What do Cats and Jazz Have in Common? 10 Jive Words Explained.

Published on June 10, 2024

Credit: Chris Bair

Are you a cool cat? Or a groovy alligator? The Age of Jazz had a vast cultural influence on both American music and culture , but one of its most curious aspects was "jive talk," the quirky jargon it birthed.

Largely influenced by jazz singer Cab Calloway - who authored at least two dictionaries on jive talk, the jazz-inspired 1930s Harlem vernacular permeated our culture and gave us popular modern words such as "cool" or "hipster." Join us and dive into the strange world of jive talk with these 10 hip phrases that defined the scene.


Dig it

Credit: Billy Freeman

Back in the day, "dig it" wasn't just about enjoying something - it was about feeling it deep in your bones. One of the many expressions that originated in 1930s jazz circles and seamlessly integrated into mainstream American English, this phrase encapsulated the essence of jazz appreciation , where listeners are urged to immerse themselves fully into both music and scene.



Credit: Michael Sum

In jazz speak, a "cat" wasn't just a furry friend - it was a word that could be used for anyone involved with the jazz scene , but typically reserved for stellar musicians adept at improvisation and who remained chill under pressure.

While the exact origin of the term is unknown, some believe it derived from the West African Wolof language word for singer, "katt." A simpler alternative would be that jazz musicians usually hung out until late at night, just like real cats.



Credit: Brittani Burns

If something is groovy, it is more than just good - it is the epitome of cool. While today we primarily associate "groovy" with the 1960s hippie counterculture, its roots trace back to the jazz era of the 1920s. The term is thought to have emerged both from the "grooves" of vinyl records and the repetitive patterns of popular music of that time.



Credit: Ben Eaton

Before the term was co-opted by mainstream culture, the term "hipster" was used to refer to jazz fans and musicians. The word was derived from the slang term "hep," meaning "up to date." Hipsters in the 1920s were avant-garde tastemakers, pushing boundaries with their style, music, and way of life.

The term was later associated with hip-hugging pants in the 1960s , and after that, it didn’t reappear until the 90s, used to characterize the educated bohemian youth living in gentrified neighborhoods.



Credit: Kobe Subramaniam

"Scat" was a vocal improvisation technique popularized by jazz singers like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. It involved singing nonsense syllables in rhythm, showcasing the singer’s talent while adding a playful dimension to the music.

While the precise origin of the term remains uncertain, some speculate it was derived from a Louis Armstrong recording where he spontaneously sang a bunch of nonsense words that happened to be something like "scat-a-lee-dat."



Credit: Gabriel Gurrola

In jazz lingo, having "chops" means having some serious musical skills. However, the term is far older than that, and it used to refer to the jaws (both of a man or an animal).

Eventually, it became a synonym for the power of a jazz trumpeter’s "embouchure" (meaning the way in which a brass player applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of its instrument), and from there, it quickly evolved into a more general term for a musician’s skill.



Credit: Johnathan Macedo

"Cooking," as a positive term in reference to music, seamlessly transitioned into our general English vocabulary while retaining much of its original meaning. In the jazz era, when the music was "cooking," it meant that the band was sizzling with energy and intensity.

Even today, we continue to use it similarly: when something is "cooking," it signifies improvement, progress, or momentum.



Credit: John Matychuk

Long before it became a ubiquitous term for any temporary job, a "gig" was a jazz musician's bread and butter.

Short for "engagement," the term originally referred to a live musical performance. Musicians often lived gig to gig , meaning that their livelihood depended on performing in order to afford their next meal.


Jam Session

Credit: Viktor SOLOMONIK

For jazz musicians, a "jam session" wasn't just a casual get-together - it was more of a sacred ritual of musical communion. These gatherings often took place in community centers or speakeasies, after musicians finished their regular paying gigs.

Jam sessions provided a place for experimentation and artistic freedom, where musicians would not have to conform to an audience and could exchange new ideas, but also often attracted non-musician fans eager to witness their musical idols in all their splendor.



Credit: Thom Holmes

Before it became one of the most popular slang words in the English language, "cool" originated within the jazz community of the 1940s. In the jazz lexicon, "cool" transcended its literal meaning as a temperature and instead embodied a state of mind.

Coolness was synonymous with maintaining composure, staying ahead of the curve, and emanating an effortless aura of sophistication and style, mirroring the relaxed vibe that jazz music sought to evoke.


Did You Know The Stories Of These Iconic And Lovable Presidential Pets?

Published on June 10, 2024

Credit: Krista Mangulsone

It is usually said that dogs are humankind’s best friends, but maybe we should broaden our horizons a little and include all pets in this phrase. After all, anyone who shares their home with a pet will attest to how much love and joy these companions bring to their lives.

We can all agree that every house with a pet is a happier home , and the White House is no exception. A generation of Presidential Pets has warmed the hearts of both the nation and our commanders-in-chief throughout our history, and we have chosen to remember ten of these loving companions with this article. Enjoy!


Fala the Scottish Terrier

Credit: Sebastian Coman Travel

If you visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C., you will see a statue of our 32nd President sitting down in the reflexive demeanor that reassured our nation during his famous "Fireside Chats". However, if you happen to look left, you’ll come across a different kind of reassuring presence: the statue of a small Scottish Terrier , curiously looking at the millions of Americans that pay homage to his owner.

Fala was FDR’s famous dog, given to him as a Christmas gift by a cousin. He often accompanied the President on important events, was made a symbol for contributing to the war effort, and was featured in an MGM movie about a day at the White House. Fala, who outlived the President by seven years, was buried near his owner after he passed away.


Pushinka, the Space Dog

Credit: Camylla Battani

Who do you think about when you hear the phrase "space pet" ? Maybe about Astro, the Jetsons’ dog, or Jonesy, the adorable cat on board Ripley’s spaceship on "Aliens". However, although these fictional pets are undoubtedly iconic, we want to focus on an unforgettable, real-life dog that could actually receive the title of space pet: Pushinka, the Kennedys’ dog.

Given to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as a gift by Soviet Premier Khrushchev, Pushinka was the daughter of Strelka, a dog who had journeyed to space on a Soviet mission. Pushinka was beloved by Caroline Kennedy, and she was trained to slide down Caroline’s playhouse alongside her.


Grace Coolidge’s Portrait Companion

Credit: Bella Huang

Fala is not the only presidential dog immortalized on an official monument. First Lady Grace Coolidge’s official white house portrait shows her in a dashing red dress, standing in a garden with the White House in the background. Right beside her, a white collie looks dutifully at Coolidge, while the First Lady’s hand rests comfortably on the dog’s head. That collie’s name is Rob Roy, the Coolidge family’s favorite pet.

Rob Roy was adopted by Grace Coolidge in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and became part of the family’s numerous pets, which included cats, birds, and raccoons. According to White House officials at the time, Rob Roy led Calvin Coolidge every morning onto the Oval Office, and the President himself described the dog as "a stately gentleman of great courage and fidelity".


John Quincy Adams’ Mythical Alligator

Credit: Rae Wallis

Make way for the first cold-blooded pet on this list! John Quincy Adams’ pet alligator has been the subject of speculation for decades, up to the point that many people believe the President’s scaly companion never existed. However, while some historians disagree, it seems that our 6th President did in fact housed an alligator in the White House.

According to most sources, the alligator was given to John Quincy Adams as an unusual gift by French general Marquis de Lafayette, who encountered the reptile on one of his many travels. Some testimonies say that the President placed the alligator in a bathroom in the White House , where he used it to prank (and terrify) guests.


Josiah the Badger

Credit: Vincent van Zalinge

President Teddy Roosevelt was known for his numerous pets , which included a blue macaw called Elie Yale, a small bear called Johnatan Edwards, and a myriad of guinea pigs. And while we could have focused on any of them, Josiah the Badger is probably the most outstanding of Teddy Roosevelt’s animal companions.

While doing a railway tour through the American West, President Roosevelt made a stop in Sharon Springs, Kansas. On his last day of the stop, a 12-year-old girl approached the President and gifted him a baby badger. The delighted Teddy named him after the girl’s father, Josiah, and adopted his new furry friend into his vast menagerie of pets.


Woodrow Wilson’s sheep

Credit: Sam Carter

Who says pets can’t be useful? The flock of sheep bought by President Woodrow Wilson to mow the White House lawn certainly were. While calling them pets might be slightly misleading, the truth is that these cute wooly gardeners were fondly regarded by the White House staff and by the President himself.

During WW1, President Wilson bought a flock of 12 sheep to keep the White House lawn trimmed. This action not only saved an enormous and expensive human effort during a difficult time, but it also provided a profit: the wool sheared from these sheep was auctioned and its profit was donated to the Red Cross. This flock was so iconic that it is featured in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum of Staunton, Virginia.


Socks, the Clinton’s cat

Credit: jbc

Socks might be the most famous pet in this article: In the early 90s, the Clinton family cat was regularly featured in pictures and events, and his cartoon version guided kids through the children’s version of the White House website. Socks was beloved by the public, whether perched on the President’s shoulder or prancing through colored eggs on the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

The story of Socks adoption is as cute as the cat himself: According to the Clintons, Socks was a stray cat that jumped into the arms of Chelsea Clinton when she was leaving her piano teacher’s house after a lesson. The Clintons instantly adopted him, and gave Socks a loving family until his passing in 2009.


Thomas Jefferson’s grizzly bears

Credit: 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič

Over 120 years have passed since the first teddy bear was sold, but they are still a child's favorite. If you are like us, you probably hugged your favorite stuffed animal every night before bed and wished that it would suddenly become real. But, let’s face it, a bear would probably be a tough pet to handle. Having said that, if Thomas Jefferson’s pair of grizzly bears have taught us anything, is that caring for a pet bear might be dangerous, but not impossible.

Our 3rd President received the pair of bear cubs from Captain Zebulon Pike in 1807, who purchased them during his expedition of the American West. In a letter he sent to his friend Charles Willson Peale, Jefferson describes the bears as "perfectly gentle" and that they "appear quite good-humored", since they had been taken as cubs. Peale later on adopted the bears from Jefferson, but they lived a big portion of their lives in an enclosure of the President’s house.


Andrew Jackson’s parrot

Credit: Ana Karla Parra

They say pets take after their owners , but we hope for President Jackson’s sake that this was not the case. Among many other pets, Jackson owned an African Grey parrot named Poll, which he originally purchased as a gift for his wife Rachel. Poll is remembered to this day not only for being a beautiful and loyal parrot but also for his tendency to spout profanity .

After Jackson’s wife died, the President became the main caretaker of Poll. Now, we can’t be sure that it was the President’s vocabulary that influenced such foul language onto the parrot, but we should note that Andrew Jackson’s temperamental nature earned him the nickname "Old Hickory". In any case, a popular story states that, during the President’s funeral, Polly’s outbursts were so offensive that he had to be taken away from the service.


Van Buren tiger cubs

Credit: Mystery Cat

We’ll end this list with a group of pets that ignited a conflict between Congress and a U.S. President. In the early years of his presidency, Martin Van Buren received an uncommon gift from the Sultan of Oman: a pair of tiger cubs . The president was delighted by them, and intended to keep them with him in the White House.

However, Congress thought otherwise. Since the tigers had started their journey to America under Andrew Jackson’s previous presidency, Congress stated that Van Buren had no claim over them, as they were not directly addressed to him. The President, on the other hand, replied that they were addressed to "the US President", which he was when the tigers arrived. Eventually, Congress was able to take hold of the cubs, which were sent to live at the local zoo.

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