The Sanas, Jazz, Jazz and Teas

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sun Jan 30 06:57:54 UTC 2005

On Sat, 29 Jan 2005 20:40:54 -0800, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:

>Ah, Doug, Doug.  So innocent. As recently as the 1950s - make that the
>1960s - in fact, up till the late '70s if I recall correctly, the
>censorship of certain words was still so strong that no TV show in prime
>time or later would or could transmit any colloquialism that had a
>well-known sexual or scatological meaning, unless, as in the exx. you
>suggest, no simple synopnym ws available.  You may recall the more recent
>minor uproar in far more permissive times, the early '90s, when the word
>"sucks" = "stinks" was broadcast for apparently the first time on network
>TV.  Nothing came of the protests, but they were widely and seriously
>reported. (Nobody had ever objected to "stinks," so far as I know.)

>From _The Philadelphia Story_ (1940):

   Dinah: This stinks.
   Margaret: Don't say 'stinks,' darling. If absolutely necessary,
   'smells' - but only if absolutely necessary.

Coincidentally enough, I recently noticed this bit of dialogue from
another 1940 classic, _His Girl Friday_:

   Walter: Handle him with kid gloves. Put him to work writing poetry.
   No, no, we don't want him. Just stall him along till the Extra's
   out. Then tell him his poetry smells and kick him down the stairs.

That struck me as a euphemistic substitution for "his poetry stinks",
which seemed odd coming from the hard-boiled newsman Walter Burns (Cary
Grant's character).

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list