It’s been nearly 100 years since the Roaring Twenties, when flappers, mobsters and speakeasies were all the rage. Prohibition was in full effect, leading to an entire subculture of rebellious activities that included risqué clothing, dancing and humor.

This energetic era had its own rebellious language to match, and nonsensical words littered conversations in dimly-lit speakeasies or on hectic city streets. Some of these terms are still in use today. With the 2020s on their way, it’s high time to bring back some of the colorful and perhaps more polite terminology with us into this century’s roaring ’20s.

Phonus Balonus

Maybe you've heard of phoney bologna but what about its more sophisticated cousin, phonus balonus? This ridiculous phrase is another way to call out someone's nonsense or bullsh*t, but we promise you'll feel more regal when you say it out loud.

Voot, Clams and Kale

Got any spare clams? How about some kale? No, we're not talking about making a salad. Voot, clams and kale are all slang terms for money or currency. Given kale's recent revival, we think this would be the perfect term to bring back in 2020.


Since Prohibition was fresh in everyone’s minds, a lot of 1920s slang words were more like codenames for drinking that people used to avoid getting into trouble. It was easy to get zozzled (drunk) on giggle water (alcohol) at the speakeasies and gin mills of the 1920s. And let's be honest, "zozzled" sounds much more fun than "intoxicated."

Bee's Knees

Following a socially-oppressive Victorian era, the 1920s were also highly focused on appearances. Women were wearing a little less, and men were dressing in different styles, so people needed new ways to talk about it. Acceptable ways to refer to an attractive person of either gender would be to call them the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow or the cat’s pajamas. Hotsy-totsy, keen and spiffy also refer to a visually pleasing woman. But not all women in the 2020s will want their appearance to be the topic of conversation, so tread lightly when bringing these words back.


For every fun-loving person there exists a curmudgeon. Call your prudish friends bluenoses or Mrs. Grundy, and that boring date from last weekend a flat tire.

Drugstore Cowboy

A drugstore cowboy was a guy who hung around on street corners trying to pick up girls. In 2020, it might be the perfect term for someone who spams women on Tinder.

Tell it to Sweeney

We're not sure who Sweeney is, exactly, but it's someone who who will believe your friend's phonus balonus. The 1990s had "talk to the hand" but "Tell it to Sweeney" will leave your enemy scratching their head, and isn't that the point?