They Don't Speak Our Language; Amazon follies (continued)

Mike Salovesh salovesh at NIU.EDU
Mon Dec 6 09:47:45 UTC 1999


H.T. Webster's recurrent captions for his well-known cartoons are deeply
embedded in American English, and I'm glad to see him get the credit he
so richly deserves.

David Maurer, however, also deserves credit.  I believe that many of the
underworld words from page 30, col. 2 came from Maurer's work with
Federal prisoners at Lexington, Ky.  That's where Maurer collected the
language of confidence men, and the fantastic stories that went with it,
that appears in his "The Big Con".  (Yes, "The Big Con" is the book
Hollywood plagiarized for the plot and the details of "The Sting".)

Check Maurer's "Language of the underworld", which republishes some of
his early articles that antedate the citation from H.T. Webster.

I'd cite chapter and verse if I could get at my copy of Maurer's book.
Unfortunately, it's hopelessly buried in the crates where I jammed the
books I used to keep on campus.  Half a semester into my retirement, I
was given ten days' notice to empty my old office, so that it could be
converted into classroom space.  I simply wasn't ready for that: Just a
month before, I had been assured that I would continue sharing that
office for at least a year or two with the colleague with whom I had
shared space for twenty years.  (She got bumped, too, into something
called an office that looks more like a broom closet -- it's all of
eight feet wide.)  Everything got jammed into whatever boxes and crates
I could find, moved to our house in several trips with a large, borrowed
pickup truck, and dumped here with no plans and no real accomodation.
Most of those things have now been standing on my front porch for a year
as I slowly create space for the contents of two or three crates each
month.  I'm still angry at the shabby treatment, but what the hell.

Let's not be that kind of shabby with Maurer's classic work!

-- mike salovesh      <salovesh at>     PEACE !!!

Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
>      On of the interesting articles I've spotted in my scan of the
> Reader's  Digest is "They Don't Speak Our Language," by H. T. Webster,
> January 1934, pages 29-31, reprinted from Forum, December 1933.  On
> page 112, it's  explained about the author:  "Besides his Timid Soul
> and They Don't Speak Our Language series, the cartoonist has several
> other recurrent captions which have become almost household phrases,
> such as 'Life's Darkest Moment,' 'The Thrill That Comes Once in a
> Lifetime,' 'The Boy Who Made Good,' 'How to Torture Your Wife,' etc."
>      This is from page 30, col. 2:
>      I'll give you the glossary and you can roll your own story.
> Peterman-safeblower; keister-suit case; power-explosive; case the
> joint-looks over the place; skeletons in-uses skeleton keys;
> soup-nitroglycerin; jug-safe; dark horse-night watchman; gun-crook;
> bangster-drug addict; snowed up-full of dope; gives the heat-shoots;
> heap-auto; gander-lookout; calling cards-finger prints; crib-safe;
> mobster-crook; rapped-sentenced; hot squat-electric chair; lip-lawyer;
> spring-free; lying in state-imprisoned; dance hall-death house.

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