Monday, August 2, 2010

Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary (1945)

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Clyde Prettyman is the artist.

Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary (1945.T.W.O.Charles)(D&M).cbr
Get the cover to cover scan here!!!

A fantastic find, tonight's edition is hot off the scanner, can you dig, daddy-o? Bound by a single staple, and a little bit larger than the pocket mag of the 50s, here's your travel guide into the land of jive. The thought of translating jive brings to mind these guys from Airplane:

Which just might not be too off-base, as editor Lou Shelley writes on the inside cover of the lure of black slang. If you don't read this book, you just won't know, Jackson, so get hep.

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And to back up the hepcat cred, the dictionary pages are punctuated by photos of R&B, jazz, and swing musicians, somewhat crudely printed, but a fun who's who of the music world of the day, contents and photolisting:

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A couple of photo samples, beginning with one of my faves, the Nat King Cole Trio. Nat King Cole was always smooth as silk, and Oscar Moore was a fantastic guitarist, ahead of his time and definitely one of the pioneers of jazz guitar. And if you want jive cred, you can't forget Satchmo:

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Before I talk about some of the fun words inside, though, I think it's good to talk about this funky little pub as part of a broader movement that was really picking up steam in the 40s (I'm thinking comic/magazines like Miss America, Keen Teens, Teen Life, etc) with the emergence of the modern youth market, that is, publications and advertising were for the first time directed exactly towards teens and the youngest adults (which has grow over time into the behemoth it is today). I remember in Bradford Wright's 2003 book, Comic Book Nation, Wright takes an askance look at oft-vilified crusader against comics, Frederic Wertham. At the base of Wertham's oft-absurd claims, says Wright, is a real concern for the fact that publishers are now selling books directly to children and the publishers see this market ripe for exploitation instead of an audience to be cultured (essentially an anti-capitalist argument?). The publishers were out to make a buck and meant to give the kids what they wanted (horror! cheesecake! crime!) instead of what they needed (literature without pictures that will make them good adults). And certainly many comics from he golden age ARE unsavory to the point where I wouldn't want my kids reading them. But Wertham was aware of what much of society didn't really catch on to, that is, that publications were now being made for sale directly to children and many parents never even thought to look at what might be inside. Society was now affluent enough and printing now cheap enough, where a kid could afford the dime a comic or pulp would cost, and the kids were crazy for them. For a more on Wertham and when this all comes to a head, I highly recommend David Hadju's The Ten-Cent Plague. It's not only of interest to golden age comic book fans but is also insightful as a broader history of the paranoia and congressional hearing circuses of the post-war era. Much of the book comes from interview material, and it's great to hear what the kids who were there at the comic burnings have to say today on the subject.

But back to the dictionary - a cool look at the state of slang over 60 years ago. I doubt most words in here were ever in common usage, but who knows. Some slang phrases hit a tipping point and catch on nationally only to be discarded a few years later, while some bits of slang are practiced only by the outcast groups that use them and passed down through the decades like a sort of musician or druggie or hipster's code. Of course, today, we have the Urban Dictionary online to help us out, truly an invaluable resource when it comes to slang. Who says the web's good for nothing, eh? Warning to the PC crowd, there are offensive words for racial and social groups included in the dictionary, but they seem to be equal opportunity about it, and when you go digging around in old pubs - you will find dirt, so there it is.

I'll just mention a few groups of words from the first section. Here's a series of words that are now in common usage, still going strong:

This second group are some I'm not familiar with or that aren't used too much in these forms, but I like. I wish they'd survived. Maybe it's not too late!

And a small group of words still in usage but with different meanings today. Take note, misinterpretations or misuse on many of these counts could spell trouble

And dare I forget to mention, big thanks to McCoy, an alreet fellow and strictly solid, for doing the edit work on the scan. It was cut poorly with bits of text missing, but he fixed it right up for hard drives everywhere.

Next time! Sticking with the dictionary theme - a definition - just what is "pulp" anyways?!


Mr Fab said...

A swellelegant post.

Actually, "butter" is still used, as in "to butter someone up." And I'm guessing "storked" became the surfer's phrase "stoked."

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the notes the professor (Gary Cooper) takes in "Ball of Fire." It's wonderful!

Also, 'stoked' comes from 'excited' - as in 'to stoke a fire'- 'storked' is because of baby on the way... as in, 'storks bring babies.'