The Parlance of Prohibition

The Parlance of Prohibition
By Maggie Cramer

As a writer, I’m certainly a logophile. But although I’m telling you this via blog, a term that only entered our lexicon 15 years ago, neologism isn’t my thing. I love bygone words and phrases—whizbang, snollygoster, hornswoggle, anyone?


The Prohibition era was chock-full of fascinating terms and sayings. Let’s explore them so you’re ready to break into full Prohibition parlance at ELIXIR, Asheville Wine & Food Festival’s not-to-miss mixology competition and spirit sampling held August 21 at a secret location, of course.


Speakeasy to Me

You know Asheville’s Blind Pig Supper Club, but did you know the term “blind pig” was another commonly used phrase for a “speakeasy,” a term associated with Prohibition (that actually dates to the 19th century) to describe an establishment that illegally sold alcohol? The same goes for “blind tiger.” Both came about because saloon and bar owners would charge customers to see an attraction, such as a painted pig or exotic animal, and provide alcoholic beverages gratis. There are oodles of stories around the origin of the word speakeasy; as you can guess, most have to do with needing to speak softly about its location and once inside as to not alert authorities.


Dodging the Law

If you had a thirst during the “dry” days, you likely quenched it using the “drugstore dodge.” Until 1916, whiskey and brandy were approved medicines in the US Pharmacopeia. If your physician was friendly, they’d write you a prescription, and you’d head down to the drugstore for your fix. Or, you knew a good “bootlegger,” an alcohol smuggler who often concealed bottles in, you guessed it, their boots.

Slang Game

Prohibition was dominated by imaginative slang. Speakeasies were “juice joints” where you’d order up “hooch,” aka bootleg liquor. Once the drinks were flowing, things would be “jake,” or—to bring it back to today—all good. You’d be nice and “ossified.” Yep, drunk.


Now that you know the jargon, get your tickets online. Come the 21st, get all “dolled up,” then wait for directions and the secret knock. And for just $20 more, take an after-dark tour of Asheville’s Prohibition haunts and strange and sordid past with sponsor LaZoom.

CLICK HERE for full details about ELIXIR, including a list of participating distilleries.

-Maggie Cramer is an Asheville-based writer, editor, and communications specialist. She can be reached at