Betty Hutton, best known for her role as Annie Oakley in the 1950 film version of Annie Get your Gun, was one energetic singer. If you watch this 1943 performance of "Murder, He Says," you'll understand why Bob Hope calls her a "vitamin pill with legs" (it really gets going at 52 seconds).
The song gives a killer-diller run-down of all the hep words of the day, served up with some serious zest. The idea of the song is that her boyfriend uses so much of the latest slang that she can barely understand him. About half of these terms have fallen out of use, but a bunch of them have lasted. Many of them got their start in the jazz world. Here you can see them when they were still new and exciting. And even if they weren't so exciting at the time, Betty sure sold them like they were.
Some of the slang, in the order it appears in the song:
1. Murder: Excellent! In the words of H.L. Mencken, in "the vocabulary of the jazz addict... anything excellent is killer-diller, murder or Dracula."
2. Solid: First rate, in this case, as she says, "meanin' all my charms."
3. Chick: A girl. This usage started around the 1930s and is still with us.
4. Leaving him flat: The expression "to leave someone flat," meaning drop them completely, had been around for a while, but got very popular in the '20s and '30s.
5. Dig: To look at, appreciate. This one has also stuck around.
6. The jumps: Nervous shaking, anxiety. Originally referred to delirium tremens.
7. Ticker: Heart. This use was relatively new then too.
8. Jackson: A term of address. Usually for a guy, but also used in a general sense between friends, as in the way we use "hey, man."
9. Shoot the snoot to me: Move your snoot (nose) this way, so I can kiss ya.
10. Cooking with helium: Similar to "cooking with gas." Succeeding. Doing things well. But even better. 'Cause it's helium.
11. In the groove: In the zone, humming along. This one has stuck around too.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Here comes the Pentagon's newest space plane
- Let us now praise Billy Joel
- 10 things you need to know today: October 25, 2014
- Extreme haunted houses: Inside Halloween's most terrifying new trend
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- Why the government should pay every American child an allowance
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Everything you need to know about the voter ID controversy
Subscribe to the Week