Thursday, August 21, 2008
Then and Now......Classic Movies, explanations, slang, etc.....
Being such a big fan of classic film that I am, I find it hard not to observe the changes in both language and culture from then (the 1930's and the 1940's) and now. And I sometimes wonder how a young person of today can even understand the dialog and plots of these movies as their meanings have changed so much through the years. I am 54 years old, so I grew up with my parents and grandparents watching these movies and so most of the terminology I understand.....and am able to enjoy these movies to the utmost. I thought today though that I would share some observations, slang, etc. to better enable others to enjoy these films as much as I do, and even more so, understand an era that is long gone.
One of the first words that I noticed in old films when I was younger that my girlfriends and I giggled over in our ignorance was the word "gay". In 2008, the word "gay" is almost totally synonymous with meaning a homosexual man (even though, in Websters dictionary it is the forth of four definitions!). But in the thirties and forties the word was used exclusively for its first definition in the dictionary which is "Happily excited: keenly alive and exuberant". And that is the ONLY way it is expressed in classic film. The reason I bring this up is because it is used a great deal in these movies. People are always explaining that they are having such a gay time...or that they are so happy and gay. Or, for instance, when asked what activity they would like to do, it would usually contain the word in a sentence, such as "I'd love to go rowing, we could have such a gay time!". But if a young person of today were to sit and watch any film from that era in which the terminology is used, they would almost certainly come away confused as to what was going on in the scene. So, hopefully that is one area I have been able to clear up a bit. I should also mention before going on to the next subject, that almost everything that was talked about and done in these films were done in very good taste and with an innocence that you don't find in movies any longer.
Another big difference you will notice between then and now is in the romance department. Romance in old movies remind me of a quote from the Alfred Hitchcock movie "Rear Window" Thelma Ritter was trying to explain to Jimmy Stewart that couples of that generation (it was 1954), put too much thinking and philosophising into relationships rather than just letting them happen. She said "In my day, two people, met, fell in love, and got married....BANG! And that is just about how it did occur in the films of these years. You will find from almost any film from the 1920's through the 1940's that romance worked just that way. A guy and a girl would meet, usually in a perfectly innocent way, maybe in a department store, or a coffee shop or just working together, and their is an attraction, usually one date was all it would take before they were telling each other that they loved them, and (a favorite word of the time...), calling them darling! Usually a week of dates was all that was needed to cement the relationship and start planning the wedding. Especially if they had gone as far as kissing and necking!
"Making Love" is a phrase that is used in these movies to mean, not sexual intercourse, as it does today, but any overture in the sexual department that was either warranted or not. And the phrase was used frequently! But it was in the context of having had someone kiss you passionately whilst holding you in their arms. In many a film you can find a jealous boyfriend ask his sweetheart if another man had made love to her. And that is exactly what he meant. Just kissing and hugging. Sexual intercourse, was not even entered into the equation.
Some items in these films that were considered perfectly normal and in fact were considered classy and sophisticated and elegant was the fact that almost everyone smoked cigarettes and drank "cocktails".And I mean everyone! Doctors in hospitals, teachers in school, right there, puffing away while going about their normal chores. Its amazing the contradictions! Just as smoking and drinking were considered "politically correct" in their day, it was also not considered taboo to call other people from other races by quite insulting by today's standards names. It was a different time and a different way of life.
Below, I have put together a list of slang terminology that was used during the 20's, 30's, and 40's. I think you will find it helpful in your watching of these wonderful films and maybe even a little bit insightful.
A skirt - a skirt was a woman
Big Cheese - The most important or influential person
Caper - A criminal act or robbery
Chassis - The female body
Dame - A woman
Dick - A private detective
Dogs - Feet
Doll - An attractive woman
Gams - A woman's legs
Hooch - Bootleg liquor
Hoofer - A dancer
Joe - Coffee
On the Lam - Fleeing from police
On the Up and Up - On the level
To get Pinched - To get arrested
Sinker - A doughnut
Swell - Wonderful (another word used quite frequently!)
Tomato - Girl
Darb - And excellent person or thing
Chickie - As in Chickie, the cops!
bracelets - Handcuff
Neck Stretching Party - A hanging