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Essay on J. Redding Ware, philologist of slang and detective-fiction pioneer

Very seldom in writing about scholarly publishing have I had an occasion to use the word “fun”  -- actually, this may be the first time -- but with a couple of recent titles, nothing else will do.

They are not frivolous books by any means. Sober and learned reviews by experts may appear in specialist journals two or three years from now, and they will be instructive. But the books in question should generate some interest outside the field of J. Redding Ware studies.

Nobody who appreciates the history and color of the English language can fail to enjoy the University of Oxford Bodleian Library’s new facsimile edition of Ware’s masterpiece, the invaluable Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase. First published in 1909, shortly after Ware’s death, it is now available as Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase -- a title that is more marketable, perhaps, but decidedly wanting in precision. Most of the lingo it covers is Victorian, but the dictionary itself, appearing as it did in the final month of the king’s life, is Edwardian. (A pedant’s work is never done.) The new edition contains a valuable introduction by John Simpson, who retires this month as chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

It covers almost everything currently known about Ware (i.e., not much) and assesses his contribution to lexicography, which was considerable. Ware’s dictionary is cited in the OED more than 150 times, including “almost 50 times for the first recorded evidence for a word or meaning.” My earlier reference to Ware studies was a bit of a stretch, since nobody has ever written a book about him, nor a dissertation -- nor even, it seems, a journal article devoted solely to his life or works. A couple of papers by Joyce scholars identify his dictionary as a source the novelist consulted while writing Ulysses. Simpson’s introduction is the landmark in a nearly barren field.

Ware was born in 1832 and his first name was James, after his father, who was a grocer. In his teens the future author served a short jail sentence following a violent family quarrel, during which he grabbed a bacon knife and threatened to kill James the elder. He worked as mercantile clerk while writing his first novel, published in 1860. From that point on Ware seems to have eked out a hardscrabble existence along the lines George Gissing depicts in New Grub Street, cranking out fiction, journalism, and quite a few plays, along with a handbook on playing whist and a tourist’s guide to the Isle of Wight.

Simpson unfortunately neglects to mention one other documented occasion when Ware went to court, seeking relief from a downstairs neighbor who played the piano at all hours. The outcome remains unclear but it seems no bacon-knife was involved.

Not quite a gentleman, then, nor by profession a scholar. Ware’s dictionary was commissioned by Routledge as a supplement to another volume on colloquial English. “His lexicographical method is arguably modern,” Simpson notes, “as he based his selection largely on printed evidence that he (and, one imagines, other interested parties) had collected principally from newspapers and other ephemeral sources… The latest quotations date from 1902, though the majority date from the 1880s and 1890s.”

No don would have come up with what Simpson calls Ware’s “idiosyncratic labeling system,” which identifies the provenance of a given piece of slang through categories such as “Slums,” “Italian Organ-Grinders,” “Music Hall,” or “Colloquial Imbecile.” He clearly spent a good bit of time hanging around theaters and pubs, and “was painfully aware of changes in hairstyles and fashion generally over the decades, and can with the help of his printed evidence place the introduction of a new ‘look’ to a precise year.”

Some of the expressions Ware includes have passed into accepted use. He identifies opportunism as a piece of political slang from the 1860s, explaining: “Used rather in contempt, as subserving conscience to convenience, or to personal advantage.” It turns out that flappers -- young women of an immodest sort -- were on the scene well before the 1920s, And while Susan Sontag doesn't mention it in wrote her notes, Ware identified camp as an adjective applying to “actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis," noting that it was “used chiefly by persons of exceptional want of character.” By that Ware undoubtedly means sissies, “effeminate men in society,” a term he indicates (citing an American newspaper) caught on in the 1890s.

I would have assumed the slang word narc -- pertaining to an informer, and used as both noun and verb -- derived from narcotics. Apparently not: copper’s nark is defined as thieves’ argot, also from the 1890s, meaning “a policeman’s civilian spy.” Ware indicates that police were called coppers from 1868 on, and you’d have found a copper-slosher (“individual with the mania for ‘going for’ policemen”) hanging around a copper’s shanty, as the station house was known. A working-class person thought to be blustering risked the taunt “Copper! Copper!” – implying that he was “giving himself the airs of police authority.”

But where did cop itself come from? “There has been more discussion over this widely applied word than any other in the kingdom of phrase,” writes Ward in one of his longer entries. It is incredibly polysemic, meaning “taken, seized, thrashed, struck, caught by disease, well-scolded, discovered in cheating,” and could also be used as a verb meaning “to take too much to drink” (hence copping the brewery). Thunderous applause for an especially good show at a music hall show would cop the curtain, so that the performer could take a bow.

The vast majority of Ware’s 4,000 entries define expressions that vanished without a trace. Hence his original title: "passing English" comes and goes. It's the vigor of language that drives the vitality of the book.

One craze of the 1880s was corpse-worship – “the extreme use of flowers at funerals” – which got so bad that by the ‘90s “many death notices in the press were followed by the legend ‘No flowers.’ ” Slang words often come from the contraction of common expressions; for example, damirish, “damned Irish,” and damfino, “I am damned if I know.”

Nobody still describes an egg gone bad as suitable for electioneering purposes (derived from “the exercise of projecting them at antagonistic candidates”) and the culture is all the poorer for it. Then again, it's a relief that suggestionize -- an old bit of legal jargon meaning “to prompt,” as with a witness – never caught on. Now if we could just euthanize “finalize.”

Decades before the birth of Jerry Garcia, deadhead was the entertainment-industry label for an audience member who got in without buying a ticket. It applied to critics and “’theatrical people’… [who] never pay to enter a theatre.” Ware, as a playwright, resented them, and the dictionary vents his frustration in an amusing manner:

“The experienced eye can always divide the deadheads from the ‘plank-downers’ in a theatre. The deadheads are always dressed badly, and give themselves airs when looking at the inferior parts of the house. The plank-downers never give themselves airs, mean business, and only look at the stage. Deadheads are very emphatically described by a theatrical official: ‘Here come two more deadheads; look at their boots.’”

Many entries are no doubt the only record of a term or catchphrase, and in some cases the lexicographer can just guess what they originally signified. Who stole the goose? is an “interjection of contempt, which appears to have some hidden meaning, probably of an erotic nature.” in the case of Who took it out of you?, Ware doesn't even try. The meaning is “wholly unknown to people not absolutely of lower class.”

Of comparable subaltern origins, but easier to understand, is the slang term label for sausage: bags o’ mystery. That one should come back into circulation. Its use could be extended to the hot dog.

Speaking of mystery, another book recently reissued in facsimile is Andrew Forrester, Jr.’s The Female Detective, a collection of short fiction from 1864,  reprinted by the British Library and distributed in the U.S. by the University of Chicago Press. A digital edition is available from Amazon.

You can find the book online in PDF for free -- which is also true with Ware’s dictionary, although Simpson’s introduction is not to be missed. With The Female Detective, the new material consists of a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith (best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, but also the author of What W.H. Auden Can Do For You, just out from Princeton University Press) and an introduction by Mike Ashley, whose books include a biography of Algernon Blackwood.

The Female Detective is offered as a collection of reports from the files of the elusive Miss G----- (she is nothing if not discreet) as edited by Forrester. The detective’s “casebook” was a very popular genre at the time, part of the “railroad literature” that sprang up to meet the demand of commuters. Forrester later wrote at least two more such collections, but his place in the history of the genre comes from having created Miss G---- (a.k.a. Mrs. Gladden), the first female professional detective in fiction. Kathleen Gregory Klein devoted several pages to the book in The Woman Detective: Gender & Genre (University of Illinois Press, 1988) and puzzlement over Forrester's identity – was it a pseudonym? – has echoed down the scholarship ever since.

It now seems very likely that the author was, in fact, J. Redding Ware. Simpson accepts it as credible in his introduction to the dictionary, as does Mike Ashley in the opening pages of the short-story collection. The identification was proposed by Kate Summerscale in the notes to her nonfiction novel The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (2008). In researching her book, Summerscale noticed that Ware published a pamphlet about the crime in question: a child murder that occurred in a country house in 1860. (The circumstances are oddly reminiscent of the JonBenet Ramsey case.) He seems to have incorporated the text into a chapter of The Female Detective.

Mrs. Gladden had keen powers of observation and deduction, and a reader can’t help thinking of the much better-remembered private eye who came on the scene later in Victoria’s reign. Ware must have felt that Arthur Conan Doyle had stolen his thunder – though that seems like a rather peculiar phrase, come to think of it.

Wade lists it in his dictionary, explaining that it means “annexing another man’s idea, or work, without remunerating him, and to your own advantage.” It was first used, he writes, by one John Dennis, “a play-writer of the 17th century, who invented stage thunder for a piece of his own which failed.” The theater manager incorporated the technique in the production of someone else’s play, prompting the enraged Dennis to yell out, “They won’t act my piece, but they steal my thunder.”

I hope J. Redding Ware studies comes into its own, or at least that others discover him. How often is it worth reading a dictionary just for the stories?

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Academic Minute: Youth Sports and Head Injuries

In today’s Academic Minute, Anthony Kontos of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reveals when athletes playing youth sports are most likely to receive a concussion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Study finds math and science exposure has significant impact on intent to study STEM fields

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Math and science exposure has a bigger influence on whether high school students plan to major in a STEM field than does math achievement, new research indicates. 

Faculty Strike Ends at Bellingham Technical College

Bellingham Technical College faculty resumed classes Monday following their weeklong strike over union contract negotiations. A three-year contract deal reached over the weekend includes a 3 percent raise for faculty per pay step, bigger stipends, longevity bonuses, and pay raises for adjunct faculty at the Washington institution.

Leaders of the Bellingham Education Association, affiliated with the National Education Association, said they looked forward to improved relations with the administration in a union news release. “We’re serious about wanting to improve our college,” said Don Anderson, a welding technology professor who served on the union bargaining team.

In a statement, Bellingham President Patricia McKeown said the college was pleased to have a contract in place. “We will all need to help each other through a healing process and get back to doing what we do best -- changing our students’ lives for the better and contributing to a healthy economy.”

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Academic Minute: Hands-Free Phones and Driving Errors

In today’s Academic Minute, Yagesh Bhambhani of the University of Alberta reveals why hands-free cell phone use makes driving dangerous. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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Review of Salinger book and trailer (essay)

I’ve just finished Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno, and all I can think of is the eulogy that Owl Eyes offers for Gatsby: “The poor son-of-a bitch.”

Robert Boynton: “And then there’s this crazed paparazzi, investigative-reporter approach” (qtd. in Chapter 14 of Salinger, “A Terrible, Terrible Fall”)

This “official book of the acclaimed documentary film,” presents enough contradictions to keep us busy until the publication of those new Salinger works promised in the final chapter. The title of that last chapter is “Secrets,” which sums up the tawdry tabloid-like endeavor of book and film combined. If Shields and Salerno had stopped with two-thirds of the material on World War II, they might have produced a slim book of value. Meanwhile, this quasi-oral-biography — it’s closer to a pastiche — just goes on and on; it’s a fine example of what Joyce Carol Oates, who is quoted here, along with other critics, actors, nursemaids, and lovers, would call pathography.

J. D. Salinger: “I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me . . .”

But not, apparently, Salerno, whose writing credits include "Armageddon," "Alien vs. Predator," and "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem," or Shields, who is probably best-known for his 2010 book, Reality Hunger, a collage “built from scraps” about what people really want from literature.

Michael Clarkson: “I started thinking. . . . He’s never given [his fans], really, two cents.”

Who, you may ask, is Michael Clarkson? The introduction promises 12 “conversations with Salinger,” — “revealing encounters” that will “place the reader on increasingly intimate terms with an author who had been adamantly inaccessible for more than half a century.” The first conversation features Michael Clarkson, who wrote a 4,000 word-essay about his hounding of Salinger and whose previous 15 minutes of fame involved a People magazine story about his “encounters with Salinger.” The second and last encounter started with the uninvited Clarkson staring in through the glass doors of Salinger’s home and inventorying the contents.

As he told Salinger, “Jerry, I wouldn’t have bothered you — I wouldn’t have barged in like this — if you’d answered my letters.” Clarkson feels perfectly justified: “He’s never given [his fans], really, two cents.” Really? What about those four books?

This book is riddled by these sorts of unquestioned contradictions. First there is the form and nature of the book itself, a companion to a film that was based largely on another book (Paul Alexander’s Salinger: A Biography; Alexander’s voice is just one in the chorus here). So we have a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in scraps.

Salerno and Shields point out that Salinger would have hated this book; they assert, repeatedly, that Salinger’s absorption in Vedanta Hinduism destroyed his writing (also variously referred to as “work” or “art”) and then they — or at least Salerno — list a series of forthcoming manuscripts. (Salerno’s absurdly wordy “Acknowledgments” section ends with “I look forward with great anticipation to reading the work Salinger diligently produced from 1965 until his death in 2010"; Shields isn’t as excited — the work may be “genius” or it may be “inchoate” (Chapter 20, “A Million Miles Away in His Tower”). In this book, Salinger can’t get a break.  First he’s slammed for “writing for the slicks” and for wanting to publish in The New Yorker; then he’s slammed for not publishing. (And Shields calls Salinger “completely contradictory” and “hypocritical”! See Chapter 19, “A Private Citizen.”)

Billy Collins: “He actually made you feel that you weren’t alone. . . I think he had the best influence on my sensibility. And I think it helped me kind of pursue that sense of being different, being an individual.”

Wait, that’s Collins talking about Jean Shepherd on the back cover of Eugene B. Bergman’s Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd. It’s Edward Norton and John Cusack who say similar praiseworthy things about Salinger and Holden Caulfield. Playwright John Guare, however, thinks that there is cause to be “very, very troubled” by the fact that “three people used [Catcher] “as the justification for killing somebody” (see his entries in the print companion and his featured scene in the sensationalistic trailer). That’s three readers of a book “that has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide,” according to Salerno in an earlier chapter. Salerno continues: “And if 65 million people have bought the book, that means that hundreds of millions are likely to have read it” (Chapter 10, “Is the Kid in this Book Crazy?”). You can, however, read all about those three people here in a lengthy chapter called “Assassins,” and in which you’ll learn that Mark David Chapman also liked "The Wizard of Oz" and the Bible.

Holden Caulfield; “I hate the movies like poison.... The movies can ruin you.”

Shields and Salerno note several times that Holden Caulfield (named for two movie stars -- just one of a number of connections they miss) says he hates the movies but is in fact drawn to them. The movies, of course, aren’t real. Have you seen the trailer for Salinger? It looks like the sequel to "Armageddon."

Shields and Salerno: “What he wanted was privacy” (Introduction, Salinger, “The Official Book, etc.)

But really, according to Shields and Salerno, echoing Paul Alexander, Salinger wasn’t a “true recluse”; it was just a ploy to get attention. And so on the book goes, rehashing not only news stories and faux news stories but the stories of Joyce Maynard, Margaret Salinger, and Ian Hamilton, along with accounts of legal proceedings, speculations about Salinger’s first wife, and detailed accounts of snacks (popcorn), meals (“Birds Eye frozen Tiny Tender Peas, not cooked, but with warm water poured over them,” for breakfast and the $12 roast beef plate at dinners at the First Congregational Church), and beverages (hot chocolate and urine). The tone of the book veers from gleefulness to somber proselytizing; it exhorts and chastises; it often seems angry.

Buddy Glass: “A poet, for God’s sake. And I mean a poet”

In contrast to Salinger’s style, the writing here is over the top: The “main impulse” of “Hapworth 16, 1924,” “is to protect [Salinger’s] death-dealing soul” (Introduction to Chapter 14: “A Terrible, Terrible Fall”). Other examples of overwriting include describing Catcher as “an assassination manual”(Introduction to Chapter  18) and Salinger’s life as “a slow-motion suicide mission” (Shields and Salerno, Chapter 21, “Jerome David Salinger: A Conclusion”). We’re told that  “Salinger walked into a concentration camp and never walked out” (Salerno’s line: one he likes so much that he repeated it on "The Colbert Report"), and that “The cure never took, because he was the disease” (Chapter 21).  And then there is Shield’s exegesis of Nine Stories, “Follow the Bullet” (Chapter 12), which is just too depressing to revisit.

Holden Caulfield: “You mean to go a psychoanalyst and all?... What would he do to me?”

Much of the limited information is repeated several times, culminating in the penultimate chapter, Chapter 21, “Jerome David Salinger: A Conclusion,” which offers a précis of the preceding 590 pages, a sort of guide to the guide. Taking a quote from one of Salinger’s letters, “I’m a condition, not a man,” Salerno and Shields list “10 conditions”, beginning with “Anatomy” and “Oona” and ending with “Detachment” (“War” comes in at third place, “Girls” at eighth).  One condition that seems overlooked is generational: men and women of Salinger’s generation just didn’t talk about “it.”

Shane Salerno: “There is no question that the manuscripts exist. The question is, What are they?”

An informal survey of the breakfast crowd at the Seaview Restaurant in Wickford, R.I., where I finished reading Salinger: The Book, revealed some interesting alternate predictions for the contents of the vault:

Thousands of blank pages beneath a single cover sheet that reads: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” “Silence.”

Copies of hundreds of pulp fiction stories and crime-noir novels published between 1965 and 2008 under pseudonyms that include Elmore Leonard and Stephen King.

Thousands of pages filled with the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Thousands of pages filled with “Praises to the Buddha, or something like that.”

30 pristine typed copies of The Catcher in the Rye.

“Just [a] cigar, in a small nice box. Possibly with a blank sheet of paper enclosed, by way of explanation.”

Shane Salerno: “Finally, I want to thank Jerome David Salinger for living such an extraordinary life and one that I devoted nearly a decade to telling honestly” (“Acknowledgments”).

Holden Caulfield: “I felt like I was disappearing.”

The title alone of D. T. Max’s new book on David Foster Wallace -- a phrase that Wallace liked so much he used it several times -- seems more insightful about Salinger than do the 500-plus pages between the covers of Salinger: “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story.”

I mean, Jesus H. Christ, enough already.

Carolyn Foster Segal is a professor emeritus of English at Cedar Crest College. She currently teaches at Muhlenberg College.

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Essay on how colleges can engage in 'cluster hiring'

There are many advantages to the practice, writes Laura Severin, but it requires strategy and practices that go beyond hiring many professors at once.

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Academic Minute: Heat and Tidally Locked Planets

In today’s Academic Minute, Nicolas Cowan of Northwestern University explains how cloud cover moderates the temperature of tidally-locked exoplanets orbiting red dwarf starts. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Short-term courses for maximizing learning -- and revenue (essay)

The administration at U of All People is nothing if not financially expeditious (some faculty have put it another way, not printable in this periodical). Jacking up students’ expenses is unpopular, for instance, but extracting extra tuition money can be accomplished in subtle ways. Starting a few decades ago, U of All People set the minimum credit hours for graduation two courses over a full course load every semester. That way, students had to take extra classes, often during the summer. This concept was shamelessly copied by other schools.

In fact, the short-term courses were a hit, since the workload was lighter, and the school could get the same amount of money in less time. Then one day, the Dean of Others’ Affairs had a bright idea: if students were willing to sign up for an eight-week or even a four-week course, why not offer a three-week course? Thus was born Wintersession and Maymester, a concept that other schools shamelessly copied.

Now that earnings are flat in this economic climate, the innovative folks in Long Hall have come up with a new plan, Pack-It-In Pedagogy, a term invented yesterday by our newly appointed Time Management Expert. To expedite the plan, each department has been tasked to come up with at least one course offering. Eventually, we expect other schools to shamelessly copy the concept. Meanwhile, below are just a few classes to maximize student learning while also boosting revenues.

WinterInterSplinterSession: Three Days That Can Change Your Life

English 1.25: Shakespeare: The Play. Students read Hamlet one day, see the film the next day, and take the final exam on the third day. “The key is to be representative,” says Professor Bowdler. “To expose these students to a great work — isn’t that enough?”

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What Are You Doing This Weekend?: Special Two-Day Courses

Chem Lab 9.5, in which students carry out one experiment. “It’ll be a reaction that gets to the heart of what chemistry is all about,” says Professor Boom. “Bunsen burners, Erlenmeyer flasks, yellow and red powder — the works!”

History 10.5: Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Students eat bread one day and attend a circus the next. Instructor: TBA.

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Give Us a Day, and We’ll Give You a Grade: One-Day Workshops

Geology 1.1, where students split open and examine one basalt rock. “The universe in a grain of sand,” is how Professor Geode puts it. “It’s fascinating, what one can glean from a single work of nature.”

Psychology 2.3 (online): the students each read a different chapter of the textbook on Blackboard and give their opinions of it in a discussion group. Together, by the end, they’ve gone through the entire book. No instructor; peer review.

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60 Minutes: Hour-Long Intensives

Math 24.1. Students tackle one difficult equation. As Professor Quad, this year’s winner of the Pretty Good Teacher Award, notes: “Why clog the syllabus with problem sets that just repeat? Less is more.”

Spanish 0.2: Students learn three verbs and two nouns, then use them in conversation. Access to language lab included. Independent study. Monitor: TBA.

Astronomy 0.6, in which students creep outside to look at the stars. In case of clouds, students will draw zodiac pictures for a portfolio. “The sky’s the limit!” — Professor Centauri

Phys. Ed. 1.23: Really tough Zumba class; warm-up not included. Staff.

Art History 8.3 (hybrid): Students receive a PowerPoint lecture on various paintings and then compare them to other paintings online. “Put some art in your life!” says Professor Sfumato.

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MOOCs in a Minute

Videotaped lectures are run at eight times the normal speed. In advanced classes, the speed jumps to 16x.

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The U of All People administration is delighted with our proposals and is moving ahead with all possible dispatch. All we need now is a slogan for advertising these new courses.

“Got time for a quickie?” is the current favorite, but without the suggestive accompanying graphic.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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Anger Over Lecturer Who Won't Teach Female Authors

Academics at the University of Toronto and elsewhere are rushing to condemn a visiting lecturer there who said in an interview that most female authors are not worth including on his syllabus. The controversy concerns comments David Gilmour gave to the website Hazlitt. He said: "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

As outrage over those comments spread, Gilmour told The Globe and Mail that his comments had been “totally, totally misinterpreted,” and that he believes Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro are “top-flight international writers.It’s just that I don’t connect with the material as profoundly as I do with, say, Phillip Roth’s The Dying Animal." The latest comment has not stopped a round of criticism. Paul Stevens, acting chair of Toronto's English department and a professor of early modern literature, said Gilmour’s comments "constitute a travesty of all we stand for," and noted that "David Gilmour is not a member of the Department of English at the University of Toronto."

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