''The Language of Flowers"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Jan 9 21:31:24 UTC 2005

The Drexels were a family at the pinnacle of Philadelphia society during the mauve decade.


Jonathon Green <slang at ABECEDARY.NET> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Jonathon Green
Subject: Re: ''The Language of Flowers"

My partner and fellow slang researcher Susie Ford has read Scully's /The
Scarlet Pansy/ in search of citations. While it may have been set in the
late 19C/early 20C, there seems little doubt that the language used,
while often representing an early or even first use of a given word, is
that of 1920s/30s. For example 'swap spit', 'mantee', 'chichi', 'femme'
(in this case an effeminate homosexual man) and 'brown', as one of
several deliberately 'gay' names, e.g Elsie Dike, in this case as
follows: 'There was an elegant Miss Drexel-Bütsch of Philadelphia; also
there were the Brown-Bütsches of New Rochelle (very classy indeed), and
a whole Bütsch-Fuchs family in New York'; the obvious 'butch' and
'fucks' aside, I would also suggest that drexel = Yiddish 'dreck' =

As for the 'language of flowers', she, like Tom Dalzell, saw it as a
reference backwards to Victoriana, rather than presaging the
handkerchief codes of the 1970s. That said, it may be that both Tom and
Ron Butters are right; that the 'language of flowers' was that which was
already in place in other contexts, here adopted/adapted by gay men for
their own signaling requirements.

Tomorrow she is going to check it again (it is in the British Library)
and if anything of interest emerges, comment accordingly.

Jonathon Green

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