Jousters, Gaylords, and Belairs
In large cities like Chicago and New York, A rumble is more than a low, heavy, rolling sound. A rumble, in the argot of teen-age street gangs, is a mass fight between rival groups. Teen-agers have always had their special language, but the jargon of the teen-age gang is something recent. In a sense it is eclectic, drawing on the language Of “hip” jazzmen, the underworld, and the military, But much of it consists of common terms given surprising Twists.
New York and Chicago Gang Slang
- Bopping- Fighting against a rival gang. Also as a body language which said a lot about the nature of the gang. When a gang decided to become a fighting, or "bopping" gang, its members immediately took on a different way of walking. A rhythmic gait characterized by the forward movement of the head with each step.
- Humbug – (Chicago) same as bopping.
- Jitterbug - Used like Humbug in Queens New york
- Burn – To bop, especially with weapons.
- Bust – To beat up. Also to disperse, as, “Man, the cops busted us and we wasn’t Doing nothing.”
- Call it on – To arrange a rumble.
- Clique – The gang.
- Cool it – To call off the rumble.
- Crew – Same as clique.
- Debs – short for debutantes. The girl friends of gang members. Sometimes the debs are loosely organized as an auxiliary of the gang.
- Down – Bad; tough. A gang member might say admiringly of his gang. “Man, we’re way down.”
- Down kiddie – A tough guy. He doesn’t punk out; he’s not chicken.
- Fair one – A fist fight, without weapons, between one or more representatives of two rival gangs. A fair one may occur when individuals members of rival gangs have personal grudges to settle, or when it has been decided to settle gang grievances without resorting to a rumble. In many cases what starts as a fair one, with the rest of the gang watching, ends in a rumble anyway.
- Go down – Same as a burn.
- Job man – the social worker, usually from the Youth Board, who tries to help gang members. Gangs often like tp have a job man assigned to them because it shows how tough they are.
- Jump – A dance or social event. Also, as a verb to attack rival gang members without warning.
- Pad down – To search or “frisk.” The cops padded us down and then busted us.”
- Piece – A firearm; usually a pistol, but also a rifle, perhaps cut down. “The heat’s on, man; I got to hide my piece.”
- Pot – Marijuana.
- Pull a jap – Make a sneak attack. From the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese “burned our guys.”
- Punk out – To behave in a cowardly manner; to run away, as from a fight or a threat.
- Rank – To taunt rivals with threatening or insulting looks or words; a form of challenge. Probably from the Army expression “to pull rank,” meaning to make use of one’s higher rank to bulley a subordinate.
- Rep – Reputation, prestige, status. One of the major reasons for joining a gang.
- Schemer – The shrewd member of the gang. A schemer might take over the gang leadership by subtly playing one faction against another. Also, the one that thinks up things to do.
- Session – Same as a jump or dance.
- Mix - Same as a rumble. The Jets and Sharks are Going to mix.
- Shank – to stab, particularly in the leg.
- Sound – Same as to rank.
- Tight – Close, in the sense of close friends.
- Turf – The neighborhood territory ruled by a gang.
- Waste – To defeat thoroughly; to annihilate.
- Chickie – The Cops. “Hey Chickie,” warning the Cops are coming.
- Hack - Cop; Man on the walk.
- Rolled - We rolled that Flake.
- Throwdown - Fight; That cat can Throwdown.
- Jive stud - Liar
- Repping your end - Giving out your postal code.
- Sound your clique - Shouted like a military order. Response would name of your gang, or, "I am Cool," meaning: you are a civilian.
- Cheese it - Lets cut the rug! Lets book outta of here. Used in Chicago.
- Gum Shoe - is the Copper. The Fuz. Police. Mr. Police Officer. Used in Chicago.
Harlem Gang Slang
From the movie The Young Savages: "I heard the Horsemen were bustin out, bobbin the gang on the next block so I had myself a look. It was a rumble for real with zip guns jackhammers the works."
Brooklyn Gang Slang
From the movie The Warriors: "We're going to have to bop our way back!" "What are we waiting for?" "The train would help. Unless you want to get japped on an open platform!"
Fifties Boppin Slang
It all started in the fifties: gang lingo, gang jargon, greaser slang. The words from the list were used from the 1950’s through today. Some of the words have been modified to fit the times, but their roots are the 1950’s.
Rising Up Angry
Throughout the 1950s until the early 1980s, Chicago's youth were divided into two cultures: the Greasers and the Hippies. Greasers tried to hold on, or imitate the Greasers of the 1950s. The Hippies imitated the Hippies, or Freaks that most people remember from the 1970s before the disco era. Hippies were known for their parties; Greasers were known for fixing up old fast cars, drag racing, motorcycles, and joining gangs, though being in a gang wasn't a greaser requirement.
Greasers Verses Hippie
They say that the Greaser era died when Doo Wop and President John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963, but there was an underground Greaser culture that existed in big cities around the country like Chicago, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Philadelphia, and the New Jersey Shore (Jersey City, Newark, and Perth Amboy). It wasn't uncommon to find Chicago Greaser gang members in the mid 1970s Doo Woping on their corners. Some of the Greasers evolved into the motorcycle clubs of the 60s and the Punk scene in the 1980s. The Greaser era never really died out. Today, the garage group Rockabilly crews on the East Coast have brought the Greaser style back to the shore, though Greasers have alway existed in New Jersey.
In Susan E. Hinton's novel/Movie "The Outsiders", she covered the period of the late sixties where there was a rivalry between the Greasers and Soc's in Tulsa Oklahoma. It has been reported that there were many Greasers still around at Tulsa's Will Rogers High School into the early 1970s. The movie did a great job of showing the two different groups fighting for position in society at a time when most of the country still had a large population of greasers still around. Susan E. Hinton's followup novel/movie "Rumble Fish", did a fantastic job of showing the transition period where the Greasers lifestyle was being replaced with the drug culture or the hippie/freak culture. Rumble Fish showed how the Greaser, or Greaser gang member, lost all loyalty for his friends and culture replacing it with drugs. The remaining Greasers in this period, were considered out of style or a throw back to the fifties. To be accurate, the Greaser Culture disappeared at different times in different parts of the country, and in some areas never disappeared at all.
Sixties Greaser Clothing and Colors
During the 1960s a lot of greasers from the Southside would go to Maxwell Street on the weekends and find good bargains on leather& suede jackets, Italian knit shirts, and baggie work pants. Back then Maxwell Street was called Jew Town and the rumor was if you were the first customer of the day in their store you could get just about anything for a great price because as the rumor went it was bad luck for them if they didn’t make a sale to their first customer of the day. In Jew Town there were also good prices on shoes the most popular were Stacy Adams & wing tips. After awhile the hottest item became the baggie work pants. On the Southside, the style started in Bridgeport with the Italian greasers. You would see them wearing green work pants cuffed up and quilted work jackets and combat boots. The style caught on in other neighborhoods and soon would see white greasers everywhere wearing baggies. In the early 60s, on the Southside none of the white gangs wore club sweaters. You would see a few gangs wearing jackets with their gang names on the back. In the latter part of the 60s, some white gangs started wearing club sweaters such as Centurians, LAs, Aristocrats, Cornell Dukes, and the Brothers of Brighton.
Sixties Southside Chicago Greaser stated
Back in the sixties we wore gray leather jackets and baggie grays and combat boots. The blacks at Tilden High School use to call us "Grayboys" thinking we wouldnt like.
Chicago Gang Study in progress
See link: Chicago Gang Study