Dated Language from Early 20th Century Pulp Fiction
Word/Phrase Meaning Author(s)
Automat coin operated fast food restaurant Cornell Woolrich
automatic (or self operating) elevator In the 1920s – 1940s, many elevators required manual operation Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, W. T. Ballard, Carroll John Daly, George Harmon Coxe, Leslie Charteris, Erle Stanley Gardner
automatic wiper In the 1920s – 1940s, many windshield wipers required manual operation Dashell Hammet
beat the tattoo sound the drum Erle Stanley Gardner, Leslie Charteris
Borsalino Italian felt hat Frederick Nebel
Bromo Seltzer hangover remedy outlawed in the 1970s Erle Stanley Gardner, Cornell Woolrich
Button, button, who’s got the button? child’s guessing game Erle Stanley Gardner, Robert Reeves
cheroot cigar Frederick Nebel
clew alternate spelling of clue (evidence) Dashell Hammet, Erle Stanley Gardner
cloche hat flapper style Frederick Nebel
cluck dumb person James Cain
Dixie Flyer Chicago to Florida passenger train 1892 – 1965 Horace McCoy
do-funny gadget, also spelled doofunny (like doohickey) Erle Stanley Gardner
Dreadnought early 20th century battleship Raymond Chandler
duck on a rock child's game Frederick Nebel
Duesenberg luxury auto company went bankrupt in 1937 Horace McCoy
electric refrigerator Non-electric ice boxes were common in the 1920s – 1940s Raymond Chandler
faro French card game Frederick Nebel
the fat's in the fire problems are about to begin Erle Stanley Gardner
fire horse common prior to the use of motorized fire engines Roger Torrey
flagrante delicto Latin for caught in the act Horace McCoy
flivver cheap car (police car implied) Thomas Walsh, Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner
four-flusher someone who bluffs Erle Stanley Gardner, Horace McCoy
Gay White Way Broadway NY (light bulbs) William Rollins, Jr.
gendarme police (French) Cornell Woolrich, C.S. Montanye
glad rags dressy clothes Erle Stanley Gardner
Gladstone hinged leather luggage Frederick Nebel, Robert Reeves
gunny Gunnery sergeant Raymond Chandler
harness bull uniformed policeman Leslie T. White, Carroll John Daly, Dashell Hammet
hatless man/woman Unusual to not be wearing a hat in the 1920s – 1940s Raymond Chandler, Frederick Nebel, Robert Reeves
heap dilapidated automobile Roger Torrey, Mickey Spillane
herring-bone suit V-shaped weaving pattern George Harmon Coxe, Robert Reeves
highboy double chest of drawers Frederick Nebel
hogshead cask of specific volume used for shipping C.S. Montanye
Homburg flat brim hat Frank Gruber, Leslie Charteris
hooker an imprecise measure of an alcoholic drink (large gulp) Frank Gruber, Carroll John Daly, Robert Reeves
hoosegow prison Horace McCoy, Leslie Charteris
house organ company publication Horace McCoy
hummock mound Dashell Hammet
Kewpie Doll doll based on popular cartoon strip Roger Torrey, Robert Reeves
Lizzie Ford Model T William Rollins, Jr.
macadam asphalt Horace McCoy, Robert Reeves
major-domo highest member of household staff Horace McCoy
Malacca cane/stick Asian rattan palm walking stick Carroll John Daly, C.S. Montanye, Leslie Charteris
Meerschaum pipe sepiolite smoking pipe, color of sea foam James Cain
moll gangster's girlfriend P.T. Luman, Perry Paul, C.B. Yorke
money, marbles, or chalk? saying like "all the marbles" Erle Stanley Gardner
Moorish coffee table antique Frederick Nebel
mules no back strap high heal shoes Dashell Hammet, George Harmon Coxe
the Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn Cornell Woolrich
Newberry store five and dime store chain 1911 – 2001 Horace McCoy
niblick short iron (golf) Paul Cain
oculist optometrist Erle Stanley Gardner
Ossining Sing Sing prison Cornell Woolrich
palaver conference of people without shared language/culture James Cain, Erle Stanley Gardner
phaeton vintage touring car Horace McCoy
piker small bit gambler Frederick Nebel, Robert Reeves
pince-nez nose glasses (worn by Teddy Roosevelt and FDR) Frederick Nebel, Leslie Charteris, George Harmon Coxe
Prologue to Pagliacci famous opera overture (baritone song) James Cain, Raymond Chandler
puttees leather leggings Steve Fisher
raglan coat single sleeve coat Frederick Nebel, George Harmon Coxe, C.S. Montanye
rift in the lute disagreement C.S. Montanye
rotter objectionable person Erle Stanley Gardner
Sam Browne belt military belt with shoulder strap Raymond Chandler
sauce for the goose [is sauce for the gander] treat the same way as another (like good for the goose…) George Harmon Coxe
serge suit wool fabric with diagonal lines, commonly blue Erle Stanley Gardner, Leslie Charteris, Robert Reeves
seydlitz-powder like Alka-Seltzer Cornell Woolrich
Shalimar perfume 1921 popular Frederick Nebel
spats spatter guards, worn over shoes (usually white) Raymond Chandler, Frank Gruber, George Harmon Coxe, Carroll John Daly, Leslie Charteris
strap watch Non-strap watches were common in the 1920s – 1940s George Harmon Coxe, Horace McCoy
taboret low stool Erle Stanley Gardner, Robert Reeves
tartan kilt patterned blanket Horace McCoy
tête-à-tête a private conversation between two people Erle Stanley Gardner
tonneau open part of automobile Frederick Nebel, George Harmon Coxe, C.S. Montanye, Leslie Charteris
tonsorial barber Paul Cain
traffic semaphore traffic signal before tri-colored standard in 1935 Horace McCoy
turnip watch pocket watch Erle Stanley Gardner
ulster Irish coat Frederick Nebel
Uncle Dudley Broadway play William Rollins, Jr.
Wobblies industrial workers Dashell Hammet
yegg safecracker Carroll John Daly, Roger Torrey