What's New

3rd September 2018: To mark the one-year anniversary of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker's untimely passing, this latest update to the Steely Dan Dictionary adds 10 new entries, all taken from Walter's pair of much-admired solo albums: 11 Tracks of Whack (1994) and Circus Money (2008). Simply scroll down this page to see all the new entries.

Thanks to those who've written to me over the last few years with input & suggestions. Keep the feedback coming, folks — even without any new albums on the horizon, there's still plenty of uncracked code in the Steely Dan lexicon! Visit the Feedback page to send your suggestions for future dictionary entries.

Also, you can enter your email address below to receive notification when this site is updated in future. (No spam, I promise!)

   Add    Remove  

Listing 10 new entries:

Alsatian wine / Playing records way past four / Making some crazy soulful love on the hard wood floor
Song: Downtown Canon   Album: Circus Money

Referring to wine made in the Alsace region of France — more commonly referred to as simply "Alsace wine" (or Vin d'Alsace in French).

Located along the border between France and Germany, control of the region of Alsace has ping-ponged between the two countries over the centuries, so it's no surprise that wine from the region is Germanic in style: 90% of production being white wine, dominated by Germanic grape varieties like Gewurztraminer and Riesling, though usually drier than their sweet German counterparts.

Link: New York Times: Alsatian Wines Strike a Balance of Dry and Sweet

It's raining boxcars that's for sure / From Bakersfield to Elsinore
Song: Lucky Henry   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

Bakersfield is a city in California, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Its population is approximately 365,000, making it the ninth-most populous city in California.

To the outside world, it's probably best known as the birthplace of the country music genre known as the "Bakersfield sound", of whom Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are the most successful proponents.


There's a place way down in Brentwood / Out to Georgio's we all g'wine
Song: Selfish Gene   Album: Circus Money

City in California, located approximately 60 kilometres east of San Francisco.

Its population has mushroomed from 23,000 in 2001 to an estimated 60,000 at present — no doubt entirely due to it being namechecked in this song!

And in case you're wondering, there's no evidence of there ever having been a restaurant/bar/whatever by the name of Giorgio's anywhere in the city.

Link: City of Brentwood official website

You met that half-crazed painter fool in some damn bar / Cocaine dreams and chiba-chiba nights
Song: Downtown Canon   Album: Circus Money

Slang term for marijuana, also spelt "cheeba cheeba" or shortened to one word (i.e. "chiba" or "cheeba").

The term emerged in the early 80s but is less commonly used now. Two theories exist for its etymology: a variant on "chiva", a Spanish slang word for heroin — or alternatively from the acronym CIBA, the abbreviated name of Swiss pharmaceutical company Chemical Industry Basel, whose initials are found stamped on many types of prescription pills. (Hence it's not hard to envisage how it ended up as a generic slang term for drugs.)

There's a Cobra Gunship for his golden boy / And a Hello Kitty for his pride and joy
Song: Book Of Liars   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

The Bell AH-1 Cobra military attack helicopter.

In general terms, a "gunship" is a military aircraft armed with heavy guns, primarily intended for attacking ground targets. The term originated in the 19th century to refer to heavily armed battleships, but in the 20th century became primarily associated with aircraft instead.

The Cobra (also called the HueyCobra or Snake) was introduced in 1965 and was the backbone of the United States Army's attack helicopter fleet from the Vietnam War until the first Gulf War, eventually being replaced by the Apache in the 1990s.

Link: Lone Star Flight Museum: Cobra gunship

It's raining boxcars that's for sure / From Bakersfield to Elsinore
Song: Lucky Henry   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

Lake Elsinore, a city in California, located about 70 miles south-east of Los Angeles with a population of 64,000.

Originally named simply Elsinore after the Danish city in Shakespeare's Hamlet (Helsingør in Danish), the city was renamed "Lake Elsinore" in the early 1970s in an attempt to boost its profile as a lakeside resort town.

Link: City of Lake Elsinore official website

Out to Georgio's we all g'wine / The maitre d's gonna take care of everything / He's a personal friend of mine
Song: Selfish Gene   Album: Circus Money

Also spelt "gwine", this is simply a slang term for "going" or "going to", used as a declaration of intent.

The word originated from Gullah, which is a creole (or pidgin) language spoken among some African-American communities in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the 19th century (and still today, to varying extents).

As the word crossed over from Gullah to vernacular English, it stayed within a similar geographic region — so you're unlikely to hear it very often outside the Southern United States.

Who will choke on my lachrymose musings? / Who will eat my zero dust?
Song: Darkling Down   Album: Circus Money

An adjective describing something that stimulates feelings of tearfulness — or someone who is easily moved to tears.

The word first appeared in English in the early 18th century, and comes from the equivalent Latin word lacrimosus (which in turn comes from the noun lacrima, meaning "teardrop"). From the same root, the lachrymal glands are the scientific name for the glands which produce tears.

Stanyan Street looking like that third world war / You come up blazing like an open sore 
Song: Junkie Girl   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

A street in San Francisco.

Running north-south for approximately 1 mile through the centre of the city, the street forms both the western boundary of the Haight-Ashbury district and the eastern boundary of Golden Gate Park.

Named after Charles H. Stanyan, a city supervisor in the late 19th century, the thoroughfare has also been immortalised in the title of Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, a 1966 poetry collection by American poet and singer-songwriter Rod McKuen.

Link: Stanyan Street poem by Rod McKuen

Electrons dancing in the frozen crystal dawn / Here's one left stranded at the zero crossing 
Song: Book Of Liars   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

In mathematics, the point at which a function crosses the horizontal axis — in other words, as its value passes through zero and changes sign (from positive to negative or vice versa).

Zero crossings have great relevance in electronics (presumably why electrons are also mentioned in the lyric). For example, in alternating current, the voltage is exactly 0 volts at each zero crossing, which happens twice per cycle and hence lends itself to being used in timing circuits. They are also important in switching circuits, as turning on or off devices at a zero crossing avoids abrupt changes in voltage, hence minimising the risk of overheating and other problems.