Nothing dates the period of a conversation like slang. ‘Feeling groovy’ in 2015 is a challenge. Although a few notes of the classic Simon & Garfunkel recording (The 59th Street Bridge Song) and I have to sing along and, well, feel groovy, if a bit goofy, too. There’s a funny discordance between a dated slang expression and current sensibilities.
This creates an opportunity for writers interested in playing with dialog. A character can be “stuck” in the time of his youth —or be an actual time traveler— and reveal this in the expressions that pepper his conversational style.
I have a peculiar affinity for 1920s slang expressions. The Cat’s Meow and the Cat’s Pajamas are particular favorites. Neither belongs in contemporary dialog, but there’s no law against me writing something set in the 1920s —or creating a character with a loopy sense of humor or a verbal inclination toward dated expressions.
There are all sorts of wonderful slang phrases from the past. I found a few that I like in a list of Victorian expressions — “got the morbs” (meaning a temporary feeling of melancholy) sounds very contemporary. It might even fit into a futuristic story with a dystopian bent. While “mutton shunter” (police) feels strictly Victorian.
“Gnarly” and “rad” are both stuck in the 1980s —where they belong. “Golddigger” was originally 1930s slang, as was “kibosh” and “patsy.” All three have stuck around, even if the aren’t used every day, we still understand them and don’t associate them solely with gangster films from the 30s. It’s interesting to see which slang ages well and which words are just too groovy to fit anywhere after 1972.