What's New

16th June 2016: The brand new version of the Steely Dan Dictionary is now available! This is the biggest change since I first launched the site back in 2000. Here's what's new:

  • Much-improved mobile-friendly site design
  • Refreshed and updated all existing site content and links
  • Added 12 new entries to the dictionary, including lyrics from Donald Fagen's last solo effort Sunken Condos. (Scroll down to see all the new entries listed on this page)

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

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Listing 12 new entries:

Shine up the battle apple / We'll shake 'em all down tonight / We're gonna mix in the street 
Song: Josie   Album: Aja

Fictional type of street weapon.

Unlike many other of Becker & Fagen's imaginary concoctions, we can be fairly sure about this one since Donald Fagen explicitly referenced it in a July 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal. Quote: "Walter and I both love inventing slang. For example, in 'Josie', there's a street gang using a weapon called the 'battle apple'. It sounded better than any real weapon we could think of."

What exactly a battle apple would look like is left up to the imagination of the listener.

Link: Wall Street Journal interview with Donald Fagen

Biscayne Bay / Where the Cuban gentlemen sleep all day
Song: Doctor Wu   Album: Katy Lied

A bay (technically a lagoon) located on Florida's Atlantic coast.

Biscayne Bay starts at Miami and stretches about 30 miles southwards, towards the Florida Keys. So there are plenty of places for the Cuban gentlemen to enjoy their nap!

Link: Discover Biscayne Bay

Color film of Castle Bravo / Girl you know that shot was huge
Song: Memorabilia   Album: Sunken Condos

Castle Bravo was the military codename for a 1954 US hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

The US carried out 23 such tests between 1946 and 1958, but Castle Bravo was by far the largest: roughly 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A huge shot indeed!

And yes, the lyrical references elsewhere in the song to the "island East of the Carolines" refer to the Bikini Atoll — as part of the Marshall Islands it is roughly east (more like north-east) of the Caroline Islands.

Link: YouTube: Colour film of Castle Bravo

When all my dime dancing is through / I run to you
Song: Aja   Album: Aja

An alternative name for "taxi dancing" — in other words, posing as a dance partner for pay.

Most popular in the 1920s in the United States, a typical setup in a taxi-dance hall saw male patrons purchase a ticket for 10 cents (i.e. a dime) which allowed them to dance with their choice of female partner for the duration of one song.

The female dancers in question were all employed by the dance hall & typically earned 5 cents out of the 10 cent ticket price, leading to their alternative nickname "nickel hoppers".

Two hundred barrel run / Trucked in from a brewery / In East Paterson
Song: Good Stuff   Album: Sunken Condos

A borough of New Jersey, a few miles from the city of Passaic (birthplace of Mr. Donald Fagen himself).

The name was changed to the more suburban-sounding Elmwood Park in the early 70s, which is why you won't find it on maps nowadays.

The song lyrics might be referring to Rialto Beer or Gilt Edge Ale, both of which were distributed by the Grand Union Company of East Paterson, though the actual brewery wasn't located there.

In a room right off the kitchen / There's an old gas centrifuge
Song: Memorabilia   Album: Sunken Condos

A device that allows different isotopes of a gas to be separated from each other.

A typical gas centrifuge is a tall metal cylinder, inside which an inner container rotates at high speed, using centrifugal force and convection currents to separate gas molecules of differing weights.

The primary use of a gas centrifuge is to separate uranium-235 atoms from uranium-238, in order to produce "enriched uranium", a key fuel for nuclear fission reactors and nuclear weapons.

Link: How the Gas Centrifuge Changed the Quest for Nuclear Weapons

Oh — congratulations / This is your Haitian Divorce
Song: Haitian Divorce   Album: The Royal Scam

A slang term for a "quickie" divorce.

During the 1970s in particular, Haiti became a popular overseas destination for divorcing Americans — because its laws allowed unilateral separations (where only one party is seeking divorce), unlike typical US state laws, which required both parties' consent.

The phenomenon no longer exists, due to less strict US divorce laws introduced in recent decades.

Link: The New York Times: A weekend in Haiti can include a divorce

You go to Lost Wages / Lost Wages (repeated background lyric)
Song: Show Biz Kids   Album: Countdown to Ecstasy

For this one, rather than write my own definition I'll just quote Walter Becker, who answered the question perfectly during an online chat with the BBC in March 2000: "Actually they are saying 'Go to Las Vegas'; but they are mispronouncing it in the way that Lenny Bruce used to mispronounce on purpose, saying 'lost wages'."

Link: Transcript of BBC online chat with Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 4th March 2000

When you need big lovin' / She never stops / Yes it's Monkey Time / Twenty-four-seven
Song: Planet D'Rhonda   Album: Sunken Condos

Reference to "The Monkey Time", a 1963 hit single by US R&B singer Major Lance.

The single reached #2 on the US R&B chart and #8 on the Hot 100. It was written by Curtis Mayfield — better known as a singer in his own right (most famously on the Superfly soundtrack in 1972).

Link: YouTube: Major Lance performing The Monkey Time

When she does the Philly Dog / I gotta have CPR
Song: Planet D'Rhonda   Album: Sunken Condos

A 1966 dance craze, referenced in several songs of the time including "Philly Dog" by The Mar-Keys, "Teach me the Philly Dog" by The Manhattans, and "Baby Do the Philly Dog" by The Olympics.

None of those songs were big hits at the time (although the Olympics' song found some cult success later in England's "Northern Soul" scene of the 1970s) and so the Philly Dog didn't reach the level of mainstream success of other dance crazes like the Twist or the Mashed Potato. However, it was successful enough to inspire some spin-off dances of its own, namely the Philly Freeze and the Philly Barracuda.

Link: Article from The Gettysburg Times, 16th March 1966

And I ankle downtown / To a hothouse in the Tenderloin
Song: Good Stuff   Album: Sunken Condos

Former nickname of a neighbourhood in New York City, which was known as an entertainment and red-light district in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The nickname came from a former police captain who allegedly said "I've been having chuck steak ever since I've been on the force, and now I'm going to have a bit of tenderloin" — referring to the increased level of bribery he expected to receive upon being assigned to this notoriously crime-ridden district. (Beef tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef available, also known as "filet mignon", "eye fillet" or "fillet steak".)

Although the name is no longer used in New York, there is nowadays a "Tenderloin" district in San Francisco which took its name from the NYC neighbourhood.

My Julie's in the chorus / On Mr. Ziegfield's stage
Song: Good Stuff   Album: Sunken Condos

Broadway producer and impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (1867-1932).

Best known for producing the Ziegfeld Follies, a long-running series of extravagant Broadway shows which ran from 1907 to 1931. He was also the original producer of the classic musical Show Boat, which debuted in 1927.

His fame even extended into movies — from the Oscar-winning 1936 biopic The Great Ziegfeld to 1941's Ziegfeld Girl and 1945's Ziegfeld Follies, the latter being a particularly star-studded affair, featuring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly among many others.

Note that Fagen in the song clearly says Zig-FIELD whereas the name is actually pronounced (and spelled) Zig-FELD. Whether this is an accidental mistake or deliberate misdirection is up to the listener to decide.

Link: Ziegfeld 101