"fork *up*" (July 1837), and other slang

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Mon Mar 1 22:02:05 UTC 2010

> I wouldn't call it a send-up, just a diverting exercise.
> Cf.: "A rag-happy skivvy-waver and a rock-happy bellhop were chipping the
> ivories with a zoomie and a doughfoot.

Ah, but a guess, I'd place that as a post-1900 pastiche.  I have A Theory as
to why the world changes in 1900.  <g>

Matsell's was a diverting exercise, sure (but we're talking about the author
of "A Hundred Stretches Hence", which manages to sew together Villon,
Blackwood's Magazine, and contemporary cant about fifty years before Henley
gains fame and fortune for that very thing in "Villon's Straight Tip to All
Cross Coves") but what impresses me is the way Matsell starts from a base of
strict Harman cant terms (which form the dominant linguistic markers at the
start) and later modulates (after the passage I quote) into contemporary NY

That, and the register-jumping, both *between cant and non-cant registers,
and *within the cant register.

It's possible I over-rate Matsell here, as elsewhere, but anyone who managed
to alienate quite so many different constituencies, from Ike Rynders at one
end of the spectrum to the Abolitionist Movement on the other, and survived
a sustained hate campaign by the New York Times over a period of years, and
*still ended up back in charge of the New York Police, had to have something
going for him.

He might have been 300 lbs of blubber and malice (but look what happened to
Mike Walsh), but he was anything but dumb.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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