another (long) naughty posting from GAT
george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Feb 15 18:35:32 UTC 2006
Taking a break from reading about lowlife in NYC in the early 19th
century, I've been reading a couple a couple of books on lowlife in NYC
in the early 20th century. I hear that there is also lowlife in NYC in
the early 21st century, but I wouldn't know. I actually lead quite a
sedate life. Really.
In any event: There was a group of do-gooders active in NYC in the
1900s through the 1920s known as the Committee of Fourteen; it sent
investigators into low dives and dens of iniquity to report on what they
found there. The Committee's papers are now at the NYPL. The
investigators wrote downnot only the low and vulgar behavior they
witnessed, but also the low
and vulgar language they heard.
I had hoped that I could verify the quotations below in the originals,
because I thought that the library here had their papers on microfilm, but
it turns out that we have the papers of the Committee of Fifteen, active
1900-1901. (We miss by just 1; damn!) It does not seem that the
papers of the Committee of Fourteen have been filmed. I had also hoped
that these passages would have given more antedatings than they do. But
there are a couple of nice ones, and otherwise at least they offer early
appearances of these expressions from the lips of the plain people of
New York. The citations give the page of the text where the quotation
appears, and the page and footnote number where it is sources and dated.
[“an obviously drunk” black woman speaking; the setting The West Side
Café, corner of Carmine & Minetta streets, in 1911 or 1912]
“Did you hear,” she asked the bartender, “that Sadie got ‘punched?’”
(Sadie had been arrested and taken to night court at Jefferson Market
Courthouse to “explain how it happened.”) . . . “About five minutes ago
the cop saidto me, ‘Beat it.’ But I said ‘You cocksucker! I can’t walk
feet are sore.’ He said, ‘Don’t you see Lennon coming?’ I said, ‘Fuck
>From investigator’s reports, Committee of Fourteen Papers, NYPL, box 28,
dated either August 26, 1911, February 6, 1912, or “May 191[2?]”; quoted
in Gerald W. McFarland, Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City
Neighborhood, 1898-1918, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,
c2001, p. 161. His footnote isn't clear as to which report this comes
from; the explanatory note within () regarding Sadie's problem is
“Punched” looks like a typo for “pinched”, but it’s not my typo.
“cocksucker” – HDAS (2a) = 1918, in the sense of a general term of abuse.
“Fuck Lennon” – HDAS (3a) = ca 1895, , ca 1915, &c.
The following are all from investigator’s reports, Committee of Fourteen
Papers, NYPL, as quoted in Pursuing Johns: Criminal Law Reform,
Defending Character, and New York City's Committee of Fourteen,
1920-1930, by Thomas C. Mackey. Columbus : Ohio State University Press,
They entered the sitting room and the women approached them, urging them
"to hurry up and get fucked as there were other men waiting." ***
Whitehouse reported that he sat on the edge of the bed and tried talking
with Hattie but "she kept saying hurry up I have got to go to the other
room[,] there is others who want to be fucked as well as you." (p. 41;
fn 24, p. 232) Box 28, “Investigator Reports, 1905-1915”), Committee of
Fourteen Papers, dated May 2, 1905.
At one point the madam asked Brewster, "dont you want to get fucked to?
[sic] and he said no. He explained to her that he was married only a
few months and that "I get all I want at home." Ever the salesperson,
the madam responded to his explanation by saying "Don't you know that a
change of pasture is good sometime?" (p. 42; fn 25, p. 232) Box 28,
“Investigator Reports, 1905-1915”), Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated
May 2, 1905.
“get fucked”/”be fucked” If I recall, we discussed here a while ago the
proposition that statements in which the man was the passive recipient
and the woman the active agent in fucking was a recent development.
Perhaps the posters who held that it was were not averring that it was
absolutely new, but merely that it was now a common formulation. In any
event, behold here, from 1905.
“a change of pasture” = This isn't in Jonathon Green's new slang
dictionary, but probably it can't be supposed to be a slang term with
the specific meaning of "a new woman".
Hattie then grabbed Huyurter and, as he wrote, she "opened my pants,
took out my pinas, examined closely, washed it off and told me friend I
am all right also; she layed on top of the bed exposing herself from
head to foot." (p. 42) (May 11, 1905; fn 27, p. 232) Box 28,
“Investigator Reports, 1905-1915”), Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated
May 11, 1905.
“pinas” = This isn't in the OED. If it is a misprint or a misreading of
the original, what can the correct word be?
Eddie reportedly boasted to the investigators that "This is the only
place in the precinct that is doing business, we have got the bears and
the bills fixed all right." *** He then urged the investigators to
come back the following day, saying we are going to fuck the police
tomorrow sure." (pp. 41-42; fns 28 & 29, p. 232) Box 28, “Investigator
Reports, 1905-1915”), Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated May 20, 1905.
“the bears and the bills” looks like a typo for “bears and bulls” – not
that that expression makes sense here -- but it’s not my typo. "Bulls"
could certainly = "cops"; "bills" = ??; "bears" = the magistrates?
“fuck the police” – HDAS 2c = 1866, 1927, 1932, &c.
>From reports of investigators of the Committee of Fourteen, referring to
The Friendly Inn, 116 Mott street.
"You want a lay, don't you?" (p. 44; fn 32, p. 233) (File “30th-45th
Streets”, “Investigator Reports, 1927-1929”), Committee of Fourteen
Papers, dated January 12, 1928.
“a lay” – HDAS 1b = 1928
She wanted to get started, "to play house," and led him into the
bedroom. (p. 45; fn 35, p. 233) Box 36 (File “50th-55th Streets”,
“Investigator Reports, 1927-1929”), Committee of Fourteen Papers, no
“play house” – HDAS 1959 (under “house”); OED lacks this sense, has the
sense of a children's game under II 17.
He asked her, "Do you French?" (street slang for oral sex) and she said,
"Yes, more than that." [The investigator] asked her what she meant and
she claimed to be a "three way girl." He asked her to be specific and
she explained, "the natural way, and up the rectum and french." [The
investigator asked] . . . "How do you manage through the back way?"
Vaseline was the solution, she informed him, but that her "friend was
too big." She added, "I like the small ones for the back way. I get a
wonderful kick out of it." (pp. 45-46; fn 36, p. 233) Box 36 (File
“50th-55th Streets”, “Investigator Reports, 1927-1929”), Committee of
Fourteen Papers, dated February 7, 1929.
“French” – HDAS 2a = 1923
“the back way” – HDAS = not found; to be considered a euphemism rather
than slang? But the investigators don't otherwise clean up their
informants talk, it seems.
“kick out of it” – HDAS 6s= [*1899], 1917, *1917, 1918 &c.
"three way girl" This sense of "three way" isn't in the OED.
>From a report on People vs. Alexander Williams: Blash’s questioning then
shifted from Williams to the unnamed woman.
“Where is the money you received?” he asked her. In response, she . . .
told the officer, “Go fuck yourself; it’s none of your damn business.”
(p. 73; fn 48, p. 240) Box 56 (File “Customer Cases”, “Customer Laws”),
Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated June 21, 1920.
“Go fuck yourself” – HDAS = [*1879], 1897, , 1920, &c. I was
rather hoping that this very useful expression would prove to have been
coined by this Brooklyn whore, but evidently not so; but perhaps she had
a role in popularizing it? Our Vice-President, I believe, learned the
expression at his mother's knee. But he was born in 1941, so. . . .
She could be his grandmother, I suppose.
Brewster closed his report by noting that as he was leaving at 1:10 AM,
Mamie turned to the two or three women in the sitting room and said,
"come girls[,] go to bed and be up at 8 o'clock ready to fuck like
hell." (p. 41; fn 22, p. 232) Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated May
She agreed to service both men in the room, adding, "$15, and I
swallow." (p. 45; fn. 33, p. 233) Box 36 (File “30th-45th Streets”,
“Reports, 1927-1929”), Committee of Fourteen Papers, dated February 13,
George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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