Rubbing at the Frolic Pad

by Karen Jeynes

I love my job. As a playwright, I get to do an enormous amount of research. Research which, to the untrained eye, might appear not dissimilar to “messing about on the internet”. I’m sure my search history baffles whichever poor NSA spook gets to sort through it. Recent forays have been made into how early motor car engines functioned, Russian approaches to choreography, whether or not pineapples might be useful in the fight against breast cancer, and histories of white supremacists.  Oh yes, and how many baked beans there are in a tin (It’s about 465).

But it was researching the slang of  the 1920s which pleased not only the playwright, but also the wordnerd in me. The world sought so desperately to reinvent itself after World War 1, it seems to have invented a new way of talking. In some phrases the hurt of the war echoed – a recently emptied beer bottle was a “dead soldier”, for example. But the majority of them were packed with the devil-may-care attitude which prevailed. If your table was lined with enough dead soldiers, you might become “spifflicated” and “make whoopee”. And if the title has you confused, a “frolic pad” is a nightclub, and rubbing, well, I’ll leave to your imagination.


Some phrases need little explanation, and indeed should make a comeback. A “cellar smeller” is a “geezer” after free booze, a “Declaration of Independence” is a divorce, and a “face stretcher” is an older woman trying rather desperately to appear younger than she is. You don’t have to know that it’s a brothel to heed the advice “stay away from the men who hang out in creep joints”. And if you’ve had a few glasses of booze on a merry night out, you might happily refer to it as “giggle water”.

“Phonus balonus!” I hear you cry -“What nonsense!” But I assure you, all these phrases were in use, as well as a few rather more eyebrow raising ones. Asking a gentleman of your acquaintance if you could partake of his “noodle juice” is, of course, merely expressing your desire for a cup of tea. “Butt me” simply a request for a “fag” – or, if you prefer, cigarette. And a “beat session” denoted a gossip session between two men. Which is clearly so vastly different from a gossip session between women it requires its own phraseology.

Of course, some of the phrases seem laughably old fashioned. Like using “ironing ones shoelaces” as a euphemism for using the toilet. Or asking the barman for a “jorum of skee” instead of a shot of something hard. These days we’d never refer to an engagement ring as “handcuffs” or “manacles”…

Now that I “know my onions” (know what I’m talking about) with regards to 1920s slang, I can ensure that my dialogue is coloured with it. I’ll try and “stay on the trolley” (get it right) and make my characters sound more like “lalapazazas” (good sports) than “wurps” (wet blankets). Of course my leading lady is a real “quiff” (sexually attractive female). But if I make a mess of one of my references, well, all I have to say is “Ish Kabibble!”*

*Who Cares!

Karen Jeynes

About Karen Jeynes

Karen Jeynes (@karenjeynes) is a playwright, dramaturg, wordsmith, proponent of the Oxford comma, and collector of words. She has been known to rub her hands with girlish glee on discovering a new one. She experiences high levels of angst over misplaced apostrophes, sometimes having to have a bit of a lie down. She is perilously partial to puns. And also alliteration.


28 Comments to “Rubbing at the Frolic Pad”

  1. Thanks for teaching us our onions. Can’t wait for the play :-)

  2. Hot diggety dog! Thanks, KJ, I laughed a lot 😀

  3. I’ll frolic with your glorious words anytime.

  4. Great fun, thanks Karen! You’re a real lalapazaza!

  5. I shall be making use of these forthwith!

  6. A grand article by a grand dame :-)

  7. Made my day!

  8. Getting glimpses of your writing and research makes me so excited for your plays! Wow!

  9. Oh wow, definitely bookmarking this :-)

  10. Another awesome article!

  11. Yippee, thank you, love it!

  12. D’you think if I call my girlfriend a quiff she’ll come to the frolic pad with me? 😉

  13. I love these glimpses into your process. Huge fan of your plays – have one on the shelf.

  14. Wow! I’m so glad to have found this site, long been a fan of yours. This was a delight, thanks!

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