepts for characters in the game.

Although organized crime enjoys a lot of power at this time...social conditions have also changed since the 1890's and the nation is on the cusp of the modern 20th century.

Prohibition - The society of the 1920's is at odds with itself.  There are those of older generations and the middle class who still cling to the Puritan ethics that accompanied our Founding Fathers.  This segment of society wallows in propriety of the later 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th.  Religious groups made up mostly of women searching to assert themselves politically formed a crusade against immoral practices including the consumption of liquor.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti Saloon League 

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Art Deco Poster

were founded in the early 1800's in response to the growing lawlessness in and around saloons. By later half of the 19th Century in response to the excessive immorality shown by saloon keepers in the Mid-West in which is now known as the Bible Belt, their long moral crusade known as the temperance movement gained it's first victory.  They spread like locusts within the governments of the nation and pushed their agendas forward as state after state passed prohibition laws.  In 1919 the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and it became illegal to distribute and manufacture distilled spirits in the United States. This segment of society wallows in propriety of the later 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th.  Religious groups made up mostly of women searching to assert themselves politically formed a crusade against immoral practices including the consumption of liquor.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti Saloon League were founded in the early 1800's in response to the growing lawlessness in and around saloons.  By later half of the 19th Century in response to the excessive immorality shown by saloon keepers in the Mid-West in which is now known as the Bible Belt, their long moral crusade known as the temperance movement gained it's first victory.  They spread like locusts within the governments of the nation and pushed their agendas forward as state after state passed prohibition laws.  In 1919 the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and it became illegal to distribute and manufacture distilled spirits in the United States.

Racism - The temperance movement achieved much of its success through propaganda tactics thrown at middle classes deepest fears.  As socialism and communism achieved their greatest victories to date in the last two elections, many felt that it was due to the large influx of immigrants from European nations.  Prohibition played on the fears of the white Anglo-Saxon American by linking immigrants to many social issues including the consumption of alcohol as European cultures had a tendency to imbibe.  In this environment, discrimination was the norm.  African Americans were still saddled with segregation laws that were common in both the North and South.  Chicago was not an acception.  Tensions among working class whites and black were high as each competed for jobs.

Women - In response to the victories women's temperance groups received with the ratification of the Prohibition Amendment, women were finally considered a real political force in the nation and the right to vote was given with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.  However, while American women are for the first time asserting themselves, ideals of the time still dictate what roles women are to fill in society and in the home.  Women are paid less than men and have fewer opportunities available to them than in our modern times.  Properly brought up young ladies still require chaperones while with a suitor, they still are dependant on their fathers and husbands, and are not thought of as equals by the general male population.  The younger generations of American women are hampered by the double standards that both their male peers and their matriarchs still cling to.  The response to this is a rebellion in the form of flapper culture.


Flappers
- It was here that the flapper came to be.  Young women rebelled against the old matriarchs and cut their hair short and hiked up their hem lines and painted their faces in the spirit of their new found freedom sparked by economic wealth and new political rights.  The flappers male counterpart was known as the Flaming Youth.  Both decadent party goers demanded the access to the liquors that were accessible to the very well connected and thus a demand that had never really vanished increased.

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Flappers and the Flaming Youth.

Economics and the New Decade - There was a backlash response to the religious fervor that forced it rural values on the rest of the nation.  This backlash was in part caused by the economic upswing dazzling most of the nation.  Unemployment was low, wages were up and many people of all classes found themselves with money to burn. Following the example of the wealthiest segments of society, the middle class was now buying on credit and speculating in the stock market which was rising at a feverish pace.  This created a new class of wealthy among the higher social circles known as the Nouveau Riche(or New Rich).  This created confidence in most urban societies and a transition from old to new began.  The new generation resented the hold of the crones of the temperance movements with their Victorian ideals and began their rebellion with a zeal matching that of the Prohibitionists. These newly rich mixed freely with the old rich socialites but were resented for their lack of breeding.  However, it barely mattered as the party is what they were all after.

The Rise of Organized Crime and Bootleggers
 - This was the Golden Age of the mob, which prior to Prohibition was limited to rackets, extortion, prostitution, and infiltration of labor unions.  Prohibition provided a demand for an illegal service that was too lucrative to pass by.  The money earned from the distribution and sale of liquor into the United States provided the bank roll for the mob to become an invisible force in our modern economics today.

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Chicago police raid on the North Side.

Smaller bootleggers and distributors were "squeezed" out one by one in this lawless age of the tommygun.  Gang wars caused by territorial disputes spilled out onto urban streets and soon the nation began to quietly think that this "prohibition experiment" was failing.The Capone gang was big in Chicago and indeed around the country. They smuggled in from Canada liquor for private distribution as well as for consumption in underground bars called speakeasies. Speakeasies came in a number of disguises like funeral homes with a secret entrance....where everyone drank 100 proof "coffee". These disguises were known as fronts and often had big gorillas as doormen waiting behind a sliding panel to hear the password.

Scarface himself enjoyed much celebrity in Chicago prior to February 14, 1929. A master at public relations, Capone saw to it that the press was friendly to him and never missed a chance to play up his donations to a charitable group. To Chicagoans he was their hero who saved them from the oppression of the Bible thumpers. 

Capone's chief thorn in the side was the North Side Gang led by Dion O'Banion and then later by Bugs Moran.  Moran inherited the title of gang leader after most of his associates were killed by Capone's South Side Gang, aka Outfit, aka La Cosa Nostra, aka the Mafia (Capone originated from Brooklyn and then relocated to Chicago's Little Italy.  The Outfit mostly comes from the West Side.)

Gangsters were popularized during the era.  It was at this time they were viewed by most as folk heroes.  The money derived from bootlegging and racketeering trickled into the American economy and the majority prospered because of it.   Chicago, as it is situated close to Canada, was a major point of liquor distribution into the United States.  This affected everyone as the cash poured into the city and it saw a major growth spurt from 1920 to 1931.  Everyone got a piece of the action and this made the 1920's the decadent age that it was.

Sonny Greer (page 58) recounted this anecdote: "Anytime we needed a quick buck, we would push the piano up to the table of the biggest racketeer in the joint. I would then sing My Buddy to him. I never remember getting less than a $20.00 ($647.09 in today's dollars) for such an easy five minutes work. I keep hearing how bad the gangsters were. All I can say is that I wish I was still working for them."

Other Criminal Elements - The 1920's was the decade of the con-artist. Many sophisticated cons were perpetrated by men and women looking to "sucker" dopes into speculation schemes promising to deliver huge returns on stock and property investments.  For example, buying swamp land in Florida.  Crooked card and dice games were the norm on the streets and drifters searched for easy "marks" in order to get the big score and become street legends. The Burlesque Theaters with their vices also flourished as the last remaining vaudevilleians were cast out in favor of a new form of entertainment known as the motion picture became the latest craze among the majority of Americans.

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Entertainment/Media
- Hollywood was in the beginning of its heyday. The silent movie became a staple of every American's choice of entertainment and it became an occasion to put on one's best and head to the spectacular movie houses of the urban centers. The Studio system was born out of Edison's little contraption. These studios were started by primarily extremely wealthy Jewish patrons who also supported the theater.  Names like Valentino, Swanson, Fairbanks, Keaton, and Chaplin delighted audiences and whisked them away to the magical world of the silver screen.

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Valentino and Swanson

Government - Politicians were regularly bought and sold and owned by the Mob.   However, there were a growing number of politicians especially on the national level that began to put the pressure on city officials to do something about organized crime.  Eventually, it will be Federal officers that get the Mafia. Most politicians played ball with the Mob as they were particularly wealthy, violent and powerful at this time. They were not all crooked, but it was a good bet that the police and city officials were on someone's payroll. Corruption is a way of life in Chicago and most already know that and know Chicago has a buddy system all its own.

Calvin Coolidge is President.  His radical theories on trickle-down economics lead to the sharp rise in economic growth of the nation.  Everyone loved Cal.  However, his policies eventually led to a growth that could not be sustained and in 1929, the Market Crashed.

Law Enforcement - Chicago PD was rife with corruption as 80% to 90% of all officers were someone's payroll.

Technology - What they have....radios....revolvers....tommyguns...the discovery of germs and microscopic life....forensics is in its infancy....mainly just fingerprints....earth samples...no DNA or anything sophisticated....physics is blooming.

Superstition - Parlor tricks, sťances, fortune telling, ouija boards were part of any good dinner party in the 1920's.  The wealthy enjoyed the company of psychics and astrologists for their salons and wild parties. Carnivals and fairs always featured these charlatans and books on tarot and witchcraft were the rage.   Most cities were accompanied by a rich oral tradition in urban legends and Chicago was no exception.

Fashion - Dress codes were way less casual than today's.  It was typical for women to wear hats and gloves.  Men wore hats and suits. Most in people in general enjoyed wearing nice clothing and "Puttin' on the Ritz".  Were colorful and ornate accessories accompanied both outfits - whether it be a gentleman's pocket watch or a woman's hair pin. 

Men - Men's fashions hadn't changed much over the ages.  Slacks and cotton dress shirts were the norm even for laborers in the cities.  Suits and fedoras and possibly spats accompanied the average middle class male. A flaming youth would typically dress with a straw hat and resemble a member of a barbershop quartette.

Women - Hemlines were at the knees or lower and the straight silhouette was popular. Some even dared to wear slacks for occasions that were to be active and casual.  Hair was worn up or in a short bob and accompanied by a head dress or hat or scarf.  Materials were luxurious and colorful.  

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Ladies' Fashion.  

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Men's and Ladies' Fashion.   

Art and Architecture - A wonderful style of art and architecture emerged during this era to complement the new fashions.  Art Deco became the standard both on the exterior and interior.  Chicago witnessed the birth of the skyscraper as Art Deco architects and interior designers competed against each other for the most inventive buildings.  Cubism and surrealism accompanied the new Art Deco style as Picasso and Dali were now considered masters of their crafts.

1920's Resources

This is a different era as you may have well guessed. Many things including dress, language, and societal values are different.  The women's movement is in it's infancy and it's a man's world. Prejudice is abound and Political Correctness is not even a thought yet as discrimination is the norm. So here are a few resources to check out.

Liquor Prohibition Amendment        

(Proposed by Congress Dec. 18, 1917; ratified Jan. 16, 1919. Repealed by Amendment XXI, effective Dec. 5, 1933.)

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

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Art Deco Buildings

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Movies:

The Cotton Club, Most Agatha Christie Movies, Some Like it Hot, The Untouchables, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2, The Funeral, The Great Gatsby, Little Miss Marker, Splendor in the Grass, Hoodlums, Mobsters, The Sting, Phillip Marlowe Movies, Laura, Old Gangster Movies - Roarin' 20's, Little Ceasar.

Music - Contemporary music of the era is varied.  Jazz and ragtime as well as old blues were very popular.  I have taken time to upload MP3s of various original recordings and recordings inspired by the era online in order to provide a resource for those who are not familiar with the music you can access that private resource via the Message Forum which has the secured link there.  Players can simply play the recordings in real time or download the music they like.  It's worth checking out to get the flavor of the 1920's or simply to provide yourself with mood music while you role-play.

Terminology - Slang of the era is strewn with colorful phrases and racial slurs. This is not a politically correct society.  It is rife with racism and discrimination based on sex, color, religion, nationality, religion and sexual orientation.  Below is a glossary of common slang of the era.

A

  • Alderman: A man's pot belly.
  • Ameche: Telephone
  • Ankle:
    • (n) Woman
    • (v) To walk

B

  • Babe: Woman
  • Baby: A person, can be said to either a man or a woman
  • Bangtails: Racehorses
  • Barber: Talk
  • Baumes rush: Senator Caleb H. Baumes sponsored a New York law (the Baumes Law) which called for automatic life imprisonment of any criminal convicted more than three times. Some criminals would move to a state that didn't have this law in order to avoid its penalty should they be caught again, and this was known as a "Baumes rush," because of the similarity to "bum's rush."
  • Be on the nut, To: To be broke
  • Bean-shooter: Gun
  • Beef: problem
  • Bee's Knees: An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate.
  • Beezer: Nose
  • Behind the eight-ball: In a difficult position, in a tight spot
  • Bent cars: Stolen cars
  • Berries
    • Dollars
    • Something attractive; similar to "bee's knees"
  • Big Cheese, Big Shot - The boss. Someone of importance and influence
  • Big house: Jail
  • Big one, The: Death
  • Big sleep, The: Death (coined by Chandler)
  • Bim: Woman
  • Bindle
    • of heroin: Little folded-up piece of paper (with heroin inside)
    • the bundle (or "brindle") in which a hobo carries all his worldly possessions
  • Bindle punk, bindle stiff: Chronic wanderers; itinerant misfits, criminals, migratory harvest workers, and lumber jacks. Called so because they carried a "bindle." George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men are bindle stiffs.
  • Bing: Jailhouse talk for solitary confinement, hence "crazy"
  • Bird: Man
  • Bit: Prison sentence
  • Blarney: derogatory term for an Irish person
  • Blip off: To kill
  • Blow: Leave
  • Blow one down: Kill someone
  • Blower: Telephone
  • Bluenose: A prude.
  • Bo: Pal, buster, fellow, as in "Hey, bo"
  • Boiler: Car
  • Boob: Dumb guy
  • Boozehound: Drunkard
  • Bop: To kill
  • Box:
    • A safe
    • A bar
  • Box job: A safecracking
  • Brace (somebody): Grab, shake up
  • Bracelets: Handcuffs
  • Break it up: Stop that, quit the nonsense
  • Breeze: To leave, go; also breeze off: get lost
  • Broad: Woman
  • Broderick, The: A thorough beating
  • Bruno: Tough guy, enforcer
  • Bucket: Car
  • Bulge, as in "The kid had the bulge there": The advantage
  • Bulls: Plainclothes railroad cops; uniformed police; prison guards
  • Bum's rush, To get the: To be kicked out
  • Bump: Kill
  • Bump gums: To talk about nothing worthwhile
  • Bump off: Kill; also, bump-off: a killing
  • Buncoing some (people): Defrauding people
  • Bunk:
    • "Take a bunk" - leave, disappear
    • "That's the bunk" - that's false, untrue
    • "to bunk" - to sleep
  • Bunny, as in "Don't be a bunny": Don't be stupid
  • Burn powder: Fire a gun
  • Bus: Big car
  • Butter and egg man: The money man, the man with the bankroll, a yokel who comes to town to blow a big wad in nightclubs 
  • Button: Face, nose, end of jaw
  • Button man: Professional killer
  • Buttons: Police
  • Butts: Cigarettes
  • Buy a drink: To pour a drink
  • Buzz, as in "I'm in the dump an hour and the house copper gives me the buzz": Looks me up, comes to my door
  • Buzzer: Policeman's badge

C

  • C: $100, a pair of Cs = $200
  • Cabbage: Money
  • Caboose: Jail (from "calaboose," which derives from calabozo, the Spanish word for "jail")
  • Call copper: Inform the police
  • Can:
    • Jail
    • Car
  • Can house: Bordello
  • Can-opener: Safecracker who opens cheap safes
  • Canary: Woman singer
  • Carry a Torch: Suffering from an unrequieted love.
  • Case dough: "Nest egg ... the theoretically untouchable reserve for emergencies" (Speaking)
  • Cat: Man
  • Cat's Meow: Something splendid or stylish; similar to bee's knees.
  • Cat's Pajamas: "I think yer the cat's pajamas" - term of endearment translated in today's terms as  "I think you are really really cool".
  • Century: $100
  • Cheaters: Sunglasses
  • Cheese it: Put things away, hide
  • Chew: Eat
  • Chicago lightning: gunfire
  • Chicago overcoat: Coffin
  • Chick: Woman
  • Chilled off: Killed
  • Chin: Conversation; chinning: talking
  • Chin music: Punch on the jaw
  • Chinese angle, as in "You're not trying to find a Chinese angle on it, are you?": A strange or unusual twist or aspect to something
  • Chinese squeeze: Grafting by skimming profits off the top
  • Chippy: Woman of easy virtue
  • Chisel: To swindle or cheat
  • Chiv, chive: Knife, "a stabbing or cutting weapon" (Speaking)
  • Chopper squad: Men with machine guns
  • Chump: person marked for a con or a gullible person.
  • Clammed: Close-mouthed (clammed up)
  • Clean sneak: An escape with no clues left behind
  • Clip joint: In some cases, a night-club where the prices are high and the patrons are fleeced (Partridge's), but in Pick-Up a casino where the tables are fixed
  • Clipped: Shot
  • Close your head: Shut up
  • Clout: Shoplifter
  • Clubhouse: Police station
  • Coffee-and-doughnut, as in "These coffee-and-doughnut guns are ...": Could come from "coffee and cakes," which refers to something cheap or of little value.
  • Colored: derogatory term for an African-American 
  • Con: Confidence game, swindle
  • Conk: Head
  • Cool: To knock out
  • Cooler: Jail
  • Cop
    • Detective, even a private one
    • To win, as in a bet
  • Copped, To be: Grabbed by the cops
  • Copper
    • Policeman
    • Time off for good behavior
  • Corn: Bourbon ("corn liquor")
  • Crab: Figure out
  • Crate: Car
  • Creep joint: ?? Can mean a whorehouse where the girls are pickpockets, but that doesn't fit in Pick-Up
  • Croak: To kill
  • Croaker: Doctor
  • Crush: An infatuation.
  • Crushed out: Escaped (from jail)
  • Cush: Money (a cushion, something to fall back on)
  • Cut down: Killed (esp. shot?)

D

  • Daisy: None too masculine
  • Dame: Woman
  • Dance: To be hanged
  • Dangle: Leave, get lost
  • Darb: Something remarkable or superior
  • Dark meat: Black person
  • Daylight, as in "let the daylight in" or "fill him with daylight": Put a hole in, by shooting or stabbing
  • Deck, as in "deck of Luckies": Pack of cigarettes
  • Dego: derogatory term for an Italian
  • Derrick: Shoplifter
  • Diapers, as in "Pin your diapers on": Clothes, get dressed
  • Dib: Share (of the proceeds)
  • Dick: Detective (usually qualified with "private" if not a policeman)
  • Dinge: Black person
  • Dingus: Thing
  • Dip: Pickpocket
  • Dip the bill: Have a drink
  • Dish: Pretty woman
  • Dive: A low-down, cheap sort of place
  • Dizzy with a dame, To be: To be deeply in love with a woman
  • Do the dance: To be hanged
  • Dogs: Feet
  • Doll, dolly: Woman
  • Dope
    • Drugs, of any sort
    • Information
    • As a verb, as in "I had him doped as" - to have figured for
    • A person marked for a con or a gullible person.
  • Dope fiend: Drug addict
  • Dope peddler: Drug dealer
  • Dormy: Dormant, quiet, as in "Why didn't you lie dormy in the place you climbed to?"
  • Dough: Money
  • Drift: Go, leave
  • Drill: Shoot
  • Drink out of the same bottle, as in "We used to drink out of the same bottle": We were close friends
  • Drop a dime: Make a phone call, sometimes meaning to the police to inform on someone
  • Droppers: Hired killers
  • Drum: Speakeasy
  • Dry-gulch: Knock out, hit on head after ambushing
  • Ducat
    • Ticket
    • For hobos, a union card or card asking for alms
  • Duck soup: Easy, a piece of cake
  • Dummerer: Somebody who pretends to be (deaf and?) dumb in order to appear a more deserving beggar
  • Dump: Roadhouse, club; or, more generally, any place
  • Dust
    • Nothing, as in "Tinhorns are dust to me"
    • Leave, depart, as in "Let's dust"
    • A look, as in "Let's give it the dust"
  • Dust out: Leave, depart
  • Dutch
    • As in "in dutch" - trouble
    • As in "A girl pulled the Dutch act" - committed suicide
    • As in "They don't make me happy neither. I get a bump once'n a while. Mostly a Dutch." - ?? relates to the police (Art)

E

  • Eel juice: liquor
  • Egg: Man
  • Eggs in the coffee: Easy, a piece of cake, okay, all right
  • Elbow:
    • Policeman
    • A collar or an arrest. Someone being arrested will "have their elbows checked."
  • Electric cure: Electrocution
  • Elephant ears: Police

F

  • Fade: Go away, get lost
  • Fakeloo artist: Con man
  • Fella: a man
  • Fin: $5 bill
  • Finder: Finger man
  • Finger, Put the finger on: Identify
  • Flaming Youth: The male counterpart to a flapper.
  • Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman with short skirts and shorter hair.
  • Flat
    • Broke
    • As in "That's flat" - that's for sure
  • Flat Tire: A dull-witted or disappointing date.
  • Flattie: Flatfoot, cop
  • Flimflam(m): Swindle
  • Flippers: Hands
  • Flivver: A Ford automobile
  • Flogger: Overcoat
  • Flop:
    • Go to bed
    • As in "The racket's flopped" - fallen through, not worked out
  • Flophouse: "A cheap transient hotel where a lot of men sleep in large rooms" (Speaking)
  • Fog: To shoot
  • Frail: Woman
  • Frau: Wife
  • Fry: To be electrocuted
  • From nothing, as in "I know from nothing": I don't know anything
  • Fuzz: police

G

  • Gal: Woman
  • Gams: Legs (especially a woman's)
  • Gashouse, as in "getting gashouse": Rough
  • Gasper: Cigarette
  • Gat: Gun
  • Gate, as in "Give her the gate": The door, as in leave
  • Gaycat: "A young punk who runs with an older tramp and there is always a connotation of homosexuality" (Speaking)
  • Gee: Man
  • Geetus: Money
  • Get Sore (at someone): get mad
  • Getaway sticks: Legs (especially a woman's)
  • Giggle juice: Liquor
  • Giggle Water: Liquor
  • Gin mill: Bar
  • Gink: Man
  • Girlie: Woman
  • Give a/the third: Interrogate (third degree)
  • Glad rags: Fancy clothes
  • Glom
    • To steal
    • To see, to take a look
  • Glaum: Steal
  • Go climb up your thumb: Go away, get lost
  • Go over the edge with the rams: To get far too drunk
  • Go to read and write: Rhyming slang for take flight
  • Gonif: Thief (Yiddish)
  • Goofy: Crazy
  • Goog: Black eye
  • Goon: Thug
  • Goose: Man
  • Gooseberry lay: Stealing clothes from a clothesline
  • Gowed-up: On dope, high
  • Grab (a little) air: Put your hands up
  • Graft:
    • Con jobs
    • Cut of the take
  • Grand: $1000
  • Greasers:
    • Mexicans or Italians.
    • A hoodlum, thief or punk.
  • Grift:
    • As in "What's the grift?": What are you trying to pull?
    • Confidence game, swindle
  • Grifter: Con man
  • Grilled: Questioned
  • Guinea: derogatory term for an Italian
  • Gum:
    • As in "Don't ... gum every play I make": Gum up, interfere with
    • Opium
  • Gum-shoe: Detective; also gumshoeing = detective work
  • Gun for: Look for, be after
  • Guns:
    • Pickpockets
    • Hoodlums
  • Gunsel:
    • Gunman 
    • Catamite.
    • "1. (p) A male oral sodomist, or passive pederast. 2. A brat. 3. (By extension) An informer; a weasel; an unscrupulous person." (Underworld)
    • Note Yiddish "ganzl" = gosling
  • Guy: a man

H

  • Hack: Taxi
  • Half, A:50 cents
  • Hammer and saws: Police (rhyming slang for laws)
  • Hard: Tough
  • Harlem sunset: Some sort fatal injury caused by knife (Farewell, 14)
  • Hash house: A cheap restaurant
  • Hatchetmen: Killers, gunmen
  • Have the bees: To be rich
  • Have the curse on someone: Wanting to see someone killed
  • Head doctors: Psychiatrists
  • Heap: Car
  • Heat: Police
  • Heater: gun
  • Heebie-Jeebies: The jitters.
  • Heeled: Carrying a gun
  • High-Hat: To snub.
  • High pillow: Person at the top, in charge
  • Highbinders
    • Corrupt politician or functionary
    • Professional killer operating in the Chinese quarter of a city
  • Himey: derogatory term for a Jewish person
  • Hinky: Suspicious
  • Hitting the pipe: Smoking opium
  • Hitting on all eight: In good shape, going well (refers to eight cylinders in an engine)
  • Hock shop: Pawnshop
  • Hogs: Engines
  • Hombre: Man, fellow
  • Hooch: Liquor
  • Hood: Criminal
  • Hoofer: Dancer.
  • Hooker, as in "a stiff hooker of whiskey": A drink of strong liquor
  • Hoosegow: Jail
  • Hop:
    • Drugs, mostly morphine or derivatives like heroin
    • Bell-hop
  • Hop-head: Drug addict, esp. heroin
  • Horn: Telephone
  • Hot: Stolen
  • Hotsy-Totsy: Pleasing.
  • House dick: House/hotel detective
  • House peeper: House/hotel detective
  • Hype: Shortchange artist

I

  • Ice : Diamonds
  • In stir: In jail
  • Ing-bing, as in to throw an: A fit
  • Iron: A car

J

  • Jack: Money  
  • Jake, Jakeloo: Okay Used like "cool" in modern slang.
  • Jalopy: An old car.
  • Jam: Trouble, as in "in a jam"
  • Jane: A woman
  • Jasper: A man (perhaps a hick)
  • Java: Coffee
  • Jaw: Talk
  • Jerking a nod: Nodding
  • Jingle-brained: Addled
  • Jobbie: Man
  • Joe: Coffee, as in "a cup of joe"
  • Johns: Police
  • Johnson brother: Criminal
  • Joint: Place, as in "my joint"
  • Jorum of skee: Shot of liquor
  • Joss house: Temple or house of worship for a Chinese religion
  • Juice: Interest on a loanshark's loan
  • Jug: Jail
  • Jujus: Marijuana cigarettes
  • Jump, The: A hanging
  • Junkie: Drug addict

K

  • Kale: Money
  • Keen: Attractive or appealing.
  • Keister, keyster:
    • Suitcase
    • Safe, strongbox
    • Buttocks
  • Kick, as in "I got no kick": I have nothing to complain about
  • Kick off: Die
  • Kicking the gong around: Taking opium
  • Kike: derogatory term for a Jewish person
  • Kiss: To punch
  • Kisser: Mouth
  • Kitten: Woman
  • Knock off: Kill
  • Knockover: Heist, theft

L

  • Lammed off: Ran away, escaped
  • Large: $1,000; twenty large would be $20,000
  • Law, the: The police
  • Lay
    • Job, as in Marlowe saying he's on "a confidential lay;" or more generally, what someone does, as in "The hotel-sneak used to be my lay"
    • As in "I gave him the lay" - I told him where things stood (as in lay of the of land)
  • Lead: "fill ya full of lead": the term used for bullets
  • Lead poisoning: To be shot
  • Lettuce: Folding money
  • Lid: Hat
  • Line: Insincere flattery.
  • Lip: (Criminal) lawyer
  • Lit, To be: To be drunk
  • Loogan: Marlowe defines this as "a guy with a gun"
  • Looker: Pretty woman
  • Look-out: Outside man
  • Lousy with: To have lots of
  • Lug
    • Bullet
    • Ear
    • Man ("You big lug!")
  • Lunger: Someone with tuberculosis

M

  • Mac: a man
  • Made: Recognized
  • Map: Face
  • Marbles: Pearls
  • Mark: Sucker, victim of swindle or fixed game
  • Maroon: person marked for a con or a gullible person.
  • Mazuma: Money
  • Meat, as in "He's your meat": He's the subject of interest, there's your man
  • Meat wagon: Ambulance
  • Mesca: Marijuana
  • Mic: derogatory term for an Irish person
  • Mickey Finn
    • (n) A drink drugged with knock-out drops
    • (v) Take a Mickey Finn: Take off, leave
  • Mill: Typewriter
  • Mitt: Hand
  • Mob: Gang (not necessarily Mafia)
  • Mohaska: Gun 
  • Moll: Girlfriend
  • Monicker: Name
  • Mouthpiece: Lawyer
  • Mud-pipe: Opium pipe
  • Mug
    • Face
    • Guy
  • Muggles: Marijuana
  • Mugs: Men (esp. dumb ones)
  • Mush: Face

N

  • Nailed: Caught by the police
  • Nance: An effeminate man
  • Negro: term for an African-American
  • Nevada gas: Cyanide
  • Newshawk: Reporter
  • Newsie: Newspaper vendor
  • Nibble one: To have a drink
  • Nicked: Stole
  • Nigger: derogatory term for an African-American
  • Nippers: Handcuffs
  • Nix on (something): No to (something)
  • Noodle: Head
  • Nose-candy: Heroin, in some cases
  • Number: A person, can be either a man or a woman

O

  • Off the track, as in "He was too far off the track. Strictly section eight": Said about a man who becomes insanely violent
  • Op: Detective (esp. private), from "operative"
  • Orphan paper: Bad checks
  • Out on the roof, To be: To drink a lot, to be drunk
  • Oyster fruit: Pearls

P

  • Pack: To carry, esp. a gun
  • Packing Heat: carrying a gun, armed
  • Pal: a man 
  • Palooka: Man, probably a little stupid
  • Pan: Face
  • Paste: Punch
  • Patsy: Person who is set up; fool, chump
  • Paw: Hand
  • Peaching: Informing
  • Pearl diver: dish-washer
  • Peeper: Detective
  • Peepers: Eyes
  • Pen: Penitentiary, jail
  • Peterman: Safecracker who uses nitroglycerin
  • Piece: Gun
  • Pigeon: Stool-pigeon
  • Pill
    • Bullet
    • Cigarette
  • Pinch: An arrest, capture
  • Pins: Legs (especially a woman's)
  • Pipe: See or notice
  • Pipe that: Get that, listen to that
  • Pipes: Throat
  • Pistol pockets: ?? heels?
  • Pitching woo: Making love (Turner)
  • Plant
    • (n) Someone on the scene but in hiding
    • (v) Bury
  • Plug: Shoot
  • Plugs: People
  • Poke
    • Bankroll, stake
    • Punch (as in "take a poke at")
  • Pooped: Killed
  • Pop: Kill
  • Pro skirt: Prostitute
  • Puffing: Mugging
  • Pug: Pugilist, boxer
  • Pump: Heart
  • Pump metal: Shoot bullets
  • Punk
    • Hood, thug
    • "A jailhouse sissy who is on the receiving end." (Also as a verb, as in "to get punked.")
  • Pushover: A person easily convinced of something.
  • Puss: Face
  • Put down: Drink
  • Put the screws on: Question, get tough with

Q

  • Queer
    • (n) Counterfeit
    • (n) Sexually abnormal
    • (v) To ruin something or put it wrong ("queer this racket")

R

  • Rags: Clothes
  • Ranked: Observed, watched, given the once-over
  • Rap
    • Criminal charge
    • Information, as in "He gave us the rap"
    • Hit
  • Rappers: Fakes, set-ups
  • Rat: Inform
  • Rate: To be good, to count for something
  • Rats and mice: Dice, i.e. craps
  • Rattler: Train
  • Red-light: To eject from a car or train
  • Redhot: Some sort of criminal
  • Reefers: Marijuana cigarettes
  • Rhino: Money
  • Ribbed up, as in "I got a Chink ribbed up to get the dope": Set up, arranged for? "I have arranged for a Chinese person to get the information"? (Knockover, 203)
  • Right: Adjective indicating quality
  • Right gee, Right guy: A good fellow
  • Ringers: Fakes
  • Ritzy: Elegant.
  • Rod: Gun
  • Roscoe: Gun
  • Roundheels
    • A fighter with a glass jaw
    • A woman of easy virtue
  • Rub-out: A killing
  • Rube: Bumpkin, easy mark
  • Rumble, the: The news
  • Run-out, To take the : Leave, escape

S

  • Sap
    • A dumb guy
    • A blackjack
  • Sap poison: Getting hit with a sap
  • Savvy?: Get me? Understand?
  • Sawbuck: $10 bill (a double sawbuck is a $20 bill)
  • Scatter, as in "And don't bother to call your house peeper and send him up to the scatter"
    • Saloon or speakeasy.
    • A hideout, a room or lodging
  • Schnozzle: Nose
  • Scram out: Leave
  • Scratch: Money
  • Scratcher: Forger
  • Screw
    • Leave, as in "Let's screw before anybody pops in"
    • Prison guard
  • Send over: Send to jail
  • Shamus: (Private) detective
  • Sharper: A swindler or sneaky person
  • Sheba: A woman with sex appeal.
  • Sheik: A man with sex appeal.
  • Shells: Bullets
  • Shine
    • Black person
    • Moonshine, bootleg liquor
  • Shine Indian: ?? (Knockover, 89)
  • Shiv: Knife
  • Shylock: Loanshark
  • Shyster: Lawyer
  • Silk, as in "all silk so far": All okay so far
  • Sing: Confess, admit secrets
  • Sister: Woman
  • Skate around, as in "She skates around plenty": To be of easy virtue
  • Skid rogue: A bum who can't be trusted
  • Skipout: Leave a hotel without paying, or a person who does so
  • Skirt: Woman
  • Slant, Get a: Take a look
  • Sleuth: Detective
  • Slug
    • As a noun, bullet
    • As a verb, to knock unconscious
  • Smell from the barrel, Have a: Have a drink
  • Smoke: A black person
  • Smoked: Drunk
  • Snap a cap: Shout
  • Snatch: Kidnap
  • Sneak
    • Leave, get lost, as in "If you're not a waiter, sneak"
    • Type of burglary, as in as in "The hotel-sneak used to be my lay"
  • Sneeze: Take
  • Snitch: An informer, or, as a verb, to inform
  • Snooper: Detective
  • Snort (as in of gin): A drink
  • Snow-bird: (Cocaine) addict
  • Snowed: To be on drugs (heroin? cocaine?); also "snowed up"
  • Speakeasy: An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor.
  • Spiffy: Looking elegant.
  • Soak: To pawn
  • Sock: Punch
  • Soup: Nitroglycerine
  • Soup job: To crack a safe using nitroglycerine
  • Spill: Talk, inform; spill it = tell me
  • Spinach: Money
  • Spitting: Talking
  • Spondulix: Money
  • Square: Honest; on the square: telling the truth
  • Squeeze: a female companion; girlfriend. Frequently used in underworld circles.
  • Squirt metal: Shoot bullets
  • Step off: To be hanged
  • Sticks of tea: Marijuana cigarettes
  • Stiff: A corpse
  • Sting: Culmination of a con game
  • Stool-pigeon: Informer
  • Stoolie: Stool-pigeon
  • Stringin': As in along, feeding someone a story
  • Stuck On: Having a crush on.
  • Sucker: Someone ripe for a grifter's scam
  • Sugar: Money
  • Swanky: Ritzy.
  • Swell: Wonderful.
  • Swift, To have plenty of: To be fast (on the draw)
  • Swing: Hang

T

  • Tail: Shadow, follow
  • Take a powder: Leave
  • Take it on the heel and toe: Leave
  • Take on: Eat
  • Take for a Ride: To drive off with someone in order to bump them off.
  • Take the air: Leave
  • Take the bounce: To get kicked out (here, of a hotel)
  • Take the fall for: Accept punishment for
  • Tea: Marijuana
  • That's the crop: That's all of it
  • Three-spot: Three-year term in jail
  • Throw a joe: Pass out ?? (Key, 86)
  • Throw lead: Shoot bullets
  • Ticket: P.I. license
  • Tiger milk: Some sort of liquor
  • Tighten the screws: Put pressure on somebody
  • Tin: Badge
  • Tip a few: To have a few drinks
  • Tip your mitt: Show your hand, reveal something
  • Tomato: Pretty woman
  • Tooting the wrong ringer: Asking the wrong person
  • Torcher: Torch singer
  • Torpedoes: Gunmen
  • Trap: Mouth
  • Trigger man: Man whose job is to use a gun
  • Trip for biscuits, as in "You get there fast and you get there alone - or you got a trip for biscuits": Make the trip for no purpose, achieve no results
  • Trouble boys: Gangsters
  • Turn up: To turn in (to the police)
  • Twist: Woman
  • Two bits: $25, or 25 cents.

U

  • Under glass: In jail
  • Up-and-down, as in "to give something the up-and-down": A look
  • Uppers, as in "I've been shatting on my uppers for a couple of months now" or "I'm down on my uppers": To be broke

V

  • Vag, as in vag charge, vag law: Vagrancy
  • Vig, Vigorish
    • Excessive interest on a loanshark's loan
    • Advantage in odds created by a bookie or gambler to increase profit

W

  • Weak sister: A push-over
  • Wear iron: Carry a gun
  • Wheats, as in "a stack of wheats": Pancakes
  • White
    • Good, okay, as in "white dick"
    • Gin ("a gallon of white")
  • Wikiup: Home
  • Wire, as in "What's the wire on them?": News, "What information do you have about them?"
  • Wise, To be To be knowledgeable of; put us wise: tell us
  • Wise head: A smart person
  • Wooden kimono: A coffin
  • Wop: derogatory term for an Italian
  • Worker, as in "She sizes up as a worker": A woman who takes a guy for his money
  • Wrong gee: Not a good fellow
  • Wrong number: Not a good fellow

Y

  • Ya Follow: do you understand?
  • Yap: Mouth
  • Yard: $100
  • Yegg: Safecracker who can only open cheap and easy safes

Z

  • Zotzed: Killed

Costs In the 1920's
                    

Yearly Wages
General Officer Clerk Section Foreman Carpenter Conductor Laborer
$6347 $1647 $2254 $1808 $2971 $1306

Pricing

The following is a list of basic equipment meant to give a rough guideline of what the economic climate was like in the twenties...
Lodging and Dining Clothing Adventuring Equipment Other Gear

Flophouse .20 per night

Mens' topcoat $14

Shoulder holster $1.25

Wrist watch $25

Dingy $1.00 per night Rain slicker and hood $5 and up Money/cartridge belt $2.25 Pocket watch $ 15
Comfortable $5.00 Pn Hiking/riding suit $12 Gasoline table lamp $6.50 Cheap signet ring $ 4 1/2"
Deluxe $10.00 Pn and up Quality womens' dress $ 15 100X microscope $17.50 Good fountain pen $ 3
Deluxe meal on train $1.50 Womens' wool coat $ 14 Baseball bat $1.50 48-peice jeweler kit $ 16
Good meal in rest. .75 Hunters' coat $ 5 Varmint trap .50 6 needle files $ 1
Good breakfast .30 Hip boots $ 6 Pocket knife .50 Rubber gloves .75
Dozen eggs .50 Union Suit $ 1 Pencil .01 Box camera $6.00 Wheelchair $ 40
Quart of milk .15 Mens' shirt $ 1 Popular novel $1.50 Ordinary Violin $ 35
Loaf of bread .25 Womens' frock $ 5 Carbide spelunker lamp $5.00 Shovel $1
Pound of bacon .45   Writing tablet .05 Axe $ 2
Excellent cigar .20 Battery spotlight $5.00 Steel link chain per foot .25
Cocktail at a Speakeasy .75 to $4.00  

Plated Cross 10" high $2

Carpenter tool set $ 50.00
    Wind up alarm clock $3 Blacksmith tool set $ 80.00
    6X binoculars $24 Plated cavalry trumpet $ 7.00
    12-g shotgun shell, 500 $20.00 Typewriter $ 65.00
    .22 bullets, 200 $1.00 Ukulele $ 8.00
    .45 bullets, 100 3.00 Rope , per 100 ft. $ 3
    .30 carbine bullets, 100 $9.00  
    3-cell flashlight $2.00  
    Holy bible $4.00  
    144 8x10 photo paper $5.00  
    Flapped pistol holster $1.00  

Transportation Costs

Trains

Automobile/Truck

Animal

Ship

Air Travel

Local commuter .05 Tramp, $15
per 1000 mi. or fraction
Used auto $250 OK horse saddle $400 15 ferry .15 first mile, .05 each additional 1919 cost from London to Paris was $100
+ .02 per zone Rowboat $35 New Cheap auto $1000 Old horse saddle $200 liner, $60 per 1000 miles or fraction thereof 1920's av. price was .09~.60 per mile
Medium range 25-400mi Canoe $75 Luxury auto $7000  Mule $100 freighter, $30 per 1000 miles or frac.  
$1+.02 per mile Outboard motor $80 Used truck $350 Burro $50

Transcontinental, Bicycle, suitable to attach motor to$1+.01 per mile $28

Small truck $1400 Sled dog $50    
Large truck $3500 and up Buggy $85
  Med auto tire $12 Farm wagon $65    
Tire chains $5 Double horse harness $45
  Tire rpr kit/pump 2.50 Western saddle $20    
Tire jack 1
  Auto spotlight $3      
Auto battery $15
  Gasoline, gallon .20      

Average Mph 30

  Repair book $1.50      
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