Can You Name the 100-Year-Old Word or Phrase From Its Definition?


By: William J. Wright

6 Min Quiz

Image: aeduard / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

World War I and the decade that followed brought rapid change to all aspects of life. From technological and industrial advancements to radical movements in art and culture, the world was quickly redefining itself. With the staid Victorian Era firmly in the past and the Roaring '20s on the horizon, the lexicon swelled to adapt as the 19th century was swept away, and a still-young America asserted itself as a military, economic and cultural superpower.

As the First World War brought mechanization to the battlefront, youth culture expanded as never before and African Americans were making unprecedented strides into the American mainstream through art, literature and music. Industrialization, radio and the automobile allowed people to travel, communicate and do business as never before, and just as the new century took shape, so did a new vocabulary.

This quiz will transport you back to the early days of the 20th century when Jazz was king, the Yanks were coming and Henry Ford would sell you a Model T in any color you liked, as long as it was black. So, whether you're a doughboy, a dewdropper, a flapper or a vamp, we challenge you to test your linguistic mettle! Can you identify these 100-year-old words and phrases?

This early 20th-century word was originally a nickname for the Ford Model T but was later applied to any cheap car of dubious condition. Can you name it?

In 1908, Henry Ford forever changed American life with the introduction of the Model T bringing the automobile to the masses. Appearing in print for the first time in 1910, the origin of flivver is unknown but was one of many colorful nicknames for Ford's affordable car.


Which of these words is slang coined by World War I soldiers for body lice?

Although "cooties" would evolve into a perennially popular schoolyard term for an imaginary germ, the word was originally applied to body lice by British soldiers in World War I. The term's history is uncertain, but it possibly references the coot, an aquatic bird that is a notorious carrier of lice.


Although it was the era of prohibition, 1920s slang was rife with boozy phrases. Which of the following was a Jazz Age term for alcoholic beverages?

Considered a feminine appellation for any intoxicating drink, giggle water was a term popularized by the flappers. Men of the era, however, would probably prefer the far less descriptive term "hooch" for their bootleg liquor.


Can you name this sporting phrase for underhanded or unsavory tactics?

Dirty pool first came into use in 1918. In this usage, the word pool is derived from the French word "poule," meaning "hen." Originally applied to a card game, poule later became synonymous with billiards. Using dirty to describe something as unsavory or immoral dates as far back as the 16th century.


Believing they were made with dog meat, what did soldiers in World War I call their army-issued sausages?

Life in the trenches of the First World War was notoriously miserable, and this misery undoubtedly extended to food rations. In a bit of half-joking gallows humor, soldiers called their low-quality, government-issued sausages barkers.


Can you pick out the word from 1915 that means "damaged or shoddy merchandise"?

First appearing in print in 1915, schlock is derived from the Yiddish word "shlak," which itself originates from the German "schlacke" meaning "dregs" or "scum." A synonym for trash, schlock is most often used today to describe low-quality films and entertainment.


Can you name the word for a devotee of ballet that entered the lexicon in 1919?

Balletomane is a word of Russian origin coined in 1919. This word is an etymological melting pot combining the French and Italian ballet with the suffix "-man" from the Russian word "maniya," which is derived from the Greek and Latin mania.


This is a word for a person with a sinister, hypnotic influence. Can you name it?

Becoming a generic term for any evil and dominating seducer in 1919, Svengali refers to the villain in George du Maurier's 1895 novel "Trilby." Svengali seduces and exploits the book's eponymous heroine making her a famous singer for his own gain.


Which word from the early 20th century would you use to denote a dangerous, seductive woman?

This word for a dangerously flirty seductress is derived (obviously) from the familiar vampire. The vamp was a popular stock character in early cinema. It was possibly first applied to the popular silent-era actress Theda Bara for her role as "The Vampire" in the 1915 film "A Fool There Was."


In the 1920s, one might answer nonsense with this food-inspired exclamation. Can you name it?

"Ah, applesauce!" was a popular Jazz Age retort to flattery or a ridiculous statement. It was used as a more appetizing or light-hearted alternative to another, still popular exclamation with the initials "B.S."


Integral to the development of jazz and blues music, can you name these informal fundraisers originating in Harlem after World War I?

The end of World War I saw a mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North. Searching for jobs and greater opportunity, they often encountered prohibitively high rent. This gave rise to the rent party, a house party where the attendees were charged entrances fees to raise needed funds.


Can you pick out the century-old word that means something is "extraordinary or one of a kind"?

Used to describe something unique or extraordinary, "doozy" has been long thought to have been derived from the Duesenberg Motor Company, an American car manufacturer founded in 1916. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the word predates the car company and is more likely a corruption of daisy.


Which of these words is early 1900s slang for nose?

Beezer is old prize-fighting slang for nose. Its etymology is murky; however, it should not be confused with the British usage, which describes something that is excellent or attractive.


This word coined in 1912 denotes the excessive interest or fees charged by a bookie or loan shark. Can you name it?

The vigorish (sometimes shortened to "vig") is usually a fee taken by a gambling house or bookie on bets. Its meaning has been extended to include loan interest. The term likely originates from the Russian word "vyigrysh" meaning "profit."


Usually a man's name, this word is also slang for handgun. Can you identify this hard-boiled word?

Dating to 1914, roscoe, like "heater" or "gat," is a slang term for pistol or handgun. Experts are not sure why this particular name caught on, but it was especially popular in detective fiction of the 1920s and '30s.


Can you pick the graphic phrase from World War I that has come to mean "an emotionally or mentally unstable person"?

Although its meaning has evolved to describe mental rather than physical infirmity, the original definition of "basket case" was a soldier who had been maimed so badly they had to be removed from the battlefield in a basket, or, more specifically, one who had lost all four limbs.


This phrase from 1918 refers to a great but ultimately doomed effort. Can you name it?

The phrase "old college try" first appeared in print in 1918 in a quote from New York Giants manager John McGraw. Initially, the phrase was somewhat exclusive to baseball and used to describe any great, but likely to fail, effort on the field. It later came into broader use outside of the sport.


Can you name the early 20th century art movement that celebrated the absurd?

Dada was a movement in modern art and literature that began in Zurich, Switzerland, around 1916. Nihilistic and intentionally nonsensical, it was a reaction to the horrors of World War I and the seeming absurdity of modern life.


Can you name the artificial leather material introduced in 1914 made of fabric covered with rubber or vinyl?

Invented in 1914, Naugahyde is an artificial leather made of a knit fabric material coated with rubber or vinyl resin. Its name is derived from Naugatuck, Connecticut, where it was first manufactured. The word was first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1919.


Which of the following is an artistic technique in which a composition is created by gluing various materials to a flat surface?

Literally the French word for "gluing," collage as an art technique first entered the lexicon in 1919. The ready availability of printed paper media in the early years of the 20th century gave rise to this popular method of creating art.


This word meaning "very satisfactory" first appeared in print in 1919. Can you name it?

Surprisingly, the etymology of copacetic is a mystery. Linguists have many theories as to its origin, none of which can be substantiated. Song and dance man Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who did much to popularize the word, claimed to have coined it; however, there is much anecdotal evidence against this.


This term from the 1920s is a synonym for "ne'er-do-well." Can you name this layabout of a word?

This word for one who is lazy, shiftless and usually unemployed is similar in meaning to words such as lollygagger or the more modern slacker. After the 1920s, it seems to have fallen out of fashion.


Can you name the adjective introduced in 1919 used to describe the ticketing and clerical operations of a railroad?

We may think of offline as a recent addition to the language due to the role that computers play in modern life. Nevertheless, the word actually originated with railroads. Any part of a railroad's business conducted away from the tracks like ticketing and business operations was considered offline.


Can you pick out the century-old phrase meaning "to indulge in idle chatter"?

This phrase is similar in definition to "chewin' the fat" or "shooting the breeze," however, its usage has more negative connotations. "Beating one's gums" generally refers to wasted effort on the part of the speaker.


Which of these words means "to curse or bring bad luck"?

Jinx as a noun to denote a person who brings bad luck or the condition caused by a jinx first appears in print in 1904. The verb form shows up sometime later in 1917. Some linguists believe that the word is an alteration of "jynx," a species of bird once thought to have occult powers.


Which of these colorful animal phrases was used to describe something outstanding or excellent?

The years after the First World War through the 1920s brought a plethora of faddish animal phrases used to describe excellence or outstanding qualities. These fun non-sequiturs included "the bee's knees," "the monkey's eyebrows" and many others. "The cat's pajamas" is among the most enduring of these.


Can you identify the phrase meaning "to engage in a silly or frivolous activity?"

The idiom "horsing around" first appears in print in 1919 and is likely related to the much older horseplay. Although horseplay generally refers to roughhousing or rowdy play, "to horse around" describes silly, joking behavior one indulges in to avoid work.


This adjective to describe something comfortable, cozy or presenting little difficulty was first used by soldiers in World War I. It's still in use today. Can you name it?

Cushy is derived from the Hindi word "khush," which means "pleasure." This alteration was adopted by British troops stationed in India and was applied to anything that presented comfort, safety or little difficulty.


Which phrase from 1918 is defined as "an extreme irritability and restlessness brought on by claustrophobic conditions"?

Although movies, TV and popular fiction present cabin fever as a form of insanity that often ends with a murderous rampage, it's much more akin to a simple case of the blues. A person with cabin fever is probably too listless to pick up an ax.


This 100 year-old idiom allows for no middle ground between success or failure. Can you pick out this all or nothing phrase?

This binary phrase from 1919 remains in use today and is used to describe everything from sports plays to business transactions. A situation is make-or-break when any course of action will lead to unmitigated success or abject failure.


This word for underwear first appeared in print in 1919. Can you name it?

Skivvies, originally naval slang for underwear but later used by all branches of the military, is another word with no clear origin. Many sources claim that it was formerly a trademarked brand, although there is no evidence of this before the 1950s.


Can you pick the phrase from 1918 that's a family-friendly expression of frustration?

"For Pete's Sake" is a prime example of a minced oath, the euphemistic substitution of a mild word for an objectionable one in an exclamatory phrase. Why is Pete standing in for God? Although there is no concrete evidence, some sources say the name references St. Peter.


Which of these phrases is a rather graphic way of telling someone to be quiet?

The oft-told tale that "Put a sock in it!" arose from the practice of stuffing a piece of hosiery in the horn of a phonograph to control its volume is false. The phrase with its current definition actually originates with British and Australian troops in World War I.


Can you pick out the word from 1906 that you'd use to describe someone who's irritable or crotchety?

Sometimes, old words can get a new lease on life, as is the case with snarky. Originally meaning irritable or cranky, the word has evolved over the decades to its current definition: snide, mocking, sarcastic, or pointedly critical behavior.


Which of the following is a slang word meaning "jail" or "prison"?

Pokey, one of many unusual slang words for jail, first enters the lexicon in 1919. Although its etymology is unknown, it may derive from the slightly older "pogey," which means "poorhouse."


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