The decade of the 70s was the golden era of disco dancing, hitchhiking, platform shoes and bell-bottoms. It was the decade that saw the fall of Nixon and the end of the Vietnam War — not to mention the rise of designer jeans, tube socks and hot pants. These and many other new and exciting developments in technology, fashion and popular culture defined the character of the baby boomer generation. The rollercoaster that was the 1970s brought some new vocabulary to the English language to match its new cultural landscape. For those of us who didn’t experience those turbulent times, here are some of the key 70s slang words and phrases that define the decade just as much as Queen, the Bee Gees and Blondie.
- Stick it to the Man
- Keep on truckin’
- Cool beans
- Space cadet
- Peace out
- Catch you on the flip side
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The word “boogie” has its roots well before the 1970s, in the boogie-woogie blues music of the late 1920s. It was in the 70s, though, that the word took on its modern connotation: to get up and dance to disco music. That makes it one of the most popular disco slang words of the 70s.
“The old Wild Cat Club was a great place to boogie on a Saturday night.”
2. Stick it to the Man
From the end of the 1960s into the 1970s, young people used this phrase to describe an act of defiance or resistance against “the Man.” Who is the Man precisely? Any source or system of oppression, be that capitalism, patriarchy, the government, globalization, your parents, whoever — it doesn’t matter. Stick it to them.
“I can’t believe you told your boss to go to hell. Way to stick it to the Man!”
This one has its roots in police radio codes in the 1930s, where it was used to signal that a message was understood loud and clear. Its meaning is similar to the phrase, “roger that”. It was then adopted by truckers communicating over short-range, citizens’ Band (CB) radio, and finally went mainstream in 1975 with C. W. McCall’s song “Convoy”.
“Hey Mike, we’re meeting at 8 over at Frankie’s.”
“10-4 good buddy.”
4. Keep on truckin’
Another trucker reference. To “keep on truckin’” is to persevere through a difficult task or challenge with resilience.
“Times are tough, but all you can do is keep on truckin’.”
5. Cool beans
Prior to its brief resurgence in the late 2000s, “cool beans” was a popular catchphrase on college campuses in the late 1960s and 1970s, meaning great, splendid or awesome. Although there are a few theories, there is no agreement on the roots of this peculiar phrase.
“Dude, I aced my exam.”
6. Space cadet
Someone who tends to space out, an eccentric daydreamer (or perhaps someone high enough to visit the International Space Station).
“Hey, Hannah, pay attention. You’re a real space cadet today.”
7. Peace out
This love and peace era expression was used to send good, positive vibes on taking leave of your friends. It is most effectively delivered while you pound your chest twice with your fist, then throw a two-finger peace sign.
“I’ll catch you later, peace out.”
8. Catch you on the flip side
See you later. The “flip side” refers to the reverse side of a vinyl record. Radio Disc Jockeys or DJs (another recently popularized term) began the use of this phrase to imply that they would play a record through before they continued talking, but the phrase soon entered popular usage as a casual farewell to friends.
“Gotta go, dude. I’ll catch you on the flip side.”
A person who was not “with it” — in other words, someone who was boring, unadventurous, conformist or otherwise uncool.
“You won’t see him at the party. He’s too much of a square.”
Used to describe something that is cool, fashionable, fun or hip. The word first emerged in the 1920s African-American jazz scene, but its use peaked in the 70s, when it was ubiquitous in popular music, movies, television and advertising. As with many voguish slang words though, once it reached this level of overuse, it quickly became uncool and largely fell out of popular favor towards the end of the decade and into the 1980s, when it became increasingly used in satire on American popular culture.
“The bar is a bit rundown but they always play such groovy music.”
Although some of these funny sayings from the 70s might make you cringe, just remember that it will only be a matter of time before our own favorite slang terms will be the subject of jokes and satire. And who knows, maybe these phrases will make a comeback. So you’ll be glad to know the old lingo. Until then, catch you on the flip side.
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Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.