Slang of the Week: petting party (noun phrase)
a party at which (usually teenage) couples hug and kiss (1920s slang)
Teddy thought the petting party would be the elephant’s instep until he found out there wouldn’t be any Shebas there.
“On the Triangle trip Amory had come into constant contact with that great current American phenomenon, the ‘petting party.’ None of the Victorian mothers—and most of the mothers were Victorian—had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed. ‘Servant-girls are that way,’ said Mrs. Houston-Carmelite to her popular daughter. ‘They are kissed first and proposed to afterward.’”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise
Young people in the 1920s had a lot of cute slang. The elephant’s instep is the same as the bee’s knees—it’s something great. A Sheba was a sexy girl, like the nearly naked Betty Blythe in the 1921 movie The Queen of Sheba. Used with a possessive pronoun—“see your Sheba shimmy shake”—it’s a girlfriend. Of course, the original Sheba was romantically involved with King Solomon in the Bible.
Shocking in the twenties, petting parties have long been considered tame. In the 1970s, some couples attended key parties, at which women would select their sexual partners for the evening by choosing a set of car keys from a bowl. These days, teens hook up, which can mean anything from an innocent meeting to having sex, depending on the context.
What’s new at Slang City?
Ozzy Osbourne, flop sweat and a shiv and a haircut—new in Real English/In Print