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

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Aug 28 02:04:32 UTC 2021

If anyone is interested, I have posted a draft of my piece on the origin 
of "Zilch."


------ Original Message ------
From: "Peter Reitan" <pjreitan at hotmail.com>
To: "American Dialect Society" <ADS-L at listserv.uga.edu>
Sent: 8/26/2021 6:08:09 PM
Subject: Antedating "Zilch" (1954) and "Joe Zilch" (1922) and the 
original "Joe Zilch" identified

>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 1.
>[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 1.
>[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]

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