Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Archaeology of the Page, Test 2

Continuing from yesterday's post, drawing from Mae West's novel, Babe Gordon (1930), reprinted as The Constant Sinner. Let's poke around some more, shall we?

Take the two individual words I've circled: "bombarded" and "barrage." These are military terms, specificially concepts in the use of massed artillery, here used as metaphors, Babe and Cokey Jenny being the targets, men in the boxing audience firing verbal shells at them. Source of inspiration? The Great War of 1914-1918, specifically trench warfare on the Western Front.

As for the phrase "former business acquaintances," it's an almost comical mobster-themed eupemism, still widely used in the early 21st century, along with an alternate version: "former business associates."

Other themes of interest: "gave them all the glad-eye," "good-natured guying."

"The girls were suddenly the centre of curious attention and the target of wise-cracks." 

Note here that "centre" is spelled in the British manner; "wise-cracks" is a term (now usually spelled without a dash) that came into use in the 1920s, though its compound elements had been in circulation for centuries. Compare wisenheimer, wiseacre, smarty-pants, smart aleck, wise guy and wiseass -- all of which I've heard in my lifeftime at one point or another. Even the use of the word "girls" for women continues, albeit with, maybe, more awareness of its deliberate sauciness, right into the present century. "Molls" and "dames" are more time-specific to Prohibition, but they continued "in the parlance of the day" for quite a bit longer. Now they are used as markers to showcase a gangster milieu set in the past.  

What's the overall point here?  One can learn important things from a careful perusing of even a single page of text dating from any time and any place. One can decode meaning that applies to now, to then, and to changes in between. Just about any text will do. You can go at it from the perspectives of technology, of attitude, of gender, of culture, of economics, and just about any other angle you may care to consider in life. What's important to people? What's important to you?

Today's Rune: Partnership.      


Charles Gramlich said...

"Avalanche of reek" is a great line!

jodi said...

Erik, 'up north' writers are so recognizable to me because of a particular vernacular and to the point descriptions. Sort of all business with a bit of humor. I think that explains it....