The Steely Dan Dictionary
30th June 2020 — 20th anniversary update

10 new entries have just been added to the dictionary, to mark 20 years since this website was first created in June 2000.


Donald Fagen and Walter Becker Ever wondered what a bodhisattva is? Or how to gaslight somebody? Then this website is for you! You're looking at an A-Z glossary of over 140 obscure words, people and places — all taken from the lyrics of Steely Dan songs.

The creative genii behind Steely Dan (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) have long been fond of peppering their lyrics with arcane literary and cultural references, the meaning of which can be murky at best (given the duo's legendary reticence). After searching in vain for an explanatory lexicon, I decided to create my own — the result being this website, which was first launched in June 2000.

Note that this is almost entirely a dictionary of real-life people and places. Becker and Fagen also concoct fictional names, objects and locales for many of their songs (Hoops McCann, Anne de Siecle and Steamer Heaven to name but three), and because of their imaginary nature, it's impossible to pin down an exact definition, so I have deliberately excluded them from this site. There are a very small number of exceptions to this "no neologisms" rule — for example, Custerdome and battle apple — but only for cases where Becker or Fagen have provided a clear and unambiguous definition for these words during an interview.

It may also be obvious that this site is mainly for the benefit of non-Americans — I'm sure most Yanks would know where TJ is and what IHOP does, but for myself (an Irishman) and for the rest of the world, it's not quite so intuitive. Though even if you were born and bred in the USA, you might be able to learn a thing or two here — how many Americans know where Lhasa is, or how to mix a zombie?

Final note: I'm always looking for new ideas on how to improve this site — please visit the Feedback page to send me your comments, suggestions or corrections. Enjoy!

Dan O'Malley
Dublin, Ireland