Expressionism, surrealism, and art deco changed the way the world looked through art. Jazz changed the way we listened to music and contributed to the explosion of art and culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Dance moved away from rigid structure and new, more playful forms were invented such as the Charleston and the Shimmy. Fashion changed dramatically– especially for women, who shunned corsets, raised hemlines, exposed their arms and legs, and wore make-up.
With so many changes, it’s easy to see how language had to evolve to keep up. Many new informal words and expressions –slang– popped up to help articulate the changing times.
Slang described situations, events, relationships and people in a way that formal language could not, and perhaps more importantly- in a way that proper society would not allow. In this sense, slang separated this new culture from the old, excluding formal society from its discourse.
Money became, “voot,” “berries,” “heavy sugar,” “kale,” “jack,” “mazuma,” “rubes,” and “scratch.”
There was slang to describe all aspects of drinking “giggle water,” “hooch,” and “coffin varnish.” “I have to go see a man about a dog,” was a sly way to say that they were about to buy illegal “panther sweat” or whiskey, and once sufficiently inebriated, a person was said to be “ossified,” “zozzled,” “fried to the hat,” “canned,” “corked,” “primed,” “scrooched,” “embalmed” “blotto,” “bent,” or “splifficated.” The morning after being “on a toot” (drinking binge) it was expected to have “a hair of the dog (that bit you)” – a shot of liquor to help ease the hangover.
Relationships between men and women were also a target of slang terms and phrases. A “daddy” might suggest to his “Jane,” “Cash or Check?” (Should we kiss now or later?) only to get the “icy mitt” with “Sorry mac, bank’s closed” (No kissing tonight). A “fire extinguisher” was the chaperon who kept the “drugstore cowboys” and their “bear-cats”(wild girl) from “necking”(making out) in the “struggle bunny” (backseat of a car). A woman wore a “handcuff” (engagement ring) once she was “insured” (engaged).
Men were “baby grands,” “sugar daddies, “dappers,” “fly boys” (pilots), “palookas” (boxers), “Shieks, “Joe Brooks” (perfectly dressed gentlemen), “dewdroppers” (unemployed), and “cake eaters” (ladies men)
While women were “flappers,” “dames,” “debs” (debutantes), “dolls,” “Doras,” “Janes,” “gold-diggers,” “hoofers” (dancers), “Molls” (gangster’s girl), “Shebas,” “tomatoes,” “bug-eyed Betties,” and “flower lovers” (women with too much face powder).
As new social behaviours became the norm, however, much of the 1920’s slang fell into disuse during the Depression and the end of Prohibition, although we still see the lasting effects of 1920’s slang on our modern day lanugage.
Consider these examples of 1920’s slang which will no doubt be familiar to the modern ear:
- I’ve got a crush
- He double-crossed me
- It’s the Real McCoy
- She’s all dolled-up
- A cup of joe
- He’s the big cheese.
For more information on slang in the 1920’s visit your local library!
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.
Even though the publishers didn’t share Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm for the title, Trimalchio still makes an appearance in the novel at the beginning of Chapter 7:
“It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night-and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.”
So who is Trimalchio? And what does he have to do with Gatsby?
Trimalchio, or Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus, is a character in the roman novel Satyricon written by Petronius over 1,900 years ago.
In the story, Trimalchio, which means “thrice blessed”, was well-known for throwing extravagant dinner parties. During the dinner party related in the Satyricon, Trimalchio engages in grotesque displays of wealth by serving exotic dishes, such as live birds sewn inside a pig and dishes to represent every sign in the zodiac. His guest eat course after course, and talk of everyday life in the Roman Empire, while Trimalchio’s vulgar displays of wealth continue. The night ends with the drunken guests acting out Trimalchio’s funeral for the sake of his amusement.
Gatsby, like Trimalchio, was also know for throwing lavish parties in order to display his wealth and attract the attention of the elusive Daisy Buchanan. There are other subtle similarities between the two…. do you see one?
For more information on Petronius’ Satyricon, roman life, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Great Gatsby- visit your local library!
Despite Prohibition– the period from 1920 to 1933, during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned in the United States- Mint Juleps were the drink of choice for the characters in the Great Gatsby.
To bypass the restrictions on alcohol, Mint Juleps were ordered without alcohol, or ‘virgin’, and then the alcohol, usually Bourbon Whiskey was serupticiously added later.
To Make a Mint Julep
You will need:
- Put mint, sugar, and a small amount of crushed or shaved ice into the bottom of a julep cup or tall glass. (Optional: Muddle the mint and sugar, then let stand for a bit to allow the broken leaves to release their flavor.)
- Add bourbon whiskey, top off with crushed or shaved ice, and stir well to mix and chill the libation.
What’s your favourite way to make a Mint Julep?
For more information on Bartending, Cocktails, and Prohibition- visit your local library!
I am a film buff and particularly enjoy movies that were made of books – after reading the original first, so as to maintain the suspense. When I started looking into movies of The Great Gatsby, I was very excited to learn that there were four versions of the story. The earliest one came out just years after the novel and featured one of my favorite actors, William Powell (if you haven’t seen the Thin Man series, you are missing out). Released in 1926, the movie was adapted by Elizabeth Meehan as a silent film, this being before the advent of those new-fangled “talkies.” Unfortunately, every copy of the film was lost so it is no longer available for viewing. A preview for the film was found, however, so if you are looking to tease yourself you can watch it.
The second incarnation of The Great Gatsby was released by Paramount Pictures in 1949. Starring Alan Ladd, best known for his role as Shane, the film focuses more on the gangster-side of the story, heightening action that is mostly hinted at in the book.
A Great Cast… A Great Novel… A Great Motion Picture
From looking at the poster for the movie, it is quite evident that this Gatsby is playing by a different set of rules. The tagline, however, uses the fame the novel had already generated to lure people into the theater.
The most famous version of The Great Gatsby was released in 1974, also by Paramount Pictures. Robert Redford held the title role, with Mia Farrow as his Daisy. The whole picture was filled with heavy-hitters – Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay!
Gone is the romance that was so divine.
While the tagline hints that their love was divine, behind the scenes of this movie there was a lot of drama. Truman Capote, of Breakfast at Tiffany’s fame, was originally hired to pen the screenplay but his version was found to be a little too far from the original. Or was it? There is a lot that can be read into the story; it just depends on your viewpoint.
The most recent version of The Great Gatsby was released in 2001 by A&E Television. Perhaps the most true to the story version, it has also received a mixed welcome. With such iconic people linked to the 1974 film, it took great courage to step into Gatsby’s shoes.
Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino is Daisy and British actor Toby Stephens is Gatsby. I particularly enjoyed the casting of Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway.
He risked it all to give first love a second chance.
A&E is known for its extremely well-made literary adaptations – Pride & Prejudice anyone?- but I personally haven’t had a chance to view this series yet. It’s always checked out!
So which version is your favorite?
Not only is The Great Gatsby known as the Great American Novel- but it’s mysterious cover art is also regarded as a one of the most famous in American literature.
While Fitzgerald was still working on the novel, little-known artist Francis Cugat was commissioned to create the cover art. Not much is known about Cugat, and in fact, the cover art for The Great Gatsby is thought to be the only cover art he ever produced.
Cugat’s painting is was created in the popular Art Deco style, which itself was a decorative style that became synonymous with the roaring 20’s . A pair of eyes and lips float over the lights of a amusement park on a striking blue background. A single green tear falls from the right eye. The irises of the eyes are reclining nudes painted in the ethereal gouache method.
When Fitzgerald saw the finished product, he so admired it that he told his publishers that he had written it “into” the book.
This remark by Fitzgerald have led many to believe that the eyes are similar to the yellow spectacles of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg found in the faded billboard near George Wilson’s auto-repair shop.
From The Great Gatsby: “…Blue and gigantic — their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”
Another interpretation is that the floating face is that of Jay Gatsby’s love interest, Daisy Buchanan. In the novel, Daisy is described as the “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs.”
Visit Heidelberg’s Patrick Henry Villiage Library, the European Regional Library, or the Deutsch Amerikanisches Institutefor more information on F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Francis Cugat, Art Deco, and the Roaring 20’s
I stayed up all night drinking Mint Julips and finishing The Great Gatsby. What’s next Old Sport? Do you have a schedule of events posted anywhere?
— James Gatz