Rick, The problem here is that when you do find a slang word that was being used in that time frame, how do you know that it was being used by young adults? – and I’m not sure what ages that includes. Does it include college students? Would slang words from the underworld or jazz be used by youngsters? I’m not sure that youngsters led they way in the use of new slang as they often do today. For example, ‘spon’ is listed as slang for ‘money’ in that era, but how would you know if young adults used that or if it was mostly used by gamblers and the underworld crowd.
If young adults do include college students, I do have some references. At the turn of the century (the previous one), the American Dialect Society
performed a comprehensive examination of the language used by college students in the United States. The two main articles that resulted were College Words and Phrases
by Eugene Babbit in Dialect Notes
, Volume II, Part I (1900) and College Slang Words and Phrases
, in Dialect Notes
, Volume IV, Part III (1915). Another slightly earlier article on college slang is Student Slang
; by Willard C. Gore in Contributions to Rhetorical Theory
edited by F. N. Scott (1895).
Flappers 2 Rappers
by Tom Dalzell has a section on 1900-1920 slang but you would have to figure out yourself what might have been used by young adults (no example sentences so it might be tough to see exactly how the word was used). The situation is similar with Dew Droppers, Waldos, and Slackers
by Rosemarie Ostler, and 20th Century Words
by John Ayto (but here not all the words are slang).
And then, if you are into brute force, you could always sift through the 65,000 slang words of Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
by Jonathon Green and hunt for one’s circa your time of interest (every entry has a date of some sort – e.g. early 20th century, 1910s, etc.) and then try to guess what may have been used by a young adult.
Ken G – June 8, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)