NPR’s Linton Weeks has a great story on lost American slang from the 1800s, something right up my alley as I write Emmett’s story.
Weeks cites James Maitland’s 1891 Dictionary of American Slang, which you can download for your very own, here, via Google Books. It is an awesome read — and yes, I admit that I like to read dictionaries on occasion. This one is only about 300 pages long, quite readable, well written, and amusing.
As I flipped through it, I tried to image Emmett using these phrases with his friends in conversation. I’ve seen a number of the slang highlighted in this dictionary in Emmett’s contemporary media (his college newspaper, The Pensacola Evening News and The Pensacola Journal), so it seems logical he’d have used these phrases in casual conversation, too.
- “Some pumpkins.” This refers to something being a very big deal.
- “Bags of mystery.” Sausages. Indeed!
- “Ben.” Abbreviation for ‘Benjamin’, a term for an overcoat.
- “Chucker-out.” A bouncer.
- “Corinthian.” A man about town.
- “Draw one in the dark.” An order for a cup of coffee in a restaurant.
- “Eagle.” A $10 gold coin.
- “Freeze-out.” A variety of the game of Poker.
- “Gape-seed.” Something to look at.
- “Gingham.” An umbrella.
- “Grass widow.” A divorcee.
The book is interesting in how certain words were seen/interpreted over 100 years ago. For example:
Here’s a few other entries for your entertainment:
I could go on, because I love to read dictionaries and study the language of Emmett’s time, but you can read it/download it for yourself!
Be warned that there is offensive and racist terminology reflective of the time period in the book as well.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus