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11 words from a 1940s song about slang
Betty Hutton sings about how hard it is to understand her boyfriend, who uses too much slang
 
Betty Hutton is certainly in the groove.
Betty Hutton is certainly in the groove. YouTube

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.

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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