Chicago Defender: "Back Door Stuff"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Dec 17 14:13:51 UTC 2005

Gator, it's groovy !  Many of these reappear years later in _Dan Burley's Handbook of Harlem Jive_ (1944). (There was a first ed. in 1943 that I haven't been able to get hold of.)


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Chicago Defender: "Back Door Stuff"

Now that the Chicago Defender is online, one feature worthy of
investigation is "Back Door Stuff," a column written by Dan Burley
from late 1935 to early 1937 (when he switched to a sports column,
"Talkin' Out Loud"). The columns are full of descriptions of Chicago
nightlife, and in several of them Burley provides entries for what he
calls "Back Door's Revised Dictionary." Below are the definitions I
came across -- notable entries include "fly", "gettin' my kicks", and
"scarf" ('eat' OED/MWCD 1960).

May 2, 1936, p. 23/4, Doc ID 745705882
Hoist-man -- Holdup or stickup man.
Bottle squad -- Police detailed to arrest drunks.
Bottle gang -- Group to which belong the "lush heads."
Boigal -- Two genders in one person.

May 9, 1936, p. 23/5, Doc ID 761158162
The slammer -- 48th St. jail.
Cut out -- To leave.
Treading the shorts -- Walking up and down 47th St.
Copper -- Not a policeman, but a continual liar (Bennie's is full of 'em --Ed.).
Fly -- When something looks very okay.
Milk-fed -- Term applied to real "mellow chicks."

May 16, 1936, p. 19/7, Doc ID 761163622
Gettin' my kicks -- Padding down with "tea."
Headquarters -- What broke politicians open.
In bondage -- Held by Israelites for ransom.
Out West -- Not a vacation, but a sojourn in Ft. Leavenworth.

June 6, 1936, p. 23/7, Doc ID 745713162
"Brace of chollies" -- Two bucks.
"Bur-heads" -- Same as "Black~heads."
"Tarrapin" -- Same as above.

June 27, 1936, p. 10/2, Doc ID 761174732
"Twister to the slammer" -- Meaning key to the door.
"Demon" -- A dime.
"Stallion" -- Taxicab used by "cowboys" on the boulevards.

July 4, 1936, p. 10/1, Doc ID 761180952
"On a Zoom" -- Methods wherein gets by free of charge.
"Sportsman" -- One with no visible means of support.
"Cannon" -- Robber with a gun.

July 25, 1936, p. 22/1, Doc ID 761205292
"Squatter" -- one who tries to outsit the other Boy Friend.
"Scarf" -- meaning to dine; act of doing the same.
"Hustle Shirt" -- Polo shirts worn by 55th street "sportsmen," and others.

Aug 29, 1936, p. 18/8, Doc ID 761588902
"Chick-o-cile" -- Place where all girls live. A dormitory.
"Hennery" -- Place peopled mostly by elderly dames.

Oct 31, 1936, p. 26/7, Doc ID 745721422
Mints -- Telephone slugs.
Brimmer -- A heavy drinker.
Hit -- To ask, obtain, to get.
Layer -- A dollar, from the Italian "lire."

Nov 7, 1936, p. 6/2, Doc ID 761638272
To your dictionary add the word "Glow Boy." From much research around
the stroll and stem we deduce it means "one who seeks the bright
lights; one who, like a moth, flutters where e'er there be light."

--Ben Zimmer

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