[Ads-l] Antedating "Zilch" (1954) and "Joe Zilch" (1922) and the original "Joe Zilch" identified

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 27 01:08:09 UTC 2021

Etymonline.com has "zilch," meaning zero or nothing, from 1957.

Antedated to 1954.
Baltimore Evening Sun, July 5, 1954, page 27.
[Excerpt] The latest okay slang word among sports in the Maryland Air 
National Guard is "zilch," which means "nothing."[End excerpt]

I saw a reference from 1950 referring to the word "Zilch" (capitalized) 
as slang, but the meaning is not given.  It may be a reference to the 
earlier usage of "Joe Zilch," as a placeholder name or generic person 
like John Doe, Joe Blow or John Q. Public.

It is well known that "Joe Zilch" dates to at least the first issue of 
Ballyhoo Magazine in 1931.

Etymonline, without giving any citation to a reference, suggests that 
the usage may date to as early as 1922, as "college or theater slang."  
They were right about 1922, but not about its being college or theater 
slang, or at least not initially.

Walter Winchell wrote a regular feature called "Joe Zilch's Diary" that 
first appeared in Variety in 1926, but which may have been used earlier 
in his New York Evening Graphic column, that I have not seen.  The first 
time it appears in variety, they mention that he has been writing the 
column previously, but without saying how early.

Another columnist in Variety used the name "Joe Zilch" as a placeholder 
in 1925.

A columnist called Nunnally Johnson used the name regularly in the 
Brooklyn Daily Eagle beginning as early as December 30, 1923.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 30, 1923, page 5.
[Excerpt]The prize [(the Bok Peace Prize)] is going to be awarded to 
Joseph Zilch of 456 Mermaid ave., Fond du Lac., Wis., who will tell a 
reporter for the Fond du Lac Tribune that he is a home boy; that he 
entered the contest only because some of his friends were insistent . . 
. .[End excerpt]

A month later, Joseph Zilch's address is given as 42 Palmetto Street, 
BAton Rough, Louisiana.  A few days later, Joseph Zilch is the manager 
of a grocery store on Pearl Street.  A day later, he's a well known 
"commentator on Congressional actions" from Girard, Alabama.

All of those uses appear to have borrowed the name from a vaudevillian 
name Frank Tinney, who is known to have used the name in an Arthur 
Hammerstein show called "Daffy Dill" in 1922.  The name and detailed 
description of the bit it was used in in that show were published in 
reviews of the show.  Tinney was apparently known to have regularly used 
the name previous to that show, as the name of characters he referred to 
on stage, but who never appeared on stage.

Several years after "Daffy Dill," some entertainment reporters were 
apparently aware that Frank Tinney had taken the name from a man named 
Joseph Zilch, who was the husband of a woman named Ida May Chadwick, the 
"champion woman buck and wing dancer of the world."  Decades later, when 
Joseph Zilch died, his obituary in his hometown newspaper wrote about 
his reputation as the man who inspired the expression, "Joe Zilch," and 
gave a description of the circumstances in which it happened.  His 
family claimed it happened in the Chestnut Theater in Philadelphia when 
his wife (and perhaps he) were appearing on the same bill as Tinney.

That claim is consistent with the historical record.  In 1919, Tinney 
appeared in an Arthur Hammerstein show called, "Some Time," and Ida May 
Chadwick was in the cast.  (Tinney took over the role for the touring 
company from Ed Wynn, who had played the role on Broadway.)  They did a 
several week stand at the Chestnut Theater in Philadelphia.  She and her 
husband lived across the river in Camden, so he may have been there as 
well.  He was a car, truck and automotive parts salesman in Camden, 
reportedly opening his own business there in about 1918, after having 
worked in Philadelphia in the same line of business for about a decade.

But he was also a sometime, small-time vaudevillian - there is an item 
about Joe Zilch joining the Chadwick Trio (his wife's act with her 
parents) in 1913.  An item in a Camden newspaper reports about their 7th 
anniversary in 1920, so the dates of their getting together align with 
their anniversary.

In any case, the circumstances described in 1953 align with the actual 
circumstances in 1919.  The stories suggest Tinney used the name "Joe 
Zilch" in an ad-lib, people laughed, and he kept the bit, or something 
like it, in his act.

In 1922, in the show "Daffy Dill," "Joseph Zilch" is the name of a dead 
man.  His widow strikes up a conversation with the coachman on the way 
home from the funeral.  The coachman recognizes the name "Joseph Zilch" 
as the name of the man who stole his first love away from him.  She 
recognizes the coachman as her first love - and they reunite.

New York Times, August 27, 1922, section 6 (Drama, Music, Fashion), page 
[Excerpt]But the high peak of the evening is when he comes on with 
Marion Sunshine and sings the sad romance of “The Coachman and the 
Widow.” This sweet ballad has a rather involved scenario about a widow 
who is driving away from the burial services of her husband (the late 
Joseph Zilch) when, in the coachman she recognizes an old sweetheart of 
hers.[End Excerpt]

The Tampa Tribune, September 28, 1924, page 13.
[Excerpt] TINNEY (the Coachman): “Joseph Zilch?  He was my boyhood 
friend, but he stole from me the woman to who I was bequeathed to.  Tell 
me, what did Joseph die from?
THE WIDDER: “It was a wreck.  In going, he left me penniless.  I didn’t 
know what I was going to do until I met you just now.  Silas, you loved 
me once – ”
TINNEY: “I do love you still, Imogene Merriweather.  Here, here, hear 
what I have to say. (Plucking chrysanthemum.) Take this begonia.  And 
never let it be said that a coachman did not treat you – hansom.”[End 

New York Times, August 27, 1922, section 6 (Drama, Music, Fashion), page 
[Excerpt]“Oh, give me back my husband,”
   The wretched widow cried,
As from her carriage window
   She stuck her head outside.
“Whoa!” yelled the coachman,
   And stopped his horses fleet,
And with these words consoled her,
   As he lit down from his seat:

“Driving down the avenue
   In my horse and carriage,
Sometimes to a funeral,
   Sometimes to a marriage.
Sounds of laugher, sounds of tears
   Mix with the noise of the wheels.
Although I am only a coachman
  I know how a broken heart feels!”[End Excerpt]

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

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