The Language of the Roaring Twenties

unknown person writing on chalkboard
Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Key Takeaways:

– Words have the power to reflect and shape culture.
– “Meaningful terms” or “words of the year” are chosen to represent the spirit of a particular time period.
– The 1920s had its own set of popular phrases that defined the era.
– Phrases like “cat’s pajamas” and “bees knees” were commonly used during the 1920s.

The Power of Words

Words have always played a significant role in human communication. They have the power to convey ideas, express emotions, and shape culture. Throughout history, certain words and phrases have emerged as representative of a particular time period or cultural movement. These words become part of the collective consciousness and help define the spirit of an era.

Words of the Year: 2020 Edition

Every year, various organizations and institutions select a “word of the year” to capture the essence of the past twelve months. In 2020, words like “pandemic,” “lockdown,” and “social distancing” dominated the lexicon. These terms reflected the unprecedented challenges and changes brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic. They encapsulated the collective experience of individuals and societies worldwide.

The Roaring Twenties: A Decade of Phrases

The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties,” was a decade of cultural and social transformation. It was a time of economic prosperity, technological advancements, and changing social norms. The Jazz Age, flappers, and the rise of consumer culture defined this vibrant era. Along with these changes came a whole new set of phrases and expressions that became popular during the time.

The Cat’s Pajamas: A Phrase from the 1920s

One of the most iconic phrases from the 1920s is “the cat’s pajamas.” This expression was used to describe something or someone as excellent, stylish, or impressive. It was a way to express admiration or approval. The phrase captured the spirit of the era, which was characterized by a sense of excitement, innovation, and a desire to break free from traditional constraints.

The Bees Knees: Another Popular Phrase

Another popular phrase from the 1920s was “the bees knees.” Similar to “the cat’s pajamas,” this expression was used to describe something or someone as outstanding or exceptional. It was a way to convey admiration or praise. The phrase originated from the belief that bees carried pollen in their knees, which was considered a valuable and essential substance. Thus, being “the bees knees” meant being highly regarded or esteemed.

Giggle Water: A Term for Alcohol

During the Prohibition era in the United States, when the production and sale of alcoholic beverages were illegal, people came up with creative ways to refer to alcohol. One such term was “giggle water.” This phrase was used to describe alcoholic beverages, particularly those consumed at speakeasies or underground bars. It added a sense of humor and playfulness to the act of drinking during a time when it was considered illicit.

Other Phrases from the 1920s

Aside from “the cat’s pajamas,” “the bees knees,” and “giggle water,” the 1920s had a plethora of other phrases that were commonly used during the time. Some of these phrases include:

  • “The cat’s meow” – Similar to “the cat’s pajamas,” this phrase was used to describe something or someone as exceptional or impressive.
  • “The real McCoy” – This phrase was used to describe something as genuine or authentic.
  • “23 skidoo” – A phrase used to tell someone to leave or go away.
  • “Darb” – A term used to describe something or someone as excellent or outstanding.

These phrases, along with many others, captured the spirit of the 1920s and became part of the cultural lexicon of the time.


Words have the power to reflect and shape culture. In the 1920s, phrases like “the cat’s pajamas” and “the bees knees” became popular expressions that defined the spirit of the era. These phrases, along with others, captured the excitement, innovation, and sense of freedom that characterized the Roaring Twenties. As we look back at the words and phrases of the past, we gain a deeper understanding of the culture and values of a particular time period. So, the next time you hear someone say “the cat’s pajamas,” remember that it’s not just a phrase, but a window into a bygone era.

Written by Martin Cole

two men playing chess

The Charm of Old-Fashioned Sayings: Bringing the Past to the Present

white and red heart illustration

The Power of Ellipses: Proper Usage and Impact