Book Report: Flappers 2 Rappers by Tom Dalzell

Book review number 2, friends, and this one’s another nonfiction title since the only junk fiction I have currently is Deathstar Voyage, a late 1960s piece of science fiction that has nothing to do with Star Wars. So, while hiding from the unattractive storyline in that piece of sci-fi, I read Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang by Tom Dalzell.

Personally, I like a bit of linguistics and loving Norma Loquendi every once in a while. So I delved into this piece, which I picked up in June at Powell’s in Chicago (which explains why the link above goes to Powell’s and not Amazon). Its chapters reflect decades from the 1920s to the 1990s, with some decades (1950s, 1960s) split to reflect different subcultures within those decades, and others (1970s-1980s) lumped into a single chapter. Each chapter begins with a short essay thing that captures the spirit of the times/subculture. After that, you’re treated to a list of words, like a glossary, and a couple of sidebars that collect synonyms for common concepts like “good,” “girlfriend/boyfriend,” “greeting,” and the like. At the end of each chapter, the author provides little article things that evaluate certain archetypal words from the period and trace their lineage. Good structure.

However, it’s obvious that the author slapped together this quick-read, coffee-table-linguistics book. The fact that glossary entries replicate themselves, unself-consciously, from chapter to chapter, as though “gasper” were a new term for a cigarette in the 1940s, when the preceding chapter called it the lingo of the soda jerk.

It was only when I got to the 1980s, my youth, that I realized all was not well. In the chapter that lumps the 1980s along with the 1970s, I spotted several errors:

  • animal” (p 168) attributed to the movie Animal House (1978) when The Muppet Show debuted, and popularized, the term earlier;
  • waldo,” (p 184) defined as “Out of it, as in ‘That new kid in Biology class is totally waldo–clueless to the max.’ Derived from the popular Where’s Waldo picture books of the 1980s….” Pardon me, sir, but Where’s Waldo seems to stem from 1987 whereas I distinctly remember the perjorative term applied to me in 1985 by the punks in middle school. Oh, and Waldo was a character in the video for “Hot for Teacher” from the Van Halen album 1984, which came out strangely enough in 1984;
  • Hasta” explained in a sidebar on p 185 as “from the Spanish ‘hasta luego’ or ‘hasta la vista,’ popularized by the movie The Terminator….” Um, no, “Hasta la vista, baby,” was from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991);
  • Misspelling of Eddie Murphy’s name as Eddy Murphy (p 195)

And these represent a sample of the incongruities and typographical mistakes I found in that single chapter.

Suddenly, the author’s research (regurgitation of others’ research+some faulty memories, perhaps) is at odds with known facts and my own memory. Suddenly, I couldn’t trust the author for the era I knew, which means I probably can’t trust him for the eras I don’t. Crap! This book was a waste of time. Sloppy research, fanciful assertions, and typographical errors are intolerable when they directly impact the veracity of the subject matter, which is the usage and spelling of words themselves.

Still, the book might illustrate how words never leave vogue, assuming that some of the words and phrases ascribed to the 1920s were really used then. Based on the fluid, evolutionary nature of slang, I don’t think any one of us would be completely out of touch if we stepped through a time-warp into a previous era, or vice versa.

Exploitive Child Labor in the Twenty-First Century

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has uncovered (registration required) a shocking case of child labor in Chicago.

Fortunately, the Illinois Department of Labor has stepped in and used its Powers of Discretionary Persecution Prosecution to punish the grandmother who paid her grandchildren in token money or candy to wash the window of her resale shop.

Coming next: an all-out assault on parents who expect their offspring to do chores for their allowances. Undoubtedly, the parents, like the state, should just dish out money for nothing.

One More Reason to Disdain Microsoft

It made a lot of goofy left wing nutjobs insanely rich. Of course, if they hadn’t had stock options, they would have been insanely middle class, being left wing nut jobs and all.

You know, if my start-up company experience had left me with fifteen million dollars, do you think I would be talking to a grief counselor about it? Heck, no, I’d be refusing to let Bob Cratchit throw an extra log on the fire. You know why? Because I am a capitalist. I like making money with money.

Imagine, cutting your own children out of your legacy to better a foundation or a charity! Egads!

I can only hope we get to see some of these unhinged (I mean “enlightened and philanthropic”) stock option millionaires pulled naked from their pickup trucks someday.

It’s Guiliani Time in Chicago, Except for the Guiliani and the Time

A schizophrenic article in today’s Chicago Sun-Times describes the steps New York has taken to drastically cut its crime rate and how Chicago, which is now less safe than New York, can apply the same methods, just not so harsh.

We start with a success anecdote from New York:

BROOKLYN, N.Y.–Ric Curtis used to watch from his window as dogs fought to the death in an empty lot across from his apartment.

Now the cheering gamblers and snarling pit bulls are gone and the lot has become a tiny, gated park with trees and shrubs.

The shootings, robberies and drug dealing that plagued the corner are mostly gone, too.

“When we first moved here in 1991, we put the baby to sleep on a mattress on the floor,” Curtis said. “We worried about a bullet coming through the window. Now we have two daughters and they sleep in bunk beds.”

In this gritty Brooklyn neighborhood called Brownsville, crime rates have fallen at a stunning rate in the last 10 years. In 1993, 74 people were murdered here. Last year, only 16 people were killed.

Hooray! Kids in bunk beds. But wait! Not everyone is happy:

To New Yorkers like Curtis in the city’s toughest neighborhoods, the streets seemed to get safer overnight. To others, like developer Bill Webber of the tony Upper West Side, the change was more gradual, and in some ways not as welcome.

“Of course, it’s because of Giuliani,” Webber said. “Sure, with my long view over 30 years here, I think the neighborhoods have become more secure…. In Times Square, the seamier elements have been driven away, like the peep shows. But some of us in New York do not think this is progress. I miss some of the grunge. If you take some of the friction out of urban life, it becomes less interesting.”

That’s right, people who sell property in expensive neighborhoods miss the texture of the gritty life-and-death struggles in the city. Struggles that occur in other neighborhoods, which inflate the value of his holdings in safe neighborhoods. That’s the other side.

No, wait, there’s another side:

He [a criminologist] came across “Hamp,” a 62-year-old addict. Hamp told Curtis that NYPD’s zero-tolerance policy has hit the neighborhood hard.

“They’ll bust you for the least little thing,” he said, standing in a trash-strewn parking lot. “They used to come out and say, ‘Good morning, how you doing, Hamp?’ Now they look at you like a piece of s—.”

Addicts like Hamp scrape together enough money to buy their heroin through a variety of hustles. They work as prostitutes, sell small amounts of drugs, and even sell the needles they get free from needle exchange programs.

“It’s been driven underground,” Hamp said. “The police will no longer tolerate addicts shooting up outside in parking lots and on park benches…. Right after Giuliani initiated it, they started going after open cans of beer and loitering.”

Over the past decade, Curtis said, New Yorkers have become less tolerant of criminals and more likely to call the cops.

That’s right, zero tolerance hurts criminals. It’s a pretty discriminatory practice, wot?

Don’t worry, Chicago criminals, because the Chicago city government is only wasting tax payer dollars to study New York policing methods. It won’t actually implement them:

But Cline and Crowl came to believe the New York strategy was not a perfect fit for Chicago. It would have to be customized to target street gangs–a much bigger source of crime in Chicago than in New York–and to maintain a reservoir of goodwill between Chicago police and the public.

Remember, it’s all about the feelings. Furthermore, the academics from respected Loyola University intone:

Arthur Lurigio, head of the criminology department at Loyola University in Chicago, said Chicago would be wise not to simply copy New York’s strategy.

“Chicago would have to be very selective in choosing elements of the New York model,” he said. “It does not make sense to import models of policing. Order and maintenance policing–the kind they do in New York–is effective if it is not too heavy-handed and construed as harassment.”

Lurigio said he would like to research whether complaints against New York cops have skyrocketed during the crackdown on crime.

“That’s part of the ‘New York miracle’ that does not become public,” he said. “I have a feeling there is an interesting story there.”

Whew! For a minute there, it looked as though Chicago was going to become safer, but fortunately, the Chicago city police are apparently more interested in public relations and possibly listening to nattering academics who make a living out of finding “an interesting story there” whether “there” is a Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the interesting story is “homoeroticism among heterosexual minority women” or there is “This city where children are killed in murderous crossfire” and the interesting story is “the pigs are mean.”

Slate Chews More Carrion

Slate magazine urinates on a grave. Again. Most disappointing, it’s Christopher Hitchens relieving himself of some pent-up hostility this time.

Bob Hope might not have been laugh-out-loud, paradigm shifting, sticking-it-to-The-Man funny, but he was warm and amusing, eliciting a chuckle or two.

Remember, this is the second time I have taken them to task for disrespecting the dead. The first was Strom Thurmond. Guys, it’s one thing to disagree with someone when they’re alive, but leave your spite and your dismissive wit at the door of the funeral parlor, okay? Bob Hope was not Uday or Qusay.

(Link seen at Andrew Sullivan’s.)

Throwing Birdseed Not Yet a Felony

Today, on FelonyWatch, we visit lovely Bloombertopia, where Augusta Kugelmas, pigeon lover, threw birdseed at an overzealous and power-mad park volunteer who wanted to stop Augusta from feeding the birds. Augusta has been charged with third degree assault.

FindLaw.Com indicates that this is not yet a felony in New York:

    S 120.00 Assault in the third degree.

    A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when:

    1. With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person; or
    2. He recklessly causes physical injury to another person; or
    3. With criminal negligence, he causes physical injury to another
      person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

    Assault in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor.

Hopefully, an enlightened politico on his or her way up will soon recognize the danger thrown birdseed poses and will bump this up to a felony.

I’m Brian J. Noggle with FelonyWatch.

Time For Your Haircut, Little Sheepies

Charter Communications announced on its investor conference call that it’s going to raise the rates for its Charter Pipeline cable modem offering because it can.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch story says:

Charter Communications Inc. is considering raising the price for its high-speed Internet service and eliminating its slowest-speed service to “extract more revenue” from its markets, Chief Executive Carl E. Vogel told analysts Thursday.

“High-speed data has been a wonderful business for us,” Vogel said.

It’s the most profitable product as well as the one requiring the least capital expense for Charter to deploy.

That’s right, little lambs, Charter needs a new pair of woolen socks, so give it up. It’s not passing on increases in its costs. It’s just extracting revenue from you.

Meanwhile, the Noggle household happily continues to pass on any Charter offerings.

Journalist Steals Our Heritage

Today’s Washington Post has a story about the New Zealish guy who’s doing a complete ASCII art remake of Star Wars. Unfortunately, the author makes the astonishing claim:

Anyone who’s ever come near a computer knows how to create little text “emoticons,” such as a sideways smiley face :-) or a winking face ;-), but Jansen has taken this idea to extravagant, or possibly insane, extremes. He’s tapped out whole “Star Wars” tableaux — hyper-driven spaceships, storming Storm Troopers, the famous bar scene — with nothing but dots, dashes, parentheses, asterisks and what-have-you.

Simon Jansen, the artist, is not taking emoticons to a whole new level. ASCII art is not an extension of AOL-inspired colonic stupidity. By making that claim, the author is denying we old-time geeks of our culture and heritage and represents a great deal of insensitivity duly worth of italics and sometimes bold!

After all, ASCII art has been around for much longer than AOL. Am I the only one who remembers Color 64 BBSes, with their medium res ASCII animations, and St. Louis’s own Dave Hartmann?

Snopes Gets Props

Techdirt links to a story wherein Snopes.com gets props for debunking the ‘Bambi Hunt’ story. Bravo, Snopes!

I have been a fan of Snopes for almost five years (since I worked at my first “sit down in front of a computer” job). I use them as a resource to debunk e-mail forwards that I get and just to keep abreast of the latest foolishness on the Internet.

Bravo, David and Barbara Mikkelson! You’re better than the World Book, werd.

Look for the Snopes.com IPO coming soon to a new-and-improved Internet bubble near you!

Layoff Warning Signs

MSN has a list of signs you’re going to be laid off. While somewhat descriptive, it’s obvious that a writer, and a “business” writer, composed this list.

You want to know if you’re going to be laid off? Let your Paranoia Shidoshi, who has been laid off before (schnuck those schuckers), guide you.

You’re facing impending layoff if:

  • The vice president in charge of your section suddenly knows your name, or employee number.
  • Colleagues no longer ask to borrow your office supplies; instead, they want to know where you hide yours.
  • You are reading this at work. So, how much time do you have?
  • You know the names of your children and you certain they’re all yours.
  • You have not yet received any notice from your subdivision’s Homeowner’s Association about the length of your lawn or the state of your home.
  • A technical writer (or QA Engineer) named Brian J. sits in the cubicle next to you and says, “I am excited about this company’s prospects!”

What to do?

As previously enumerated, you can:

  • Get into a job that cannot be done anywhere else. That includes construction, repair, and other location-utility trades.
  • Start your own business.

Or you can start sending your resumes out now.

Enabling Illegal Behavior for the Greater Good–Well, No

The first time I read Steve Chapman’s piece in today’s Chicago Tribune, entitled “Eliminating death penalties for drug use” (registration required), I misunderstood its contents.

The title, of course, does not refer to state-imposed death penalties. Instead, he’s talking about some of the unintended consequences friends of the White Lady suffer. Heroin addicts swap needles and give each other a bunch of neat blood-borne diseases. They overdose, too, in increasing numbers. These aren’t death penalties, they’re just the unexpected results that can occur when you use the human body in ways not explicitly covered in the documentation.

When I first read it, I thought Chapman was talking about whacky enabling behaviors, like hypodermic giveaways, but I should have known better. He’s simply talking about making it legal to buy as many hypodermic needles as you want and making the antidote to overdose, a non-addictive and non-enjoyable drug, into an over-the-counter medication. These subsidary things are only illegal because heroin is, and because in the national War on Drugs, some collateral damage is acceptable.

So Chapman’s comments are really applicable. Read them more carefully at your first glance than I did.

A Hatchet is a Valuable Tool in Any Workshop

The Professor links to a piece by John Scalzi. Scalzi’s critical of workshops for writers, which are more often than not touchy-feely confabs for consumers in the ever-profitable writer-wannabe market. I understand the feeling.

On the way to my Writing Intensive English (appropriately enough, acronymed as WINE) degree, I enjoyed many workshop-centric classes and extra-curricular activities. As you can imagine, my style was much like that of Gene Wolfe, the protagonist of the Scalzi posting. Blunt and acerbic, I pointed out flaws in the other writers’ work.

Hey, if they cannot take it from a peer, I didn’t expect they could take it in the cold, cruel world of publishing. Besides, if I broke their hearts and drove them into a Business Administration degree, I was thinning the herd and eliminating potential competition early.

Funny, I haven’t had much more publishing success than they did anyway. But at least I had fun.

Journalist Overstates Importance of Variant Spelling

In a story on FoxNews.com entitled Hip Hop Artists Rewrite Dictionary, Jennifer D’Angelo fawns over variant spellings used by hip-hop and rap artists, such as Nelly (“Hot in Herre”), Mya (“My Love Is Like … Wo”). and Christina Iwannabareall (“Dirrty”). She goes so far as to assert:

Every generation invents its own slang (think of the ever-changing synonyms for “cool.”) But this crop of artists is changing the spellings of already established English words.

I beg to differ. Ms. D’Angelo is forgetting:

Song Title:

Artist:

Year:
“Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me”

Tiny Tim

1968
Gimme Dat Ding

Pipkins

1970
Tuff Enuff

Fabulous Thunderbirds

1986
C’Mon And Get My Love”

D-Mob featuring Cathy Dennis

1990
“Nothing Compares 2 U

Sinead O’Connor

1990
Source: The Billboard Book of One Hit Wonders
Song Title:

Artist:

Year:
“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”

Rod Stewart

1979
“I Gotcha

Joe Tex

1972
Outa-Space”

Billy Preston

1972
“Pop Muzik

M

1979
Use Ta Be My Girl”

The O’Jays

1978
Source: The Billboard Book of Gold & Platinum Records
Song Title:

Artist:

Year:
Betcha By Golly Wow”

The Stylistics

1972
C’mon Everybody”

Eddie Cochran

1958
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”

Stevie Wonder

1974
Every 1’s a Winner”

Hot Chocolate

1978
Lawdy Miss Clawdy”

Lloyd Price

1952
Rockit

Herbie Hancock

1983
U Got The Look”

Prince

1987
Source: The Heart of Rock and Soul


And I didn’t even dig into my copy of Billboard Top 1000 Singles – 1955-2000, okay?

So D’Angelo has discovered a trend in song titling that has extended back 50 years at least. Perhaps she should have gotten a government grant of some sort to unearth it.

The difference, of course, between then and now is that some people, including some educators, are trying to legitimize these alternate spellings in written communication. In the name of self-expression, of course. However, half of written communication is expressing what you want to express. The other half is conveying that meaning so that the reader can understand.

Hence, variations in song titles are okay, because the actual communication is aural; that is, the recipient gets the benefit of a beat you can dance to and inflection. However, in written communication, standard spelling, syntax, and semantics alone convey all meaning, so if you’re busy “expressing your individuality” by writing gibberish and higherglyphics, you’re losing readers. Sorry to dent your self-esteem.

So what’re my points?

  1. Variant spelling in song titles and lyrics isn’t a new phenomenon.
  2. It’s okay for song titles and lyrics, but not for “the dictionary.”
  3. I have a lot of cool books about music.