Can You Guess the Meanings of These American Slang Words?

By: Zoe Samuel
Estimated Completion Time
5 min
Can You Guess the Meanings of These American Slang Words?
Image: Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Slang is as much an evolution of language as dialects are an evolution of language. What was the slang of yesteryear becomes the ordinary language of today. Before the western world's fascination with maths in the 1800s, double-negatives were common in the English language. In those early days, double-negative statements were seen as emphasising the negative, not negating it. The cultural fascination with maths changed that forever. If maths can alter the shape of language, imagine what the addition of other languages can do, as has happened in America. Words misheard are interpreted and given new meanings, repeated and misheard again. Sooner or later, new conventions spring up, some as slang.

American slang comes from immigrant communities with their own languages. It comes from subcultures' lexicons. It comes from the way children communicate on social media. It arrives in music, in film, in television shows and the typos in the chats of online video game players. American slang is less closed to the outside world, as with rhyming slang, but to the uninitiated, it makes little sense. American culture is inescapably spread all over the world, so you may have heard some of its slang, but do you really know the meaning of any of it? Test your knowledge, cowboy!

1-John-Hancock What is a "John Hancock"?
I can't say that here!
A signature
John Hancock was a man from Massachusetts who was among those who signed the Declaration of Independence. He is noted for many things, among them his rather large, flamboyant signature. Thus, affixing one's "John Hancock" to something means to sign it.
A photograph
A terrible car

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2-Ankle-Biters "Ankle biters" sound dangerous! What are they?
Tiny dogs
Bedbugs
Badly housebroken cats
Children
An expression that sounds simultaneously passive aggressive and aggressive agressive, "ankle biter" is one of many strange American slang terms for children, including "rug ape," "crumbcrusher," and "rug rat."

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3-Carpets Who would you be if you were called a "carpetbagger"?
An opportunistic politician
"Carpetbaggers" and "carpetbagging" is a slang idiom that goes back to America in the 1800s. The traditional meaning is "a politician who moves from place to place looking for a district that will elect them," but more recently, it can mean any sort of disingenuous political opportunism.
A homeless person
A hotshot
A child

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4-Farm Is it good to have "bought the farm"?
Yes, because then you have a farm!
No, because farms smell funny!
Yes, because it's metaphorical and means that you've done well!
No, because it's metaphorical and means that you've really messed up!
Originating in the early days of the US Air Force, the original meaning of "buying the farm" was to crash, and presumably to die. Today it can refer to a number of different kinds of failure or death.

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5-Hit-The-Books What does it mean to "hit the books"?
To become famous for something terrible
To study
"Hitting the books" is something with which American students will be familiar. More than the simple act of studying, it is closer to cramming, burying oneself in learning materials until the new information penetrates.
To fail miserably at something
To cut all ties with social media

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6-Bailing "Bailing" is an odd verb. What do you think it means?
Fix a problem
Leave suddenly
"Bailing" means to leave suddenly as in "Sorry, but I've got to bail on you." Other colorful American slang terms that mean the same thing include "split," "haul ass," "blow," "make tracks" and the archaic "scram."
Pay
Steal

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7-Tea Some people would love some "tea" while others hurl it. What do you think it is?
Insults
Truth
"Tea," likely derived from "T for truth," is a modern slang term for truth. "Sipping tea," conversely, refers to things that are "none of your business." Other terms for truth include "the dope," "the score," "the goods" and "not just whistlin' Dixie."
Social isolation
All of the above

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8-Swag "Swag" is a very odd term. What could it possibly mean?
Attitude
Free stuff
A state of coolness
All of the above
"Swag" has taken on new meanings over the years, but its origins remain a mystery. Some believe it has Dutch roots, originating in New Amsterdam. The meaning "free stuff" is interpreted as the word standing for "stolen without a gun."

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9-Quarterback Should you take advice from a "Monday morning quarterback"?
Of course! Start your week with good advice!
No! They're just armchair generals!
A "Monday morning quarterback" is someone who criticises people after they have engaged in a task, with the benefit of hindsight. The term comes from how Sunday is the traditional day for American football games, thus making Monday morning the time when people will discuss the game.
Yes! They're visionaries!
That depends on what sport you're playing!

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10-Yeet "Yeet" it a neat word! What does it mean?
To be terrified of something or someone
To be very sexy
To shout something or throw something
"Yeet," meaning to suddenly shout or to physically throw something, is a colorful piece of modern American slang. It could be used as in "I've gotten a raise! Yeet!" or "I went to click my mouse, and my hand landed on an actual mouse, so I yeeted it out the window."
Nobody knows

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11-Bricks What does it mean to "hit the bricks"?
To go on strike
Picketing, particularly with the visual aid of signs or, in the case of New York strikers, a large inflatable rat, is an old tradition among unions. American union members took to calling the act of picketing "hitting the bricks," due to the walking in circles holding signs.
To look for a job
To suffer a sudden misfortune
To undergo extensive reconstructive surgery

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12-Zonked "Zonked" is an interesting state of being. Can you decode this American slang?
Wealthy
Completely a mess
Outside what is socially acceptable
Exhausted
While "zonked" can refer to chemically-induced exhaustion, its common use is to refer to the state of natural exhaustion as in "I can't watch another episode of this. I'm zonked." "Bushed" and "blah" can mean the same thing.

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13-Snow-Job What do you think "snow job" means?
Theft of money
Being made over to being very cool indeed
Going out to have fun on a Saturday night
Absurd bragging
"Snow job," meaning over the top bragging, could be likened to another slang expression, meaning telling an obvious lie: "laying it on thick." Other expressions include "jive" and "fish story."

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14-Top-Hat This sounds awful, but what do you think it means to "top yourself"?
Do better next time
In America, "topping oneself" means the act of being better at a task on a successive try. When Americans encourage their friends to "top themselves," it's actually friendly encouragement!
Get a haircut
Put an end to it all
Buy a new hat

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15-Shotgun In America, many people go about "riding shotgun." What does it mean?
Being reckless
Controlling something difficult
Keeping one's eye on goals
Sitting in the front passenger seat
When wagons became popular in America, there were times when the wagons needed protection in the form of a shotgun-toting passenger. To accommodate right-handed guns, these passengers would sit to the right of the driver, thus today's expression for sitting in the front seat.

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16-Political Can you identify "political pork"?
Lies politicians tell
A good relationship
A strong electoral victory
Sweetheart political deals for one's constituents
Before Americans had refrigerators, food was kept in barrels. When politicians negotiated for money to be lavished on their districts, it was said to fill the barrels with pork, thus giving birth to "pork-barrel politics" as an expression. Today, this has been shortened to "political pork."

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17-For-the-Birds What do you think people mean when they say something is "for the birds"?
It is unimportant.
Although not totally clear, it appears the origins of this expression come from the days of the horse-drawn carriage in America. Were someone to ask what the slurry of manure on the ground was, the answer would be "It's for the birds."
It is the height of style.
It is fairly impressive.
All of the above

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18-Rain-Check What is a "rain check"?
Pay one receives on sick days
A poncho
An excuse
The promise to try again under better conditions
"Rain checks" have their origins in American baseball, games of which will not be played if the rain is sufficiently heavy. A rain check was a physical ticket given to game attendees on their way out of the stadium if the game would be played on another day. Today it can mean postponing a dinner or meeting.

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19-The-Bomb Some things are "the bomb." What are they?
Cool
Fly
Phat
All of the above
The 1990s saw an explosion of words meaning "cool", of which "the bomb" is one. Others words that mean the same thing and are part of American slang include "fly" and "dope."

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20-Pavement What would you be doing if you were "pounding the pavement"?
Studying while part of a labour strike
Looking for a job
The original meaning of "pounding the pavement" refers to the act of walking quickly while in search of something. While it still means this, its definition has expanded to include the much more common usage, which is in reference to hunting for a job.
Building a house
Digging a hole

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21-Bricks In America, what do people mean when they refer to someone as a "brick layer"?
Someone who works hard and stays out of politics
Someone who does not flush after using a public bathroom in extremis
Someone who frequently misses shots in basketball
All of the above
The most common usage of this expression is in basketball, but the other two are used as well. The bathroom usage is much less common, as there are other more colorful expressions for the same thing.

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22-Ballpark What does it mean when something is "in the ballpark"?
It means it is within the realm of possibility.
It means it is within a certain range.
It means it is fair game.
All of the above
An expression with roots in baseball, this has several similar meanings. A "ballpark figure" is a term often used when negotiating salaries, meaning "I'd be willing to offer you something in the ballpark of $90,000 to $95,000 per year."

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23-Postal Every once in a while, people "go postal." What does that mean?
They put mail in a mailbox.
They furiously write lots of letters.
They become obsessed with collecting something.
They go berserk in the workplace.
Owing to a spate of incidents in US Post Offices in the 20th century, the expression "to go postal" means to go on a rampage in the workplace. This can be related to the original meaning, or a gentler meaning such as a shouting incident, etc.

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24-Shark What does it mean when something is "jumping the shark"?
It has outlived its usefulness.
Referring to an episode in the waning years of "Happy Days," the expression originally meant the point in the life of a television programme when the plot has nowhere to go and hasn't tied itself up properly, thus must resort to silly stunts to remain in motion. Today it can mean anything that has outlived its usefulness.
It has overcome incredible odds.
It has crossed a difficult environment.
It has finally reached its potential.

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25-Nose-Bleed Sat in "nosebleed seats"? What does that mean?
Sitting "in the gods"
Some American stadia are so massive that the highest seats are over a hundred meters off the ground, so high that fans joke that sitting in them will cause nosebleeds. As a result, the highest, worst seats in a stadium or theater are called "nosebleed seats."
Sitting in the back of an airplane
Sitting at a table set aside for children
Sitting on the floor

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26-Gavel Is it a good thing when someone "takes the fifth"?
It is good in the sense of it is good that the possibility exists.
The expression "taking the fifth" refers to taking advantage of one's right against self-incrimination under the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, it is fair to assume that any time someone "takes the fifth," they are admitting that they have committed a crime.
It's never good because it means you're going to die.
It's excellent because it means you're climbing the rankings.
It's not good because it means you aren't in first.

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27-Audi_R8_Black_2 What might an American mean if they say they are "Audi 5000"?
To suddenly leave
In the early 1980s, the Audi 5000 was noted for having a mechanical problem causing sudden acceleration. As a result it found its way into slang, meaning "to leave suddenly."
To look cool
To be strong and or fast
All of the above

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28-Yadda What would an American mean if they described something as "yadda yadda yadda"?
Something unimportant
The correct use of "yadda yadda yadda" was codified by the television sitcom "Seinfeld" in which the characters made clear that "yadda yadda yadda" can never mean something important. The saying was in use for a long time, but this was its major injection into the bloodstream of popular culture.
A nonsense conversation
A long drawn out story in which you may or may not be interested
All of the above

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29-Deck Someone or something could be "on deck." Can you surmise its meaning?
In poor condition
Totally destroyed
Awaiting use
Coming from the baseball term for the batter in line immediately behind the batter who is batting, "on deck" means when someone is waiting for their chance to do something, or when a project is ready to go, etc. In baseball, the "on deck" batter waits in what is called "the on-deck circle."
Hard hit

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30-tim-gouw-VvQSzMJ_h0U-unsplash In America, some are "born on third base." What meaning do you ascribe to this?
Benefiting from nepotism
Born wealthy
Very lucky
All of the above
A broad expression with its roots in baseball, this means to have been very lucky in life. In baseball, getting to third base normally requires a great deal of skill, so being born there means having had much of the work done for one already.

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31-Bull-Pen A "bullpen" is a slightly older term used in American slang. What does it mean?
Shared office cubicles
Holding cells
A group of simultaneous romantic partners
All of the above
Holding cells are called bullpens because "bull" is an old expression for police officers. Open-plan offices, as they used to resemble holding cells, were called bullpens. More recently, having a "rotation," as in baseball, of romantic partners, is sometimes called "a bullpen."

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32-Keeper "Keeper" is a wonderful American slang word. Can you unearth this well kept meaning?
An ideal romantic partner
To be called "a keeper" is one of the highest compliments available to American slang. It means to be the sort of person one would want to marry, or employ, depending on context.
A kind of notebook
An object of ridicule
A greedy person

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33-Netflix "Netflix and chill" is the name of an activity. What activity is it?
Calming down
Going home to be intimate with a partner
Recent years gave Americans the expression "Netflix and chill," a verb used as a euphemism for going into a private place to be intimate. It is an excellent piece of modern innuendo.
Wasting time at work
Falling asleep in front of the television

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34-Hooky "Playing hooky" is a think that some people do. What do you think it is?
Committing acts of vandalism
Snogging
Selling contraband
Avoiding work or school
With its origins in describing truancy, "playing hooky" refers to the act of avoiding one's daily responsibilities, be they working a job, or going to school. It is used as a verb but can be used as a noun by leaving off the first word.

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35-Whack "Whack" is the word in question. What do you think it means?
To have someone murdered
A fantastic party
A kind of car
The state of uncoolness
A piece of American slang that can be confusing on the page but never when in use is "whack." Entering mainstream use in the early 1990s, it refers to a state of being deeply uncool and worthy of ridicule, and it's an adjective.

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