Just saw on BoingBoing, that site for all things wonderful, a link to a page detailing a Flapper’s Dictionary compiled in 1922.

First thing I thought was how fascinating this is from a linguistic point of view! To have slang of the day compiled and explained is an amazing source for those of us interested in language and vernacular and how it comes about and changes. I was intrigued by what slang has survived to today, both ironically (“cat’s pajamas”) and sincerely (a party “crasher”).

But then, what also came to mind was how even then someone was quick to jump on a trend, catalog it, condense it, and commercialize it and sell it back to the supposed participants in the subculture. Usually, today, when that happens, the subculture has already peaked and the original participants are moving on while the masses start buying the “Guide to…” and “Dictionary of…” and “How to be a…”

As a writer, it’s still an amazing and wonderful source! I’m reminded of the Coen brothers’ film, Miller’s Crossing. As usual for the Coens, a stunning film that has an ability to make language, usually some subculture of language, come alive! In the case of Miller’s Crossing, they took the vernacular of the 20s (though, I see, not too much of this dictionary was in it, though a lot of words that have come out of use, like, “What’s the rumpus?” “That twist!”) and carefully avoided what could have been comical and made the dialog become real.


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