Depression Lessons #4

A work-in-progress lexicon of depressed speak. Tell offs and witticisms as amorphously surreal as a Max Fleischer cartoon!

Daniel Riccuito

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.

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Wow. These are better than some of the classic noir quips of the 40s and 50s. I guess the hard-boiled tradition was alive and well a decade earlier.
J.M.
Professor R., this could be a method toward an “occupation” of the storied yet verboten back-lots, long-overdue and barely considered since the days of Herbert Biberman. Is it “work” that is going on in that quasi-town? Or is it professional vulgarization of the very notion of dialogue?
The ‘Dirty Thirties’ is where I wanna be
Thanks all! Bobby: Yeah, there are wonderful links between pre-Code and noir — the lingo looms big in that regard. J.M.: Huh? And Cache: Our Even Greater Depression will get grimier and grimier, rest assured.
Can’t wait to use this in real life. Next time somebody cuts me off I’m going True to the Navy on him.

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