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barrelhouse A cheap, disreputable saloon; also, a loud, forceful, unpolished type of jazz. The name barrelhouse probably came from the practice of serving beer from kegs or barrels in less expensive bars. Of American origin, this word appeared in its slang sense in 1883 in Peck’s Bad Boy by George W. Peck. The musical sense of the term, however, which derived from the style of piano entertainment associated with such places, did not appear until 1926 in H. O. Osgood’s So this is Jazz.
but-and-ben A Scottish term for a two-room dwelling; a cottage. In use as early as 1724, the term is a combination of the Scots but ‘outer or front room’ and ben ‘inner or back room.’ R. Burton explains the term as follows:
Each house has two rooms, a “but” and a “ben” separated by a screen of corncanes…. The but, used as parlour, kitchen, and dormitory, opens upon the central square; the ben … serves for sleeping and for a storeroom. (Central Africa, in Journal, 1859)
the cooler A jail or prison, especially a solitary confinement cell. This U.S. slang term, which dates from 1884, originally referred to isolated cells where drunk or violent inmates were kept in order to “cool off.” The expression has since become more generalized and is now used popularly to mean simply jail or prison.
flea bag A dingy, squalid residence; a decrepit hotel or rooming house. The term alludes to a small, confined area infested with roaches, fleas, and other vermin. In modern usage, flea bag usually refers to a run-down building where low-cost rooms are available to destitute people.
The flea bag where I was living did not permit dogs. (John O’Hara, Pal Joey, 1939)
fleshpot A luxurious establishment offering its customers wanton pleasure and depravity; a brothel or house of ill repute. In the Old Testament (Exodus 16:3) this term describes the plenty of Egypt so sorely missed by the wandering Israelites. Its modern figurative meaning is decidedly different.
He would sally out for the flesh-pots to enjoy a hell raising binge. (W. R. and F. K. Simpson, Hockshop, 1954)
honky-tonk A disreputable nightspot; a tawdry cabaret; a chintzy establishment featuring cheap entertainment and music.
Others of possibly less talent were doing stalwart work as accompanists to the blues singers in the honky-tonks of New Orleans and St. Louis. (S. Traill, Concerning Jazz, 1957)
The origin of this expression lies in the tinny, honklike sounds of ragtime piano playing heard in cheap nightclubs and brothels; hence, the term’s adjectival use describing the pianos on which such music is played, or the music itself.
Happy, beery men thumping honky-tonk pianos. (Drive, Spring, 1972)
speak-easy A restaurant, bar, or nightspot where alcoholic beverages are sold illicitly. While the expression may have originated from the 19th-century British underworld’s speak-softly shop ‘a smuggler’s home or business establishment,’ it is more likely derived from the ease with which a tipsy person engages in conversation. The phrase was particularly commonplace during Prohibition, when it referred to the many clandestine establishments serving bootleg whiskey and moonshine.
Moe Smith and Izzy Einstein were the most dreaded prohibition agents who ever closed down a speakeasy. (Life, January 2, 1950)