Tell it to Sweeney, sharp cat!

One of my favorite books in the Mercantile’s collection is our copy of the 1953 edition of the American Thesaurus of Slang. It is easily the most entertaining thesaurus I’ve ever cracked open. For instance, check out this list of the options available to an early 50s scenester who wished to refer to a swing musician:

cat, clambaker, gate, gater, hepcat, hep gee, hepper, hepster, hipster, hot cat, hot man, hot musician, hot star, hotcha tunester, jive artist, jivecat, jiver, jivester, maniac, screwball, sharp cat, sharpy, swingaroo, swing cat, swingcopator, swinter, singing gate, swingman, swingologist, swingster, tin-pan alley cat, tub, whack

This book is so great, you can stick your finger in a random page, and you will find yourself pointing at something interesting. Here, I’ll do it now. Wow. Did you know that in hobo slang, the skid row district of Portland, Maine is called “Big Eddy”?

It’s also fun (Well, not “fun” fun. More like librarian fun.) to see words that used to be considered slang, but are now considered merely words, such as “phone” and “teenager.”

Be advised that this book is in the Mercantile’s reference section, so it cannot be checked out, but it can (and should) be perused at length in the Library’s Reading Room. As an added bonus available only to Stacked readers, check under the cut for an extremely pared down version of the Thesaurus’s authoritative list of things to say to someone when you don’t believe them.

Who the hell is Betty Martin?

-Norm De Plume

Applesauce!
Banana oil!
That’s ridick!
All my eye (and Betty Martin)!
Bughouse fables!
Can you tie that!
Croon another, Crosby!
Don’t be a goop!
Don’t give me any of those!
Don’t kid your grandma!
Don’t woof me!
I am an elephant!
I’m from Missouri!
In a horse’s neck!
Iron hat!
Like fun!
My aunt!
No smooch?
Nuts to that noise!
Pass the salt!
Skim it down!
Tell it to the horse marines!
Tell it to Sweeney!
That’s enough to make a cat laugh!
You’re full of hops!

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Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 3:43 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a fabulous list, and I fully intend to integrate “Croon another, Crosby!” into all of my disbelieving interjections. Now, to become less gullible …

    I always like reading something old and seeing ” ‘phone” spelled with an apostrophe. Reminds me of a certain fellow I know who spells the October holiday Hallowe’en.

  2. I’m kind of partial to “Iron Hat”.

    Halowe’en, eh? My Thesaurus of Slang describes that sort of behavior as “spoffish”. I shouldn’t talk, though. I’m kind of a fidfad myself.

  3. Oh, that looks like a nice book.

    Ever read The Big Con? It was originally released in 1940, but there’s a much more recent TPB edition. A linguist who studied con men wrote this very nice detailed study of the popular long and short con games run in the US in the early 20th century- lots of great slang and great names. I think The Sting used it it as a basis.

  4. That book sounds great. I’ll check it out. You might not know this, but the whole librarian thing is just for now. My real dream job is 1940s grifter. I’m just waiting for something to open up.

    You should keep an eye or two peeled for an old copy of the Thesaurus of Slang. I think you’d get more out of it then anyone I know.


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