Ahh, the 1960s. An iconic decade, emblazoned in society’s collective consciousness. An era of mind-boggling scientific advancements, massive civil rights victories and free-spirited, hippie counterculture. It was a time of, let’s face it, all-around wackiness. What better way to revel in nostalgia than by revisiting some quintessential 1960s slang?
Many of the decade’s cultural symbols have become long-lasting fixtures of modern pop culture (will tie-dye ever truly go out of style?) and the hip lingo of that period is certainly no exception. From “far out” to “groovy” and hundreds of other alternatives for the word “cool,” the speech of the day gently asked the universe to calm down and take a giant chill pill. So sit back, mellow out and discover our favorite 1960s slang — we think you’ll really dig it!
The Best Of 1960s Slang
OK, we know it’s the obvious choice, but no list of 1960s slang would be complete without this iconic word, so where better place to start? You’ve probably heard it ironically flung around by peace-sign-flashing, tie-dye-wearing Halloween partygoers. Groovy was the “awesome,” “cool” or “dope” of the decade — a versatile term that has since been immortalized in contemporary pop culture (thanks, Austin Powers). By the ’90s, however, groovy quickly became passé among the nonconformist and rebellious youth of the day.
Although it’s now a stereotypical hippie trope, “groovy” was actually in use a few decades before the free love generation got their hands on it. Ironically, at the turn of the 20th century, Brits were using it to describe the conventional “squares” among us (meaning those who get too caught up in monotonous routines). Apparently, “getting your groove back” wasn’t a good thing back then. However, the origins of another meaning recognized today are musical in nature. We often call tunes that really makes us want to dance, well, groovy!
Far out/Outta sight
Meaning: another substitute for cool; strange or bizarre
These next two words are more or less synonymous with groovy: both were common phrases used to express the implicit “cool-factor” of a thing, person or situation. A fixture of post jazz-era lingo, “far out” was originally used in African American Vernacular English as an alternative to adjectives like “great” or “pleasant.” All the avant-garde musicians and beatnik poets who were exploring new, genre-pioneering territories were “totally far out, man.”
During the ensuing decades, mainstream hipsters appropriated the word. Anything hip, new or fresh was “far out,” “outta sight” or simply “out of this world.” Meanwhile, hippies took things in a slightly different direction. They used the words to describe strange or other-worldly experiences, which in many cases involved delirious hallucinogenic drug trips. Since then, these 1960s slang phrases have seen marginal everyday usage. They’re mostly reserved for corny, nostalgic colloquialisms (we’re talking “it takes two to make it outta sight” status here).
Meaning: to understand or agree with something
At first glance, this one may sound like a firm command to pick up a shovel and start digging. And actually, that’s not far off the mark. Thought to be derived from the action of physically “getting below the surface” of something, this phrase was used to make sure that someone understood what you were saying. Asking “Can you dig it?” confirms that someone has grasped the “deeper” meaning, so to speak. Today, we might say “Do you read me?”
Like far out, this phrase was used in AAVE decades before it became hip. By the ’60s it had two slightly different connotations. Besides asking if someone understood, “I can dig it” was also an expression of enthusiasm or agreement. It’s basically like saying that you’re on board, or can get behind something.
(It’s) a gas
Meaning: fun, fine
Now, you might think this is just an inoffensive term for flatulence. Think again: This 1960s slang was actually used for all kinds of laughter-inducing situations (although, let’s face it, this doesn’t necessarily exclude passing gas). Historically, “It’s a gas” was used by Irish English speakers to describe an enjoyable situation or person. The phrase was eventually immortalized by The Rolling Stones hit tune, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Besides describing something amusing, it’s also another way of saying that everything is fine and dandy.
The expression is sometimes falsely attributed to the effects of taking laughing gas (what dentists use to calm a patient’s nerves before getting a cavity filled). Indeed, derivatives of the phrase were occasionally used to describe drug-induced fits of laughter or enjoyment. However, with the advent of modern reboots (such as “It’s a blast!” or “That’s so sick!”), the original phrase isn’t used much anymore. Sad times.
Meaning: Relaxed or laid-back
Mellow is the epitome of all things chill. Back in 17th century England, calling someone “mellow” typically meant they’d reached a good level of inebriation. Of course, you don’t need to be tipsy to relax. Historically, this word was used in sayings like “mellow as a cello,” indicating that someone, or something, is generally laid-back or easy going. And telling someone anxious to “mellow out” is just another way of saying they need to relax.
During the ’60s, mellow’s meaning retained its essential “chill-factor.” Predictably, though, you could often expect drugs to be involved. Perhaps as a way to cope with the social and political turmoil of the times, many people turned to the calming effects of cannabis. “Mellow” was used to describe the care-free state of mind after smoking the drug, a condition we’d now call “stoned.”
Meaning: a disappointing situation
Although still in use today, this word certainly deserves a spot on our list, thanks to its widespread, multigenerational usage. Predating the fabled decade in question, “bummer” was used synonymously with words like “bum” or “beggar.” Coming from the German word for an aimlessly wandering loafer (Bummler), a bummer was anyone who mooched off others without contributing much in return. This original definition, however, was not really used during the ’60s. Back then, the moochers of the day were called “sponges.”
A more common meaning of bummer probably comes from the phrase “to have a bum rap” — a saying that implies someone has been treated unfairly. This notion of being in a generally sucky situation is core to the ’60s definition of the word. “What a bummer” or “I’m just really bummed out, man” are other ways of saying that a situation is disappointing, or that you’re just a little depressed. As you might’ve guessed, this word also came to refer to not-so-mellow encounters with drugs or — more bluntly — someone who ruins an otherwise enjoyable trip.
Meaning: a Volkswagen Beetle; a children’s game
Not to be confused with our creepy-crawly insect friends, this ’60s slang is simply another name for a very popular car model. Endearingly called a “bug,” the organically-designed Volkswagen Beetle was all the rage back in the ’60s. Along with classic VW camper vans, these cute and compact cars became instantly recognizable symbols of the decade’s hippie movement. The term “slug bug,” though, refers not only to the car itself, but also to a popular children’s game.
Alternatively called a “punch buggy,” the VW Beetle’s shape resembled an old-timey horse-drawn carriage or buggy. Why this detail inspired people to start hitting each other is anyone’s guess! However, spotting a bug cruising past gave children all over the United States an excuse to playfully punch their friends on the arm, while gleefully shouting, “punch buggy, no punch back!” The game ends there and no one really wins… Yep, your guess is as good as ours. This strange childhood pastime survived at least into the late 2000s, as hip grown-ups from the ’60s passed it onto their children’s generation.