Glossary of Jive Talk
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Glossary of Jive Talk

Jive talk, Harlem jive or simply Jive, also known as the argot of jazz, jazz jargon, vernacular of the jazz world, slang of jazz, and parlance of hip,[1] was the distinctive slang that developed in Harlem, where jive (jazz) was played, and was subsequently adopted more widely in African American society, peaking in the 1940s.[2]H. L. Mencken, in his The American Language, defined it as "an amalgam of Negro-slang from Harlem and the argots of drug addicts and the pettier sort of criminals, with occasional additions from the Broadway gossip columns and the high school campus".[3]

This was documented in works such as Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary: Language of Jive (1939), which was the first dictionary published by a black person,[4] and Dan Burley's Original Handbook of Harlem Jive, which was compiled and published in 1944 at the suggestion of Harlem poet Langston Hughes.[5] In 1953 Albert Lavada Durst published the Jives of Dr Hep Cat,[6] a collection of rhymes compiled during his stint at Austin's WVET where he did late night R&B. Besides referring to the music scene, much of the argot related to drugs such as marijuana. For example, Mezz Mezzrow gave this sample:[7]

SECOND CAT: Hey Mezzie, lay some of that hard-cuttin' mess on me. I'm short of a deuce of blips but I'll straighten you later.
MEZZROW: Righteous, gizz, you're a poor boy but a good boy--now don't come up crummy.
SECOND CAT: Never no crummy, chummy. I'm gonna lay a drape under the trey of knockers for Tenth Street and I'll be on the scene, wearin' the green.


A devotee of jazz or swing music. Perhaps alludes to sharp-dressing with alligator leather.[8]
Noun. Refers to any musician's level of ability.[9] Originates from the physical changes that occur in a brass player's mouth and lips. E.g., Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. Also a term used for a musician who had significantly improved his or her playing. E.g., "I got my chops up" or "Has he got the chops to play with this group?". Chops can also refer to general ability in any skill. E.g., "Yo, I found a lawyer who has the chops to get George Shearing a driver's license!"
Diminutive of "frail sister". Also used as a noun for any hepster woman.
Government man, especially one who arrests or harasses peaceful citizens.
Noun for marijuana. Particularly associated with Louis Armstrong.
Noun. Any man, usually used as a greeting. "Yo, gate, what's the word from the herd?"
A horn player who has a large mouth or a mouth that is habitually open. Playing brass instruments often results in larger cheeks and a callus on the player's lip. The larger cheeks is the origin of the word "chops". After 1930, however, "Gatemouth" generally referred only to Louis Armstrong.[10]
In the know. Later, hip.
Hep cat
Knowledgeable person. Later, hipster.
Happy. See "mellow"
Hoochie Coocher
Hot babe who dances laying down. "Minnie the Moocher was a red hot HOOCHIE COOCHER." --Cab Calloway
Hoochie coochie
Erotic dance.
Opposite of hep; unhip, uncool or opposed to hipness
Jelly roll
1) female genitalia, 2) act of coitus. 3) Jelly Roll Morton: a famous stride piano player.
Swing dance. Same as the Lindy Hop, a dance created in the 1920s and 1930s. Danced to swing and Western Swing.
Cab Calloway defines this in the 1930s as "Harlemese speech", meaning the style of slang. In basic terms jive means talk.[11] It can also be an object or to mean kidding with someone. It is often confused with jibe which means "be in accordance with".
Jive talk
"Whaddya say, gate? Are you in the know, or are you a solid bringer-downer?" --Cab Calloway. "Are you Hep to the Jive" --Cab Calloway.
Light up
To light a stick of T or reefer.
A Prince Albert tobacco can filled to the lid. Roughly one ounce.
Commonly used as an interjection or for emphasis. Also in alternative to "boy" which was used by whites as a disparaging term used to hail African American adult males.
"Let's all get mellow." Words in the song "Light Up". The meaning is obscure. Probably means light-hearted, calm and happy.
Mighty Mezz
An expertly rolled reefer. Named after Milton Mezz Mezzrow, the saxophonist who played with Louis Armstrong. Mezzrow was a close friend of Louis Armstrong. He was also a user of marijuana and a distributor strictly to other musicians who were his friends.
Noun for woman. Often a reference to another hepster's girlfriend.
1930s and '40s slang for marijuana.
I's a-mugglin', you's a-mugglin', meaning getting high on reefer.
Policeman or law enforcement, "the Man", possibly constructed from pig Latin.
Short name used for the mysterious potted plants that musicians always traveled with in 1930s and '40s[clarify].
to smoke weed.
The marijuana plant, aka hemp, pot, ganja, or cannabis. Refers to the leaf of the plant or a cigarette rolled from the plant (JIVE, STICK OF TEA). See also: Reefer Madness, a 1936 anti-cannabis propaganda film
Reefer man
Some one who uses reefer.
Stick of tea
Joint, reefer, left-handed cigarette.
1) Jive, muggles, reefer. 2) Nickname for famous viper, jazz fiddler, "Stuff" Smith, famous viper and composer of viper songs such as "If You're a Viper".
"T" or Tea
in Harlem in the 1930s and 40s, an after-hours club where pot was smoked and jazz music performed.
T-man (Tea-man)
Marijuana provider.
refers to hep cats from the 1930s who inhaled. Examples include Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Louis Jordan. They frequented tea pads and smoked gage. The term vipers arose from the sssssst sound made by an inhaling pot-smoker or a snake.
Zoot suit
Named in the rhyming way of jive talk: "a Zoot Suit with a reet pleat, with a drape shape". With a generous cut but tight cuffs, this was popular with dancers of the swing era.[12]


  1. ^ Andrew Clark (2001), "Jazz and language", Riffs & choruses, p. 459, ISBN 9780826447562
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, A variety of American English associated with the Harlem area of New York; slang used by American Blacks, or by jazz musicians and their followers. Also attrib., as jive talk.
  3. ^ Richard McRae (March 2001), "'What is hip?' and Other Inquiries in Jazz Slang Lexicography", Notes, 57 (3): 574-584, doi:10.1353/not.2001.0041
  4. ^ Stephen Calt (2009), Barrelhouse words: a blues dialect dictionary, University of Illinois Press, p. xxi, ISBN 9780252076602
  5. ^ Theodore Hamm (2008), "Dan Burley's Original Handbook of Harlem Jive (1944)", The Brooklyn Rail
  6. ^
  7. ^ Burton W. Peretti (1994), The Creation of Jazz, University of Illinois Press, pp. 130-134, ISBN 9780252064210
  8. ^ Luis Alvarez (2008), The Power of the Zoot, University of California Press, pp. 91-93, ISBN 9780520253018
  9. ^ Marieke Hardy, Michaela McGuire (2011), Women of Letters, Penguin, ISBN 0857962698, 'chops' being jive talk for 'skills'
  10. ^ Francis Newton (1960), "Appendix 2 Jazz Language", The Jazz Scene, p. 289+
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-30. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Jessie Carney Smith (2010), Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, ABC-CLIO, p. 1554, ISBN 9780313357978, The suit came with its own argot ... This was a variant of swing slang or jive talk popularized by Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Lester Young.

Further reading

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