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The Great Depression
aka: The Thirties

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"They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?"
E.Y. Harburg, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

The Great Depression / The Dirty Thirties: Home to dust bowl farmers, reedy-voiced folk singers and rail-riding hobos. Life pretty much sucks unless you're lucky enough to be a rich socialite, in which case you can expect to be involved in a wacky screwball comedy which may or may not involve either three short, bumbling men named Moe, Larry and Curly, or two fast-talkers named Groucho and Chico and their mute accomplice Harpo (as the Depression drove prices plummeting through the floor, those who had money and managed not to lose it in the crash suddenly found their cash increasing in value). Or if you're female, you could ditch the dust bowl and head off to Hollywood, become an actress, and wear long, sexy gowns on premiere night, showing off some tanned skin.

Otherwise, you would be scraping to survive, as Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice & Men. For some, it's a time to run wild to take what you want against the fat cats who exploited the people as one of the Public Enemies like John Dillinger or the bank robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde. Others found more constructive paths, such as folk singer Woody Guthrie who rode the rails Bound for Glory singing as the voice of the underprivileged, or the pulp and newspaper-strip writers who were busily concocting Proto-Superhero stories. Finally, two Jewish boys manage to sell their seemingly preposterous story of a titanically strong hero in blue tights and red cape that changed the burgeoning comic book medium forever with a whole new fantasy genre.


Against this, President Herbert Hoover found himself completely in over his head, refusing to accept the reality of how bad the times were, while blindly mouthing absurd statements like "Prosperity is just around the corner." He was replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt who attempted to pull America out of the economic ruin with his New Deal.

The period lasts from The Wall Street Crash of 1929 up until the beginning of World War II and the World's Fair in 1939 (World War II being the political endpoint, the World's Fair being the cultural one. Although in America, the holdovers would last until December 1941; see Chandler American Time). Note that in Real Life there were several sub-periods; the Hoover years, the New Deal years up to 1937, a second recession and a subsequent 1939-41 recovery that was just picking up steam when the war build-up started. Also, large European countries experienced the worst, nightmarish part of the Depression during 1930-1932, with unemployment and widespread poverty being used as a springboard for fascist dictators scapegoating minority groups for the populace's problems (while also dismantling worker unions).


It should also be noted that the mass suicides of financial professionals (jumping from office buildings or hanging) of 1929 are a long-standing Urban Legend — only about twenty people killed themselves immediately after the Crash and about one hundred in all. 23,000 people did kill themselves in the first year though.

Also see: The Roaring '20s, The '40s, The '50s, The '60s, The '70s, The '80s, The '90s, Turn of the Millennium, The New '10s, and The New '20s for more decade nostalgia.

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    Thirties Slang 

As the decade before, slang is a Serious Beeswax, and it sticks on to-day.

  • "Abercombie" - a know-it-all
  • "Abyssinia" - I be seein' ya, get it?
  • "All the way" - for Sweet Tooths, it's chocolate cake of fudge
  • "Apple" - any big town or city, like the Big Applesauce
  • "Babe", "broad", "doll", "dame", "muffin" or "kitten" - just some of the many ways to call a woman
  • "Baby" - milk
  • "Bacon" or "bread" - something you bring home after work. It's a cabbage and is given by your big cheese.
  • "Beat" - broke
  • "Bean shooter" - gun
  • "Behind the grind" - Behind in one's studies
  • "Big house" or "hoosegow" - prison
  • "Blinkers", "peepers" or "shutters" - eyes
  • "Blow your wig" - getting excited
  • "Booze", "hooch", "giggle water" - whiskey
  • "Brodie" - a mistake
  • "Brunos", "goons", "hatchetmen", "torpedoes", "trigger men" - Hired Guns
  • "Bulge" - take advantage
  • "Booping gums" or "booshwash" - talking applesauce or nothing useful at all
  • "Butter and egg fly" - a hot babe
  • "Butter and egg man" - the money man
  • "Buzzer" - police badge
  • "Cabbage" - the colour of money
  • "Canary" - female vocalist
  • "Cats" and "alligators" - swing fan
  • "Cave" - your house
  • "Check" - a buck
  • "Chicago overcoat" - coffin
  • "Chicago typewriter" - Tommy Gun
  • "Chisel" - swindle or cheat
  • "City juice" - glass of water
  • "Clam-bake" - wild swing
  • "Clip joint" - the nightclub
  • "Copper" - policeman
  • "Crumb" - a loser by social standards
  • "Crust" - to insult
  • "Cute as a bug's ear" - very kawaii
  • "Dead hoofer" or "cement mixer" - bad dancer
  • "Dick", "gumshoe", "flatfoot" - detective
    • "Cinder dick" - railroad detective
    • "House dick" - house detective
  • "Dig" - think deeper
  • "Dingy" - silly
  • "Dizzy with a dame" - crazy in love, sometimes risky if she's a moll
  • "Dog house" - string bass
  • "Doggy" - Sharp-Dressed Man
  • "Dollface" - name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
  • "Drilling", "plugging", "throwing lead" - shooting a gun
  • "Drumsticks" or "gams" - She's Got Legs
  • "Dukes", "grabbers", "meat hooks" - hands
  • "Egg" - crude person
  • "Egg harbor" - free dance
  • "Eggs in coffee" - run in smoothly
  • "Fem", "filly", "flame", fuss - constant girl companion to a boy
  • "Five spot" or "a Lincoln" - five bucks
  • "Genius" - dumbass
  • "G-man" - federal agent
  • "Gobble-pipe" - saxophone
  • "Greaseball", "jelly bean", "wet sock" - an unpopular person
  • "Grifter" - Con Man
  • "Gumming the works" - opposite of eggs on coffee
  • "Hocks" or "plates" - feet
  • "Honey cooler" - a kiss
  • "Hog", "jolly up", "rag" or "romp" - a dance, party or dance party!
  • "Hotsquat" - electric chair
  • "Joe" - average guy
  • "Juicy" - enjoyable
  • "Keen" and "kippy" - very neet and very good
  • "Low down" - all the information
  • "Make tracks" or "dangle" - leave in a jiffy
  • "Meat wagon" - ambulance
  • "Micky" - drink with drugs
  • "Mitt me kid" - congratulate me!
  • "Murder!" - WOW!
  • "Nuts!" - telling someone they are full of booping gums and applesauce
  • "Off the cob" - corny
  • "Packing heat" - carrying a gun
  • "Pally" - friend or chum, sometimes used sarcastically
  • "Pitching woo" - making love
  • "Platter" - a record
  • "Ring-a-ding-ding" - someone having a good time at a hog
  • "Sawbuck" - ten bucks
  • "Scat singer" - improvising vocalist
  • "Scrub" - poor student
  • "Shake a leg" - hurry up
  • "Skin tackler" - drummer
  • "Sourdough" - counterfeit money
  • "Squat" - nothing
  • "Stool pigeon" or "snitch" - someone who informs the cops
  • "Take the rap" - taking responsibility of the crime
  • "The kiss off" - the final goodbye
  • "Tin ear" or "ickie" - someone who does not like popular music, much not unlike the hipster a decade later.
  • "Togged to the bricks" - dressed up
  • "Whacky" - crazy
  • "What's the story, morning glory?" - what do you mean by that?
  • "Wheat" - Country Mouse
  • "Yo!" - Yes
  • "You and me both" - And how!
  • "You shred it, wheat" - You said it.

    Popular tropes from this time period: 
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Before Indiana Jones, there were Two-Fisted Tales of headstrong adventurers venturing into scorching deserts and deep jungles in search of artifacts.
  • The Alleged Car: The worn-out, dented jalopies that carried people west from the Dust Bowl. The Joads' is an example.
  • Art Deco in its sleek, streamlined form.
  • Blackface: Still very popular during this era.
  • Boom Town: Despite the economic situation, and an upcoming war, cities like Los Angeles, Shanghai, Singapore and Manila flourished in this decade.
  • Cool Car: The sweeping, chrome-awash designs of the 1933-1940 age.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much mandatory if you're portraying the common peoples' life - it basically was.
  • Curtain Clothing: In an austere time, where fabric was a commodity, some women resort to sewing clothes out of feed sacks, hence they are called "feedsack dresses."
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Even more so after the repeal on Prohibition in America. Just ask Bonnie and Clyde, or the Barker family.
  • Dance Sensation: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ruled this trope. And swing.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Dance marathons raged across the Dust Bowl with a myriad of couples dancing their way to exhaustion just to get their prize worth only a handful of money. The longest marathon lasted for 10 months.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: This was busy happening in the Dust Bowl- the dust storms blew so thick and long that people and animals would be permanently blinded or choke to death on them. They could generate such high amounts of static electricity that car motors would short out if not grounded, leading to people living in the Dust Bowl attaching lengths of chain to the undercarriage that would drag on the ground. A particularly massive dust storm blew all the way to Washington DC, further cementing this trope into the minds of Americans around the country at the time.
  • Diesel Punk: Adding to the nit and grit of futuristic machines is the nit and grit of the Dirty Thirties.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish:
    • For the people whose fortunes had survived during this economic atmosphere, and for those who could afford it, they would venture out to faraway destinations like Africa with its savannahs, jungles, wild beasts, and the occasional feral man in leopard print, or to the beaches in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific where they would bask their fair skin to the sunlight.
    • In the late 1930s up to the onset of war, inspired by the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Alpine-themed stuff like alphorns, lederhosen, full-skirted dirndls, yodeling, and skiing came into fashion.
  • From Bad to Worse: The Crash of '29 was merely the appetizer, while the main course is still out there, sizzling in the pan.
  • The Gay '90s: A very popular Nostalgia Filter of the era.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The '30s steadfastly becomes less and less genteel as war on the horizon, but the parties go on with the men in fine tuxedos and the women in long slinky backless dresses, with the occasional mystery case handled by Hercule Poirot.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: With the influence of Joan Crawford's frilly sleeved evening dress in Letty Lynton in 1932, frilly puff sleeves became a thing, first in evening dresses, then in day dresses, and finally becoming more robust with shoulder pads at the end of the 1930s.
  • Girliness Upgrade: Androgynous flapper fashion becomes unfashionable due to the socio-economic situation. In response, the fashions reverted back to femininity, with the waistlines going up and hemlines going down. Floral prints and polka dots became the rage of the era, with frilly or puffy sleeved dresses of dusty pink, sea foam green, mauve, navy blue, and steel blue, topped with a hat, gloves, and scarves resembling oversized bows.
  • The start of the golden ages of film, animation, and comics
  • Hobos: In Deep South settings a popular trope.

Works that are set in this time period:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!: At least, the anime and much of the light novels.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers had a strip about the Great Depression, explaining it in a very simple way; America got sick and spread it to the other European countries. In the end, however, Russia was unaffected due to the fact that Russia was socialist, America, England, and France were helped out by their colonies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan, not having as much colonies, got the shorter end of the stick and suffered throughout.
    • In actual history, Germany probably would have still suffered, Depression or no Depression, because of the WWI reparations that the nation was being forced to pay.
    • In fact, part of Germany's motivation behind becoming an Axis Power was mentioned as a combination of both the Depression and Versailles reparations.
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Battle Tendency is set in 1938.
  • Night Raid 1931 is set in 1931 China, right before the Japanese invasion of Manchuria which ultimately led to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • Tenrou Sirius the Jaeger takes place in 1930s. Specifically before the World War II started.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe. Most of these characters were introduced in the comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson.
    • Mickey Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
    • Minnie Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
    • Clarabelle Cow. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Horace Horsecollar. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Pete. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Sylvester Shyster. First appeared in April, 1930.
    • Uncle Mortimer. First appeared in April, 1930.
    • Pluto the Pup. Adapted to the medium in July, 1931.
    • Captain Nathaniel Churchmouse. First appeared in May, 1932.
    • Mortimer ("Morty") and Ferdinand ("Ferdie") Fieldmouse. First appeared in September, 1932.
    • Professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex. First appeared in November, 1932.
    • Goofy. Adapted to the medium in January, 1933.
    • Captain Doberman. First appeared in February, 1933.
    • Gloomy. First appeared in February, 1933.
    • Tanglefoot. First appeared in June, 1933.
    • Eli Squinch. First appeared in July, 1934.
    • Mortimer Mouse. First appeared in January, 1936.
    • Detective Casey. First appeared in July, 1938.
    • Chief O'Hara. First appeared in May, 1939.
    • The Phantom Blot. First appeared in May, 1939.
  • Blondie. First appeared in September, 1930. Still ongoing (and updated via Comic-Book Time).
  • Li'l Abner. First appeared in August, 1934.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Most of these characters debuted in the comic strips written by Ted Osborne and drawn by Al Taliaferro.
    • Donald Duck. Adapted to the medium in September, 1934.
    • Huey, Dewey and Louie. First appeared in October, 1937. Adapted for Animation in April, 1938.
    • Bolivar. Adapted to the medium in March, 1938.
    • Gus Goose. First appeared in May, 1938. Adapted for Animation in May, 1939.
  • Dick Tracy. First appeared in October 4, 1931.
  • Little Lulu. First appeared in February, 1935.
  • Little Orphan Annie. First appeared in August, 1924.
  • The Phantom. First appeared in February, 1936.
  • Terry and the Pirates. Appeared in October, 1934.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 


  • Baffle Ball. Released in 1931 and became the Trope Maker of pinball as a whole.
  • Contact. Released in 1933, it introduced electro-mechanical mechanisms, bell chimes, and the TILT.

    Pro Wrestling 


    Tabletop Games 


    Video Games 
  • Telltale's Back to the Future game mostly takes place in the year 1931, with a few segments in 1986.
  • BloodRayne: Story kicks off in 1933.
  • Cuphead is a video game that pays homage to the 1930s cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer. According to the Credits Gag, the game is even set in 1930, at the time of the Crash, when the protagonists Cuphead and Mugman made a gamble with the Devil and are now fighting for their lives in a Deal with the Devil.
  • Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is set during this time period and focuses on what was the Mafia was doing during the Depression.
  • Pathway is set in 1936 and consists in leading a team of adventurers through North Africa and Middle East to prevent Nazi expeditions to gain archaeologic artifacts (it's basically Indiana Jones: The Roguelike).
  • Prehistoric Isle: First game is made in 1989 but is set in 1930.
  • Pulp Adventures is set in an unspecified date during the Thirties and its story is a typical Two-Fisted Tales involving a Massive Multiplayer Crossover of fictional characters created during this era (Doc Savage, The Spirit, The Shadow, The Avenger, and dozen of others).
  • Rule of Rose is set in 1930, the time of the Crash, possibly explaining why the events in the story didn't get any outside attention; the authorities were stretched too thin to worry about a few alleged disappearances.
  • Shadow Hearts: From The New World takes place shortly before the Crash, but doesn't really deal with it.
  • Spartakus: World in Revolution is set in an alternate 1932 where communists overthrew the Weimar government and established the Free Socialist Republic of Germany as a result of a more organized Spartacist uprising known as the May Revolution. The Great Depression in this timeline is caused not by America but by Britain instead since there was no Treaty of Versailles and war reparations.
  • Where The Water Tastes Like Wine has its protagonist travelling across Depression-era America to learn the histories, myths and legends of its people. A few characters seem to come from eras preceding or succeeding the 1930s, and the Dire Wolf who sent you out into the country explains this by saying his "family" experience time as "fluid".
  • Power Strike II is set during an Alternate History version of Depression-era Italy, in which the mass layoffs of the Depression cause people to take to sky piracy in desperate need of cash. The protagonist is a Bounty Hunter who neutralizes these pirates to make a living of his own.
  • The prologue to Sakura Wars (2019) is set in an alternate 1930.

    Web Animation 
  • The final episode of The Strangerhood indicates Tovar was taken from Wall Street just around this time. His Evil Twin, ignorant of the coming depression, ends up going back with plans to make millions on asbestos.
  • The short The Backwater Gospel takes place in an isolated and forgotten town in the Dust Bowl.

    Web Comics 
  • Monsieur Charlatan
  • Daniel is set in 1934. The titular character himself is said to have been laid off from a job due to the Wall Street Crash.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

Works made, but not set, during the thirties:

    Comic Strips 

    Comic Books 



    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): The Thirties, The Dirty Thirties


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