Bowery Slang

Posted on: November 19th, 2010 at 6:38 am by

As David Mulkins demonstrated at this week’s Tenement Talks, the Bowery is singlehandedly responsible for some of the most significant contributions to American culture in the last two hundred years.  Notable examples include Yiddish Theater, Vaudeville, tap dancing, minstrel shows, and punk rock.

However, there is one oft-overlooked, yet no less important contribution that still resonates today – the Bowery slang popularized by the Bowery Boys of yesteryear. These now-iconic street thugs used phrases and terms that never quite faded from our collective lexicon. It’s an exciting prospect to know that, in some ways, we still speak as they did. Just remember, the next time you rattle off the following expressions, some nineteenth-century punk probably uttered the same:

  • Chum
  • Kick the Bucket
  • Going on a bender
  • Pal
  • Blow-out
  • So long

Walt Whitman was enamored with the Bowery slang, and even used key terms in his poetry.  Many consider him to be the “Bowery B’hoy of literature.”  B’hoy, which plays on the Irish pronunciation, was slang for working class boy.

And lest we forget Great Jones Street and its contribution to colloquial speech – Jonesin’ for something. What do you think the Bowery slang is today? Does it even exist?

Many thanks to David Mulkins for steering us to the Burrows/Wallace text, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, which features a brief section about Bowery slang.

Recent Stories

cafe-habana-prince-protest
The Cuban Corn Crisis on Prince Street

The corner of Prince and Elizabeth Streets was noticeably quiet yesterday as Cafe Habana’s lunch patrons were met with a locked door instead of the trendy cafe’s signature Cuban grilled corn. Throughout the day, would-be patrons who normally loiter outside while waiting for tables or chomping down on corn, appeared confused at the closure. That […]

against-nature-closed-chrystie
‘Against Nature’ Boutique on Chrystie Street Shutters After 6 Years

Fashion flight hits Chrystie Street. Against Nature, the men’s boutique that debuted back in 2010, shuttered this week. It rolled up and consolidated with the flagship store on Christopher Street. Not entirely unexpected. A few weeks ago, the Lee & Associates brokerage installed an enormous leasing banner on the facade. What we often call tombstone […]

3essex-masks-2
How about this New Essex Street Funhouse?

In the years since its sale, 3 Essex Street has remained remarkably intact. No demolition. No changing hands. No real activity. Until this week, when the tenement became a funhouse of sorts. In a display more befitting Halloween than Valentine’s Day, each of the upper windows dons a ghoulish mask. Topping it off is a […]

Le-pain-bleecker-1
Le Pain Quotidien Unveils its Second Bleecker Street Outpost

Le Pain Quotidien just planted another flag downtown. The Belgian-style bakery is poised to open its umpteenth city location in the kink of Bleecker Street, where American Apparel previously outfitted NYU students. Now it’ll fatten them up. The teaser signage was recently scraped away to reveal the bi-level innards. No word just yet on opening […]

essex-crossing-gateway-2_wm
Phase 2 of Essex Crossing will Break Ground in June with More Affordable Housing

Essex Crossing is firing on all burners. Full throttle. Two of the four new buildings are topped out, with the balance reaching skyward each day; the 24-story “Gateway” (Site 2) and 242 Broome Street condos (Site 1) are currently sporting some major heft. But this is a rolling process, and, recent progress notwithstanding, sights are […]