In our list of NY slang words, we talk about how influential New York has been in the United States culturally. Today, there are tons of slang words and phrases that are unique to the area, and which often quickly spread across the country.
But what if we were to tell you that New York has been like that for centuries? This hub of the American population has been around since the 1600’s, and it’s had a revolving slang lexicon since then. In this post, we’ll take a look at some old New York slang words and phrases that have been used throughout its years and that you may not hear anymore today.
Let’s see if there are any you think we should revive and start using again…
Old World New York Slang Words and Phrases (in Alphabetical Order)
- (Adjective): If you’re all-overish, you’re feeling very so-so, or not great but not terrible, either.
- Person 1: “How are you feeling today?”
- Person 2: “Oh, I’m all-overish at the moment.”
- (Noun): The mother of a child who was born outside of a marriage. You can see why this one is outdated.
- Example: “Henrietta is an outstanding mother…for an ankle.”
- (Verb): To beat someone up.
- Example: “He was anointed by the gang when he failed to pay his debt.”
- (Noun): A racing horse’s neatly manicured tail.
- Example: “He needs to stop betting on the bangtails, or he’ll lose everything he has.”
- (Noun): You might guess that this one means dog, but it actually refers to a pistol.
- Example: “Don’t mess with me – I’ve got a barker with me.”
- (Noun): A person’s lungs.
- Example: “She knocked the wind right out of my bellows.”
Bellows to Mend
- (Expression): When you’re exhausted or out of breath.
- Example: “After running all the way home, John was bellows to mend.”
- (Noun): A slang term that means main street. Back in the day, that meant Broadway.
- Example: “We went shopping along the Big Stem this afternoon.”
- (Noun): An old slang word for alcohol.
- Example: “Do you know where I can get a bit of bingo?”
- (Noun): You can use this one to refer to when someone has a black eye. Alternatively, it can also just mean eye.
- Example: “Close your blinkers. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
- (Noun): The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a lot of alcohol-related slang. This one means gin of poor quality.
- Example: “He got sick after drinking a bit of blue ruin.”
- (Noun): Old-fashioned slang term for someone’s mouth.
- Example: “If you don’t be quiet, I’ll punch you right in your bone box.”
- (Noun): Old-fashioned dice were made from bones, which is where this slang term comes from. As you may have guessed, it refers to dice.
- Example: “Are your bones bringing you any luck today?”
- (Noun): Another anatomical slang word. Bread bag is what you might call your stomach.
- Example: “He was bellows to mend after the boxer punched him in the bread bag.”
Break a Leg
- (Expression): Nowadays, one might say, “break a leg” to wish someone else luck. Back then, it meant something entirely different: chasing a woman or getting one to sleep with you.
- Example: “I don’t need a brothel. I know how to break a leg.”
- (Noun): See Ankle.
- (Noun): If you had to guess what this one meant, you’d probably guess something like the police. It actually refers to delirium tremens, a condition of withdrawal that occurs in some alcoholics who haven’t drank for a long enough time.
- Example: “Don’t mind him. He’s being chased by the Brooklyn Boys right now, but he’ll get over it eventually.”
- (Noun): Someone who looks easy to beat up but is actually good at fighting.
- Example: “He’s living proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover. What a bully trap – he took out five men in a bar fight last night.”
Bunch of Fives
- (Noun): A slang term for your fist.
- Example: “All I’ve got is a bunch of fives in my pocket, but I know how to take care of myself.”
- (Noun): Cat was a term that was also popular in 60’s slang. However, in nineteenth century New York, cat meant a prostitute, and not just a general term for a person.
- Example: “My brother spends too much money on cats.”
- (Noun): This one is related to the previous term. It refers to a woman’s chest.
- Example: “Will you look at the cat-heads on that cat?”
- (Noun): Bad luck, an unfortunate event.
- Person 1: “My wife left me because I couldn’t stop visiting cats.”
- Person 2: “Well, isn’t that some cold coffee?”
- (Noun): A woman of ill repute who associates with more respectable, high-class people.
- Example: “They say Joan is a good woman, but I know she’s truly a Corinthian.”
- (Verb): To mess something up or make someone upset.
- Example: “He crabs his father daily by using foul language.”
- (Noun): Crib is an interesting example of slang lasting for years. It means house, much like how it is used today.
- Example: “I was impressed when I visited Jane’s crib.”
- (Verb): When someone dies. This is another term that’s still around today.
- Example: “After battling cancer for years, he finally croaked yesterday.”
- (Noun): Confusingly, this word doesn’t have anything to do with dying. This is what people used to call newspapers.
- Example: “Did you check out the croakers this morning?”
- (Verb): Here’s another word that is still used similarly today. You might say this when you are removing someone toxic from your life.
- Example: “Jack cut his brother because he could no longer deal with his brother’s drinking problem.”
- (Expression): Text talk obviously wasn’t in use in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, a similar concept was applied in letter-writing, which is where D.I.O comes from. It means, “damn it, I’m off” and you can use it whenever you want to end a communication of some kind.
- Example: “I’m done talking for now. D.I.O!”
- (Noun): Old-fashioned slang term for money.
- Example: “I’m here with my good old friend darby to bet on some bangtails.”
- (Adjective): When someone looks under the weather or ill.
- Example: “My poor dear, you’re looking rather dauncy today. What’s the matter?”
- (Noun): Any gambler was familiar with the Devil’s Books, also known as playing cards.
- Example: “The only books he reads are the Devil’s Books.”
- (Noun): A silly-sounding term that means landlord.
- Example: “My Diddle Cove charges me too much darby for this hole of a home.”
- (Verb): To stop talking.
- Example: “If you don’t dry up right now, I swear I’ll cut you.”
- (Noun): You might tell someone they’ve made a fimble-famble when they give you a terrible excuse for something.
- Person 1: “I’m sorry I didn’t turn in my homework. My dog ate it.”
- Person 2: “That’s fimble-famble, and you know it. What really happened?”
- (Noun): Slang term for a $5 bill.
- Example: “Leave a fin on the table as a tip to your waitress.”
- (Noun): You might assume that any reference to a “godfather” in New York must be mafia-related. In some ways, it’s actually the opposite for old New York slang, because a godfather was someone serving on a jury.
- Example: “He served as godfather last week in the trial for the murder.”
If you’re interested in learning the meanings behind terms you heard in the movie The Godfather or the show The Sopranos, you should read our list of Italian American slang words.
- (Noun): A cop who’s new to the job. They’re wet behind the ears, so to speak.
- Example: “He’s a goo goo who was overwhelmed by his beat on the first night.”
- (Noun): Slang term for someone who’s an idiot.
- Example: “Don’t listen to that goosecap. He wouldn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground.”
- (Noun): Waste, trash, worthless lint.
- Example: “She tried to sell a load of gullyfluff at the pawn shop to get some quick darby.”
- (Verb): Possessing one black eye after being punched. If you have two black eyes, you’re full-mourning.
- Example: “He’s half-mourning after calling that man’s wife a cat.”
- (Noun): A fun old slang word for intercourse. It’s kind of like an older version of “hanky-panky.”
- Example: “He stopped by the cathouse for a bit of hogmagundy.”
- (Noun): You can probably guess what this one means. See Cat.
- (Noun): See Hogmagundy.
How’s Your Poor Feet?
- (Expression): A nonsensical greeting that you might shout at someone over a century ago. If we had to compare it to something, it would probably be similar to “yurr” in today’s New York slang lexicon.
- Example: “Hello! How’s your poor feet?”
- (Adjective): Absolutely stinky or dirty.
- Example: “I make any sort of fimble-famble not to go to her house, because it’s always so mondongo.”
- (Noun): See Goosecap.
Related Article: New York Insults
- (Noun): A devastating punch delivered to someone’s nose.
- Example: “His nose was broken after that nose-ender.”
Off One’s Chump
- (Expression): Someone who’s out of their mind or crazy. It’s comparable to saying, “off your rocker.”
- Example: “My grandma’s off her chump, so pay her no mind.”
- (Noun): A police officer. Yes, this one has been around for awhile.
- Example: “Be careful – there are pigs around the corner.”
- (Noun): A jerk or otherwise unpleasant person.
- Example: “No one will want to be your friend if you keep acting like a prat.”
- (Noun): Nickname for a wife. This one may originate from the old Biblical story, in which Eve was made from Adam’s rib.
- Example: “I can’t stay out too late. Gotta get home to the rib.”
- (Noun): When someone leaves a location quickly.
- Example: “After the party died down, I took a run-out powder before the awkward afterparty could start.”
Saw Your Timber
- (Expression): A demand for someone to leave.
- Example: “I told the bill collector to saw his timber and leave me be.”
- (Noun): These days, asking for the tea means you’re asking for the gossip. Funnily enough, an old-fashioned slang word for tea was scandal-water, showing that people back then also liked to indulge in gossip while they drank their tea.
- Example: “The two maids sat down for a couple cups of scandal-water and talked about the people in their lives.”
- (Verb): Couch-surfing, or mooching off someone by living with them and not paying your share of the expenses.
- Example: “Ben has been scroofing at his brother’s place for weeks now.”
- (Noun): Another way of saying scum, or someone who’s particularly low on the societal ladder.
- Example: “That Diddle Cove is an absolute Scrub-Bado who overcharges for all his scummy properties.”
Shake the Elbow
- (Expression): If you’re shaking the elbow, you’re playing a game of dice. You can probably imagine why; when you’re shaking a cup of dice, your elbow naturally shakes, too.
- (Noun): An attractive woman.
- Example: “Excuse me for tooting my own horn here, but my wife is quite the shakester.”
- (Noun): Another name for gin. Unlike Blue Ruin, this is for decent gin.
- Example: “Give me a shot of that Sky-Blue.”
- (Noun): See Prat.
- (Noun): An ugly woman.
- Example: “I don’t know what he sees in her – she’s a real slamkin.”
- (Noun): This is what you might call your nose in old New York slang.
- Example: “Blow your dang smeller. I can’t stand the sound of your sniffling.”
- (Noun): Don’t feel like drinking? Then you might want to order a sober-water when you’re out, which is also known as a soda-water.
- Example: “No Sky-Blue for me today. Give me a glass of sober-water.”
- (Noun): Another word for a child.
- Example: “She’s got a couple squeakers at home to care for.”
- (Expression): If someone gets the tail down, they’ve chickened out. It’s like a when a dog puts their tail between their legs.
- Example; “He talks the big talk, but when someone actually challenged him to a fight, he got the tail down.”
- (Noun): Slang word for a person’s ears.
- Example: “Keep your wattles open – there will be good news soon.”
- (Noun): See Darby.
- (Noun): An insulting term for someone who freaks out or screams before they’re even hurt.
- Example: “Don’t pay him any mind – he’s a yelper. Nothing has happened to him.”
- (Noun): The state of being sleepy, either physically or mentally.
- Example: “He was overcome by zwodder after a day of hard work.”
But don’t just stop there. If you want to learn more slang from the area, read our list of East coast slang words that you may encounter if you’re visiting the eastern US.