26 Bits of Boomer Slang

26 Bits of Boomer Slang

If your generational group is Gen Z, Millennials, or Gen Alpha, you might consider Baby Boomers to be a little uptight. Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers are retiring, kicking back, and shaking their heads at the cultural divide. But they weren’t always so square: Boomers contributed a lot to the conversation, including a significant amount of slang. While some of these terms are synonymous with the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, others have taken on a timeless quality. Before you say “OK, Boomer,” check out some of the popular phrases and colloquialisms your Boomer relatives coined—many of which are still in use today.

Boomers who needed a recreational drug fix were said to be jonesing for it.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “a physical craving for any addictive substance.” In the 2000s, social commentator Jonathan Pontell suggested a new generational group called “Generation Jones” to denote Boomers who were born between 1954 and 1965, arguing that Boomers arriving later had different cultural experiences than earlier members—and that they were possibly jonesing for achievements they had yet to fulfill.

A man in a car is pictured

That‘s some real aggro behavior. / Sean Murphy/Stone via Getty Images

If Boomers encountered a particularly troublesome person or persons, they dubbed them “aggro,” short for aggressive. Green’s Dictionary of Slang traces the term back to 1969, where it was used to describe violence at soccer matches in the UK.

A woman's hand is pictured

‘Zilch’ means “zero, not any.” / Abraham Gonzalez Fernandez/Moment via Getty Images

When someone had no job, relationship, or moneymaking prospects, Boomers might say they “had zilch going on.” The OED dates the first use of zilch back to 1925, when it was used on college campuses to refer to an imaginary wind instrument. By 1958, it meant “inferior, unsatisfactory; dull, unexciting,” and came to its current meaning—“not any”—by 1969. According to the OED, the etymology of zilch is unclear, but it may come from Joe Zilch, “a name used for an unknown or inconsequential person.”

A man is pictured

This guy’s zonked out. / The Good Brigade/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Anyone who was flat on their back owing to fatigue, drinking, drugs, or just plain boredom was said to be “zonked” or “zonked out,” phrases that were being used as slang as early as the late 1940s. Zonked was derived from the verb zonk, which initially meant “to hit, strike, or knock,” according to the OED, before taking on meanings related to either being knocked or passed out.

A group of fake celebrities is pictured

What a bunch of wannabes. / Jupiterimages/The Image Bank via Getty Images

The OED dates the first use of the slang term wannabe—a noun or adjective dropped to chastise someone for aspiring to be something other than who they were—back to 1976. The word picked up steam in the 1980s, when Boomers who idolized Madonna and other pop stars adopted their fashion sense and were declared “Wanna-Bes.”

In the 1970s, anyone loose and relaxed was said to be “mellow.” (The slang phrase harsh one’s mellow, on the other hand, referred to interrupting the good vibes.) Mellow dates back to the 1400s, when it was used to describe a soft, ripe fruit. It later indicated a pleasant or gentle characteristic.

A yuppie is pictured

Classic yuppie. / The Image Bank via Getty Images

In the money-hungry 1980s, Boomers who were chasing a cookie-cutter domestic and professional life were called “young urban professionals,” often shortened to yuppies. Yuppiedom was used to refer to the yuppie category or, as the OED puts it, “the condition or fact of being a yuppie.”

Early Boomers who experienced the trippy ‘60s began using the phrase peace out, which reminded departing parties to keep a cool, mellow vibe. It was sometimes abbreviated to just peace. Both valedictions experienced renewed popularity in the 1990s rap music scene, which also made use of peace up.

A woman holding a wig is pictured

Lorado/E+ via Getty Images

Wig out means “to lose one’s composure.” According to Merriam-Webster, it all goes back to the Middle French perruque, or periwig, which was later shortened to wig. By the 1960s, wig became a euphemism for mind. If you were losing your grip, you were therefore wigging out. And it’s not the only term wig gave us: The phrase blowing one’s wig, or getting upset, was common in the 1930s.

A man is pictured being nervous

TommL/E+ via Getty Images

In the 1970s, when the earliest Boomers would have been in their twenties and thirties, they might have expressed nervousness by saying they “had the yikes.” Yikes soon took on use as an exclamation of astonishment, as in, “Yikes, that guy is really wigging out.” It’s possible yikes stemmed from yoicks, a command used by fox hunters in the 1700s to order their dogs into action.

This harsh label for sexist men in the 1970s was an evolution of male chauvinist, a phrase that served as shorthand for those who favored outdated gender prejudices. Boomers also put gender gap in circulation to describe the gulf between sexes.

A man with dirty hands is pictured

That’s definitely grunge. / Richard Drury/Stone via Getty Images

Decades before the grunge music scene of the 1990s, Boomers were using grunge to describe bad dates, weird, sticky substances, and anything else they deemed unpleasant.

Bells and whistles are pictured

All the bells and whistles. / Thomas Peterson/Photodisc via Getty Images

This colloquialism was used to reference special features and extras, particularly in the nascent world of computers in the 1970s. Use of bells and whistles could be complimentary or it could mean that a product had a bunch of unnecessary gimmickry. It likely spun out of the literal bells and whistles that accompanied the arrival of passenger or supply trains in the early 20th century.

A beer is pictured

“I’ll take a brewski!” / Jon Hicks/Stone via Getty Images

Boomers on college campuses in the 1970s referred to their precious cans of beer as “brewskis.” Suds, another slang term for hops, is much older, dating back to the late 1800s.

Someone being a little too clever or intrusive for their own good was dubbed a smart-ass in the 1960s. U.S. Boomers probably adopted it from the UK’s smart-arse, which Green’s dates to 1958.

You can also thank Boomers for the enduring application of fuckwit, which likely evolved from nitwit or dimwit, as well as numbnuts.

A fist is pictured

Prepare for a knuckle sandwich. / Roc Canals/Moment via Getty Images

If you delivered a punch in the mouth to a deserving agitator, Boomers said to be you were administering a “knuckle sandwich.” If you did a good enough job, your victim may have done a face-plant on the ground; younger Boomers popularized that phrase in the early 1980s.

The explosion of professional bodybuilding and performance enhancers in the 1970s gave way to gym rats abbreviating steroids to ‘roids. Younger Boomers also gave rise to the phrase ‘roid rage in the 1980s to describe temperamental fitness addicts experiencing hormonal swings.

A person is pictured walking through leaves

This person is a leaf peeper. / Olga Rolenko/Moment via Getty Images

New England-area Boomers devised this slightly provocative phrase to describe tourists who came north during the fall to enjoy the seasonal colors. (“Prospects for weekend ‘leaf peepers’ seem extremely good,” the Bennington Banner noted in 1965.) Don’t confuse it with Peeping Tom, slang for a voyeur. The Tom part of the term might refer to a sailor named Thomas, who (per 13th century legend) was said to have been struck blind (or possibly dead) after seeing Lady Godiva riding through town naked.

A woman is pictured with eyeglasses

Those are some real granny glasses. / Raphye Alexius/Image Source via Getty images

Oversized, pointy, or otherwise out-of-fashion spectacles were dubbed “granny glasses” beginning in the 1960s. Today, Boomers aren’t so much making fun of them as wearing them. Such is the circle of life.

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