Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Slang from the Great Depression

An Imaginary Trip to Hobohemia


The bindle stiff looked around cautiously as he exited the alley. He’d been carrying the banner and was long weary of going by hand. Distracted by a high ball in the distance, he nearly jumped out of his skin as a bone polisher hackled on the front porch of a nearby house. “Shut your bazoo!” he hissed at the ragged creature, shifting his turkey in order to raise his roll of California blankets in a threatening gesture.

He was eager to leave this hungry town and go with the birds. Eating snowballs was not his style. Though he was glad for the new front he’d gotten at the sallie, he had no intention of sticking around and turning into a mission stiff. His blistered feet found the uneven walkway just as a group of Lizzie tramps rolled by and slowed down to look him over. “Hey, Bud... where’s the main stem?” one shouted. “Down yonder,” the bindle stiff nodded toward the west and noticed a couple of road sisters coughing behind handkerchiefs in the back. As he made a move to get back on his way, he stopped suddenly and turned. “Mind them yeggs!” he added with a touch of concern in his voice, while mindlessly scratching his crums.

His thoughts turned next to his stomach, and he jingled the thin ones in his ragged pocket. Maybe he would use the last of them on a little punk and gut before flipping a rattler down at the yard. It sure had been a long time since he’d seen a nickel note

Although I wouldn't recommend writing about your ancestors in exactly this fashion, it's fairly easy to add color to your family history by using slang from the appropriate era. In this case, I used an excessive number of "hobo-isms" to tell a story.

I found a great little website explaining and illustrating
Depression era slang, a project created at the University of Virginia. Check it out: "Hit the books, schlepper, there's a lot of slanging to be done!"


  1. Greetings Chery,
    Thanks for sharing the link to the site. I found it interesting and educational. Now I will be able to translate your story into 21st century English.

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