In 1983, the venerable British pop magazine Smash Hits (sadly no longer with us) published a feature called “The Things People Said,” in which Tom Hibbert pulled together a lexicon of youth slang, across the rocking ’50s, the groovy ’60s, the hippy ’70s and the heavy metal ’80s. For a young fan of pop culture and inventive uses of the English language (hello!), it was quite the eye-opener.
For example, teddy boys in the 1950s would refer to hair dye as “roof paint,” whereas their groovy ’60s successors would refer to the most astonishing of musical delights as being “ghosty,” and if you wanted to wake up a hippy, the thing to should would be “hey man, unscrabble your lids!”
One section is particularly interesting and should be required reading for anyone besotted by ’60s mod culture.
As you may know, the mods were a tight-knit London clique, created by young men obsessed with sharp clothes, scooters and general peacocking. Their credo (according to self-styled scene spokesman Pete Meaden) was “clean-living under difficult circumstances,” which gives a hint as to their fastidious and judgmental nature. This is further revealed when you examine some of the common slang terms the original mods used, some of which could stand a revival:
A face is a good mod; someone with the right clothes, the right haircut and the right taste in soul music and ska. An especially good mod would be an ace face or, more properly, THE ace face.
A ticket is a bad mod, someone still wearing last week’s fashion, slightly grown-out hair, and not enough/too many mirrors on his scooter. It comes from third-class ticket, a reference to train fares.
Both of these terms were put to good use in “I’m The Face,” the debut single by the High Numbers, who shortly afterwards changed their name to the Who:
Seven and six
The mod lifestyle was about conspicuous spending on quality goods. Suits had to be tailored, not bought off-the-peg, and anyone who did turn up at an all-nighter wearing a low-cost version of mod fashion would be labelled a seven and six. The numbers are a reference to pre-decimalized British currency and the cost of cheap T-shirts in Woolworths.
A delightful experience, a giddy thrill. You’ve heard of teenagers doing things just for kicks? These are flasher.
A term used to describe poking fun at someone, as in “Did you see me decking those tickets? What a flashkick!” Although in more recent British slang to deck someone means to hit them, with the inference that you’ve hit them hard enough to knock them over.
And while we’re on fighting…
Mods liked to fight. They fought with rockers, they fought with fake mods, and they fought with themselves if there was no one else about. To engage in a fight with someone was to jump through them.
A number was a run-of-the-mill mod, if you can imagine such a thing. Which when you bear in mind quite how special each mod considered himself to be, being considered just one of the herd was a stern insult indeed. But being a high number (like the High Numbers) was quite the compliment. The term was picked up by mod-revivalist Paul Weller in the early days of the Jam, when he wrote the song “Away From the Numbers,” although he seems to be talking more about being on his own than being the very acest face in the place.
To get dressed, something that could take a very long time indeed, especially when you remember the lengths your average mod would go to in order to get their clothes ready for wear. That thing about sitting in a bath wearing a pair of Levi’s to shrink them down to a skin-tight fit, that must’ve taken DAYS.
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