flips and gasmeters

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Mar 8 08:13:55 UTC 2001

Now I've listened to the "Slim and Slam" piece in question.

I note that Slim Gaillard was noted for his invention of words and even of
a "language" ("Vout"). So maybe it's no surprise that the slang is opaque.

[Slim and Slam are remembered for some heavy-handed ethnic impressions,
some of which I just listened to: "Chinatown, My Chinatown", "African
Jive", "Vol Vistu Gaily Star" (Spanish? Portuguese?) ... "Matzoh Balls"
seems to be simply about food though (matzoh balls [with horseradish],
gefilte fish).]

In "A Tip on the Numbers" (as I heard it), Slam asks Slim (or maybe vice
versa) up front for "a couple of gasmeters", and Slim offers "a deuce of
flips" as I understand it. Slam insists on gasmeters, then Slim brightens
up, saying that he just got his welfare check ("That's killer ... better
cash it ... got to get on that number ..." or so).

In this context, my earlier speculation (flip = $5, gasmeter = ?$1000)
doesn't seem appropriate.

I offer another unsupported speculation: "flip" = "coin" (obvious
derivation), "gasmeter" = "banknote" (perhaps a nonsense alteration of
"shinplaster"?). The distinction would be "small change" versus "folding
money" (still perhaps only a few dollars). No specific denominations need
to be assumed.

The problem with taking "flip" and "gasmeter" to denote different specific
units of money is that one must be very much larger than the other for the
exchange to seem reasonable. If (say) the meanings were "dime" and
"quarter" respectively then the request would be for 50 cents, with a
counteroffer of 20 cents which is rebuffed. This doesn't seem plausible; I
would expect "Thanks, I'll bet the 20 cents" or else "Couldn't you make it
30 or 40 cents?" or something like that. I can't see an offer of -- say --
2-10 cents being qualified as "killer" even among poor folks in 1940; on
the other hand, a 1940 welfare check probably was no great fortune. I might
picture the offer as being on the order of 50 cents (two quarters) and the
request being for something like $10-$20.

Those who are a little older than I am might have a better feel for this.

-- Doug Wilson

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