clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

“Sneaky Pete” means cheap wine, and other amazing 1950s gang slang

Just like this, basically.
Just like this, basically.
(United Artists/West Side Story)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Remember when "jitterbug" meant get in a fight? No? You probably weren't in a gang in 1958.

The indispensable NYT Archives Twitter account, which you should all follow, dug up a New York Times article from 57 years ago explaining "expressions commonly used by New York's teenage gangs." It's pretty great.

Some of the best samples include:

  • Bopping club, which the Times said referred to a fighting gang.
  • Diddly bop, a thing actual people allegedly called someone who was good at fighting.
  • Sneaky Pete, or cheapo wine.
  • Debs, which referred to  — and this is a direct quote from the Times — "girl affiliates of gang boys."
  • Go read the whole list, available at the New York Times. The 1950s were a hell of a time.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.