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WIFE DOTTIE believes I am overdoing the old-time radio bit. Be that as it may, for her sake alone it is appropriate that I consult a period document, my Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo, 1950.
I’ve become a real hip ghee (an informed person), my learning enhanced by the dictionary’s illustrative examples. Indeed, the experts consulted are listed in most dictionaries, and the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo is no exception. However, these authorities aren’t the usual batch of learned professors of linguistics. Rather, here are several of the book’s Board of Underworld Advisors:
“Butch—operated as bank robber, strike breaker, election-fraud boss, automobile-theft gang boss, pinball and slot-machine operator, and strong-arm terrorist. His career covered the Middle Atlantic, Central, Mountain, and Gulf States. Prison terms in eight county jails and three N.Y. state prisons and in other institutions he does not wish named mark his career.
“Chop Chop—operated as strong-arm terrorist, burglar, and robber, especially in Pennsylvania and New York. He refuses to disclose any other areas of activity. He has served terms in Pennsylvania and N.Y state prisons, but refuses to name specific prisons.
“Stubs—nationwide larcenist, forger, and swindler with numerous arrests and only one conviction. Refuses to permit us to print further details.
“The Colonel—operated as a confidence swindler and forger in thirty-seven states scattered over the nation. He requests that no further details be made public.”
The authors note that “Only half of our advisory staff [16 are listed] …” permitted names and details to be printed. “The others were insistent upon concealing not only their identity but their records as well. To all these men we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Me too. Here’s some lingo quoted directly from the book. [Comments of mine are bracketed thusly.]
Biggie. Exaggerated; pretentious. “This ghee is sure getting biggie ideas in his noggin.”
Vigerage. The loan shark’s twenty percent weekly interest rate. Note: “Five dollars for six” is the usual weekly arrangement. Small loans are most frequent, although very large sums are sometimes borrowed by influential citizens who wish to keep their transactions secret.
[Today, this term or its “vigorish” sibling has been shortened to the “vig.”]
Macaluccis. (Ital. Amer.) Blows on the forehead delivered by grasping the middle finger of the left hand with the finger tips of the right hand, drawing it back stiffly and releasing it to snap a thumping blow. Macaluccis serve as forfeits in wagers in lieu of money and its equivalent among friends and penniless fellows.
[Coincidentally, Lucci’s Deli is a favorite market/bakery/restaurant of ours.
Before I read the meaning of the next one, I thought it might have to do with locomotive lore. Nope, that’s the Greenly, a topic for another day. However, the following led me in an unexpected but not untimely path of research.]
Pull a Greeley. To go West, i.e., turn fugitive. “The Greek was red hot for that knock-off; he had to pull a Greeley.”
[It was New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley who famously wrote in 1865, “Go West, young man.” In fact, he cribbed it from John Babsone Lane Soule in an 1851 Terre Haute Express editorial, but who cares about such things these days?
Greeley ran in 1872 as the Liberal Republican candidate against incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant, also a Republican. This party split caused the Democrats to cancel their own convention and support Greeley as well.
On November 29, 1872, after the popular vote (Grant: 55.6 percent; Greeley 43.8 percent), but before the Electoral College voting, Greeley died at age 61.
He received three posthumous electoral votes, but Congress disallowed them. Grant carried the Electoral College, 286 to 66, counting those three who didn’t refocus their loyalties on Thomas A. Hendricks (42), Benjamin Gratz Brown (18), Charles J. Jenkins (2) and David Davis (1), various Democrats or Liberal Republicans of one ilk or another.
The campaign prior to all this was marked with the Republicans accusing Greeley of treason and of supporting the Ku Klux Klan. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast contributed vicious anti-Greeley cartoons despite Greeley being recognized as an able social reformer.
One Nast cartoon claimed Greeley contradicted his earlier positions. Another showed him giving bail money to the South’s Jefferson Davis; a third, shaking hands with John Wilkes Booth over Lincoln’s grave.
I’m sure glad our modern politics aren’t so screwed up.
And thanks, Michael, for saving me from running to drugstore to drugstore as I corrected “Greenley” to “Greeley.”] ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays, 2017