One of my favorite aspects of historical writing involves the use of slang. It is challenging to find terms that not only were used during the time period you are writing about, but that would be used by your character in a specific circumstance. But we all find them: in journals, dictionaries, books, letters and oral histories.
Although I like to use slang to be as historically correct as possible in my dialogue, I also want the reader to actually understand what is going on. For example, if you were a Hoover Dam worker in the 1930's, the following sentences would make perfect sense to you:
Double Ugly waited in the Glory Hole until the gaffer was on the monkey slide off to get a spot. He eased out of his Cornbinder and blitted the juicer with a perverted banjo and a Joe McGee.
|DOUBLE UGLY JOKES-ANYONE?|
So the question is, how much do you use? I don't have an answer (that would be too easy), but I rely a lot on beta readers to question certain terms or phrases. If I'm talking about a thirty foot high stiff-leg and they put a big question mark beside it, then I know I either need to lose that term, or explain that a stiff-leg is a derrick.
|THE GLORY HOLE|
Banjo: A shovel
Big Bertha: a double deck transport, with a capacity of 150 men
Blit: To beat up, or annihilate a guy
Build it: A phrase meaning it was time to go back to work
Candy Wagon: a light Ford truck/a tool truck
Cornbinder: an International truck
Crutch: a long handled shovel
Double Ugly: a truck driver
Easy-Dough: a boss
Gaffer: another term for foreman or boss
Goldbrick: a guy who doesn't put out much work
Glory Hole: the area where the dam itself was being built
Juicer: an electrician
Joe McGee: a makeshift tool
King Kong: the government cableway, the largest in the world at the time, with a capacity of 150 tons
Monkey-slide: two cableways, one that traveled on the downstream face of the dam, the other which traveled on the upstream face
Perverted: anything broken or 'out of kilter'
Stooge: a man who catered to his boss
Stiff-leg: a type of derrick
Twirp: one of the girls
Twidgett: another of the girls
Whoopee: a Ford pickup
Wood-butcher: a carpenter
Any great ones you'd like to share?