Here I present a work-in-progress lexicon of depressed speak. Sadly and magnificently, the tell offs and witticisms are almost entirely specific to the time when automats, dances and Dempsey were tradable cultural vernacular—but nevertheless! I encourage you to adapt these to make them your own in our time and bring them out to the streets again.
Care to dance?: "How about you and me steppin' on each other's feet?" —Docks of San Francisco (1932)
I could eat: “It’s gettin’ so my stomach does nip-ups every time it hears a nickel drop in the automat slot.” —Parachute Jumper (1933)
Greetings: "H'llo Jack Dempsey—how's fightin'?" —Docks of San Francisco (1932)
Agreed: "That suits me down to the ground." —Docks of San Francisco (1932)
I need new shoes: "Worn so thin I could stand on a dime and tell you whether it was heads or tails." —Central Park (1932)
Putting on airs: "Say listen brother, they don't bury anyone in a high hat." —Broadway to Hollywood (1933)
Watch yourself!: "Say, are you beggin' for a bust on the beezer?" —True to the Navy (1930)
Every true word is a picture, it seems to me, and the wisecracks that emerge from my favorite Depression films evoke the amorphously surreal images of a Max Fleischer cartoon. Turning hard luck into quixotic verbal arabesques, early talkies manage nonetheless to retain a profound sense of truth. Of course "The Dirty Thirties" were replete with less lyrical forms of expression, and I collect those too.
Part of our on-going series Depression Lessons.