How to Speak American

Found in the 1919 volume of the British literary miscellany Today is a beetle3bfascinating disquisition on the American use of English by the journalist J.M.C. Hampson, himself an American Anglophile. He begins his piece with a fragment of American dialogue followed by its translation:

“ Well, Dana, how do you stack- up this morning? “

“ Oh, sickabed.”

“Is that so? What’s on your system?”

“Oh, had a row with the Vrow; and look at that.” He pointed to the calendar on the wall in front of him, on which appeared in bold figures “Friday, 23.”

“Good Lord! 23—-skiddoo! Ugh! No wonder. Well, so long, I must be on my way. See you later.”

This being translated into English means that I called in at the office of my friend Dana Howard, said “Good morning “ , asked him how he felt, was informed that everything was all wrong, and that the proper place for him was in bed, that he had started the morning by an argument with his wife, and that he had just realised that it was Friday the 23rd. Be it understood that to an American 23 is the zero mark, and when it crops up all one can say is “skidoo”, meaning “get out of here”, or “away with it “; and if Friday falls on the 23rd it is even worse than Friday the 13th.All good Americans of the cities, at any rate, walk very warily before the Lord that day and pray that nothing untoward will happen . “So long “ as a substitute for au revoir is, of course, frequently used in England. Continue reading

A right hanky-spanky ad, and no mistake !

harriss-slap-up-shop-advert-001Discovered in that garden of visual delights, The Saturday Book (1960 ) is this quite extraordinary advert concocted by a working man’s outfitter by the name of Harris sometime in the mid nineteenth century. The copy is almost entirely composed of contemporary slang and cant terms. Harris’s three shops were all in central London   locations, which might suggest that some of the colloquialisms were Cockney rhyming slang, or at least slang that was restricted to the capital and its environs. A few of the terms have survived to this day ( ’ slap up ‘, is excellent, as in slap up meal; ‘no-go’, as in not accepted ; cords, for corduroys; ‘grabbed the chance’; ‘out and out ‘; ‘tick’ for credit; ‘crib’ for home; ‘swag’ for booty), while others have been lost for ever. Who the hell are Tea Kettle Purgers and Head Robbers? What was the Swan Stream and the ‘Melton Mowbray style ‘? Something to do with fox hunting, perhaps? Are ‘Trotter Cases’ shoes?

Some items of clothing advertised are self-explanatory ( moleskins, doeskins ),but others must be hunted down. I almost gave up on ‘broady’ until I found it online as meaning broadcloth. My reprinted Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811) was slightly more useful. The word ‘Quid ‘, meaning a a sovereign, dates from around 1688; to a Regency buck, however, it was a guinea, as was a ‘canary’ ; a ‘bob’ was a shilling and a ‘kick’ was a sixpence, though pluralised it meant breeches or trousers, as did kicksies. But the Slang Dictionary made no mention of Mud Pipes, Box Cloths, Plushes, Pilots, and Upper Benjamins. Perhaps these were of Victorian or purely Cockney origin. [RR]

 

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A to Z of Zowie (Hippy Slang)

Found in an old Sunday Observer colour supplement from December 1967 this glossary of (then) very recent hippy and 'underground' slang, apparently known as 'Zowie.' In Britain 'Zowie' is mostly associated with David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie (born 1971) now known as Duncan Jones...For a comprehensive online dictionary of hippy slang check out Skip Stone's Hippy Glossary. Since the Summer of Love some of the words below have entered the language (groovy, happening, trip, vibrations, riff) and some like 'Zowie' itself and 'grey' have had very little currency. Slang authority Eric Partridge imported most of Peter Fryer's glossary into later editions of his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
A TO Z OF 'ZOWIE' Peter Fryer offers a selective glossary of the Underground.

acid/LSD. Acid-head/one who uses LSD.
be-in/hippy meeting.
bread/money.
bust/police search, raid.
cool/unruffled, admirable (but see groovy); not carrying illegal drugs.
crazy/admirable.
dig/understand. Diggers/idealist hippies undermining capitalist economies by giving away free clothes, washing-machines to needy.
drag/bore, dissapointment.
drop-out/one who opts out of society.
flip/arouse enthusiasm. F. one's wig/lose one's head.
Flower Power/from Flower Children or Beautiful People.
Revolutionary philosophy akin to ideas of Young Liberals, e.g. Make Love Not War. Characteristic: bell.
freak/arouse or share collective enthusiasm (freak-out).
fuzz/police.
gig/single paid performance.
grey/middle-aged, conventionally dressed/minded person (orig. US Negro term for a white).
groove/make good progress, co-operate.
groovy/admirable, sexually attractive.
happening/spontaneous eruption of feeling/ display.
hippy/product of Haight-Ashbury ('Hashbury') dist. of S. Francisco. Anarchic successors to Beat generation. Essential beliefs: protest, legalised drugs, opting out. Not to be confused with plastic hippies/mostly conventional youth who like to dress up at weekend.
hung up/annoyed.
love-in/gathering associated with groovy scene.
mind-blowing/ecstasy producing.
naturals/non-hip people.
plug-in/turn or switch on.
psychedelic/mind-expanding. Psychedelia/drugs, flashing lights, sound, colour, movies, dance – usually experienced simultaneously.
riff/repeated background phrase in music.
scene/Underground, or specific part of it.
stoned/very high on cannabis.
straight/conventional person, one who does not use cannabis.
teeny-bopper/anything from 11–16–average age of record-buying public.
think-in/poetry session, discussion group.
trip/LSD experience.
turned on/(1) accustomed to cannabis. (2) aware.
UFO/(pronounced 'yoofo'). Unlimited Freak Out – a hippy club.
vibrations/atmosphere; reactions, with sexual overtones.
Zowie/a new import from San Francisco, meaning hippy language.
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Pickpockets

Found in the Haining collection - this article from 1936 on pickpockets. The author Louis Mansfield has much advice,most still relevant. The bit about a 'dip's' long, tapering fingers may be fanciful but certainly it is not a profession for one with fat fingers...

PEARSON'S WEEKLY, May 30, 1936

THIS IS DERBY WEEK, SO

WATCH YOUR POCKETS!

Pickpockets will be busy among the crowds. It is their best time of the year. Louis C. S. Mansfield, detective and crime investigator, lets you into secrets of the "dip's" profession – and they have some good ones. You have been warned!

TAKE HIS ADVICE–

  I have worked against pickpockets for years. Here's my advice to you if you want to return home with your notecase.
  Be careful when you see men carrying, and not wearing, their overcoats, or holding newspapers which are open–not folded.
  Grab your wallet quickly if a stranger starts brushing paint or dust off your coat.
  If somebody hits you on the back and says "Sorry," look for a touch in front–because you won't feel it.

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