“Jake” was a popular slang word from the Roaring Twenties/Great Depression era and was used to indicate that a person or thing was in good order.

Synonyms for “jake” include “okay,” “hunky-dory,” and “copacetic.”

“We’ve got the picnic basket, the sandwiches, the beer, gas in the car – everything’s jake. Let’s go!”

Me and My Gal with Spencer Tracey.
Me and My Gal with Spencer Tracey as Danny Dolan, and Joan Bennett as Helen Riley.

A Very Jake Flick

I hadn’t heard the word “jake” used in ages and had almost forgotten about it when a few weeks ago I caught Me and My Gal, a 1932 drama/comedy/romance that was on the Turner Classic Movies channel.

Starring a very young Spencer Tracy as Danny Dolan, a raffish police detective covering New York’s waterfront and Joan Bennett as Helen Riley, the gorgeous diner cashier with whom he falls madly in love with, the film is sassy, brassy, and a lot of fun.

If you approach the movie with a 1930s mindset and do a certain amount of cultural decoding, you begin to realize the makers of Me and My Gal were trying to create something we would now describe as hip, with cool characters and brisk situations. And to establish the street savoir faire of the leads, both Tracy and Bennett use “jake” liberally in their lines. Most notably towards the end, after solving a crime, saving a sibling, and winning reward money together, the two express their growing appreciation and affection, with Tracy turning to Bennett’s character and exclaiming “Helen, you’re jake!!” to which she responds “Tom, you’re jake, too!”

Actually the above use alludes to the expansiveness of jake’s definition. “Jake” can be anything from merely “okay” or “fine” to “wonderfully complete,” which was the meaning the movie’s couple intended.

Robert Redford ‘s con man character said “jake” in his 1973 film The Sting, which fittingly enough was set in the early 1930s. If I remember correctly, he used it in the beginning of the movie to describe his happy state of mind as well as his financial status to his burlesque hall girlfriend.

My Mom Was Jake

My mother used the expression ”Everything’s jake” a lot, especially when I was very little. I think she enjoyed the slightly louche, gangster-talk sound of it.  She’d usually use it as a pronouncement that things were going well or were going as planned.  Sometimes, I could tell by the slight hesitation in her voice, that she said something was jake when it wasn’t, in order to reassure herself that things would work out in the end.

I remember once when I was 4 or 5 years old, I did something either at home or in kindergarten, that me feel tremendously bad – embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed – big feelings a little boy. I can’t remember now what it was that I did. Maybe I broke something or pushed somebody or made someone cry. But that early evening, my mother came into my room to comfort me again.  As she had done earlier, she gently unpacked the trouble for me, showing me what I did wrong and what I could make right. She told me how once she had done something very similar to what I had done, but she gave her story a funny happy ending.

And then as she tucked me in and gave me a good night kiss she held my hand and said, “Now don’t worry. Tomorrow everything is going to be jake. Guaranteed.” As she turned off the light, in my little room in my tiny bed, I suddenly felt light as a feather and as if it were the sunniest day on the warmest beach.

God was in his heaven, and all was jake with the world.

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