The language we use is a vivid reflection of our era, with idioms and phrases capturing the essence of the times like verbal time capsules. In the vibrant decade of the ’70s, a rich tapestry of idioms colored everyday conversations, encapsulating those years’ spirit, culture, and trends. But as we fast forward to our present day, do these idioms still hold their ground or have they faded into obscurity? Stacker uncovered the idioms that were used most frequently in the decade and found the origin of each and their unique meanings. We are thrilled to unpack these expressions and how they came to be.
Let’s embark on a linguistic journey back in time, revisiting 25 idioms that were all the rage in the ’70s. As we dust off these classic expressions, we’ll examine their meanings, origins, and relevance in today’s world. Are they still used in modern conversation, or are they simply relics of the past? Prepare to delve into the fascinating world of idioms, where words are more than just their dictionary definitions.
“Jive turkey” is a fascinating idiom that gained popularity in the 1970s, particularly within African-American urban communities. This phrase was often used as a playful or disparaging term to refer to someone who was deceitful, insincere, or was pretending to be something they weren’t. Essentially, if someone was called a “jive turkey,” they were being accused of talking nonsense or being full of bluff. The idiom became popularized through the 1971 movie “Shaft” starring Richard Roundtree, according to Stacker. While the term has largely fallen out of common usage today, it remains an iconic piece of ’70s linguistic culture, symbolizing the vibrant and inventive slang of the era.
The idiom “square biz” is rooted in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and it essentially means honest, fair, or straightforward business. If something is “square biz,” it’s legitimate, with no hidden agendas or underhanded tactics involved. It’s about operating with integrity and transparency, ensuring that all parties involved understand the terms and conditions. The phrase was popularized in the 1970s and later immortalized by the late R&B singer Teena Marie in her 1981 hit song “Square Biz.”
“Flower power” is a phrase that became synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly associated with the protest against the Vietnam War. It was a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. The term was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 and later popularized as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles. The iconic imagery of protestors wearing and distributing flowers while advocating for peace gave rise to the term “flower power”. This idiom has since been used to evoke the vibrant, free-spirited ethos of that era.
The term “bunny” became an exciting part of the vocabulary in the 1970s. It was a slang term used to describe someone attractive or pretty, often used in the context of dating or romantic relationships. We have Hugh Hefner to thank for this one, as the popularity of Playboy’s logo and models were branded with the word.
The idiom “freaky deaky” is a playful phrase that originated in the late 20th century. It’s primarily used in casual, informal contexts and often refers to something or someone unconventional, strange, or eccentric. The term can also be used to describe situations that are bizarre or out of the ordinary. It’s a colorful expression that adds a touch of humor and whimsy to conversations, embodying the spirit of embracing the weird and unusual. Despite its quirky connotations, “freaky deaky” continues to be used in a light-hearted, non-derogatory way.
“Ow, she’s a brick house / She’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out / She’s a brick house / That lady’s stacked and that’s a fact / Ain’t holding nothing back,” the lyrics of 1977’s hit “Brick House” go. The Commodores’ song capitalized on the popularity of the idiom used to celebrate a woman’s curves.
A term you likely heard from a friend or foe in school: “psych!” or “sike!” is an exclamation that expresses that someone has been pranked or played. It comes from the word psychology as it relates to mentally out-maneuvering someone.
In the 1970s, the idiom “the man” was used to describe authority figures who oppress everyday people. The politically charged term is well known today but not used as often.
Keep On Steppin’
You don’t have to think too hard about this idiom to obtain its meaning. “Keep on steppin'” was used positively and negatively depending on a speaker’s delivery. In the positive context, it meant that a person would persist forward without obstacles in their way. Negatively, the idiom was used to tell someone to back off or leave.
Can You Dig It?
As with many of the idioms on this list and true of our culture writ large, the contributions of Black Americans largely shape our identity. “Can you dig it?” is no exception. It was used to mean, “Do you get what I’m saying?” or “Are you into it?” The phrase emerged in the early seventies and was later solidified by its use in the 1979 film The Warriors.
The Watergate scandal profoundly influenced culture in the 1970s. The idiom “deep six” was captured on a recording that was made public. On the tape, someone is overheard saying they need to “deep six” the files that could incriminate them. “Deep six” became popular in the US following this, but sailors had long used it to describe a burial at sea. Instead of “six feet under,” they were put into the “deep six.”
An idiom that’s more straightforward than the previous one, “dream on,” was used to tell someone to keep dreaming because what they are after will never happen. Its use became even more widespread following the release of Aerosmith’s 1973 classic hit of the same name.
Thankfully, folks got wise to the origin of the term “spaz,” and it is now considered derogatory and ableist. Spaz was used in the seventies to describe someone who is hyperactive or out of control. Originally, “spaz” was used to describe a medical condition in which the patient had debilitating seizures. It comes from the word spastic.
Mind-altering drugs were synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. “Space cadet” was an idiom used to describe someone so high that they seemingly had left their body and floated to another planet. It can be used interchangeably with spaced out.
“Stoked” is still used today. It came to use in the 1970s to describe a sense of excitement about a thing. People often said they were “stoked” to see a concert or “stoked” to try a new restaurant. The origin of “stoked” likely comes from stoking embers of a fire to fan the flames.
Another idiom that’s still going strong is “guilt trip.” It describes someone trying to get another to do something they don’t want to or making them feel bad if they decide not to. “Guilt trip” was first published in 1970 in a paper by the radical political group The Weather Underground. According to Stacker, Bernardine Dohrn might not have coined the term, but she was the first to put it in ink.
Gimme Some Skin
Another idiom invented by the Black community that went mainstream is “gimme some skin.” It means to shake hands, give a high five, or fist bump. All are forms of affection and reflect the idiom’s positive connotation.
10/4, Good Buddy
Before the internet, one way that truckers communicated was by CB radio. In the 1970s, hobbyists began using these radios recreationally, often mimicking truckers’ phrases. “10/4, good buddy” means that a person heard and understood what another had said.
The violence of the 1960s and ’70s, both domestically and on the foreign stage with the Vietnam War, ushered in the concept of peace that infused the counterculture protest movement. Symbols of peace were common, and “peace out” was an inspired way to say goodbye to someone with a wish for peace.
Similar to “space cadet” but with a negative connotation, “burnout” described someone who had fried their brain using drugs, mainly marijuana. People labeled “burnouts” were seen as lost causes.
The recreational use of marijuana exploded in the 1960s and ’70s. By the seventies, people would ask for “primo” product, meaning the best and highest quality of whatever drug they wanted to score. While it started its use exclusively for marijuana, it became commonplace for all recreational drugs.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
“Drinking the Kool-aid,” an idiom that someone has blind faith in something, has sinister origins. It is a reference to the Jonestown massacre in 1978. A cult headed by Jim Jones came to a fatal end after he ordered his followers to drink Flavor-Aid mixed with poison. Some 900 men, women, and children died.
Do Me a Solid
“Do me a solid” sounds way better than “Can you do me a favor?” yet both share the same meaning. “Do me a solid” can be traced back to the jazzy 1920s but was only widely used in the 1970s.
In Your Face
The phrase “in your face” traces its roots back to the United States in the 1970s. It was initially used in the context of sports confrontations, particularly in basketball, where it served as an expression of contempt against the opposing team. The term is a metaphor for invading someone’s personal space or being confrontational, often associated with macho aggression and bravado. Over time, the phrase transcended the boundaries of sports and became a part of urban slang, symbolizing direct and often rude behavior that is difficult to ignore. Today, it is widely used to denote anything that is aggressive, blatant, or extremely noticeable.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 25 Words That the 1960s Invented That We Use All the Time Today
The idiom “cool beans” has an interesting origin, steeped in American pop culture. The phrase is believed to have originated during the late 1960s and became more prevalent in the 1970s. It was used to express delight or approval, often humorously or playfully. Some sources suggest that the phrase may have evolved from earlier idioms such as “some beans” and “full of beans.” The comedy duo Cheech and Chong are often credited with popularizing the term.
Language is a living, breathing entity that evolves with the times. While some idioms from the ’70s continue to be a part of our everyday speech, others have become charming reminders of a bygone era. We hope this nostalgic tour through the idiomatic expressions of the ’70s has given you a unique glimpse into the culture and spirit of that decade. Whether these phrases still make sense today or not, they undeniably add color to the rich tapestry of language and remind us of the ever-changing nature of communication. So, keep your ears open—you never know when an old idiom might make a comeback!
- 1 Jive Turkey
- 2 Square Biz
- 3 Flower Power
- 4 Bunny
- 5 Freaky Deaky
- 6 Brick House
- 7 Psych/sike!
- 8 The Man
- 9 Keep On Steppin’
- 10 Can You Dig It?
- 11 Deep Six
- 12 Dream On
- 13 Spaz
- 14 Space Cadet
- 15 Stoked
- 16 Guilt Trip
- 17 Gimme Some Skin
- 18 10/4, Good Buddy
- 19 Peace Out
- 20 Burnout
- 21 Primo
- 22 Drinking the Kool-Aid
- 23 Do Me a Solid
- 24 In Your Face
- 25 Cool Beans
Mamas Uncut is THE online place for moms. We cover the latest about motherhood, parenting, and entertainment as well – all with a mom-focused twist. So if you're looking for parenting advice from real parents, we have plenty of it, all for moms from moms, and also experts. Because, at the end of the day, our mission is focused solely on empowering moms and moms-to-be with the knowledge and answers they’re looking for in one safe space.