Monday, March 11, 2013

Perry Mason and language changing

I've been reading some Perry Mason novels lately. They're good mysteries, and Mason in the books is very different from the Raymond Burr version. Oh, not as wild as the movies, but he drinks and dances and dallies with Della Street, and he definitely crosses the line in his investigations. Paul Drake is not the idiot he is in the movies, though, which is a relief; I was fond of the way William Hopper played him.

But, as is to be expected from books written in the 30s and 40s (and on into the 60s, I suppose), there's a lot of casual slang and linguistic constructions that are no longer in use. A lot of them involve prepositions - either different or missing, for example they say "go" where we'd say "go for", as "Could you go a steak?"

Here's a nice difference from what we'd say - fill instead of full, and written as two words: "She blabs everything she knows and then comes running back for forgiveness - or perhaps to get another ear fill to peddle."

This one's really odd: "We dined at The Golden Lion. I had a filet mignon medium rare on the dinner. You ate French fried prawns on the dinner." (The "French fried prawns", capital F and no hyphen is strange looking, too, isn't it?)

Here's a striking phrasal verb that we've lost: "I had to check out nearly every penny in my bank" meaning "I had to write a check for nearly every penny".

Or how about "It's about time! Here we are in a jam and bull; your operator has been fiddling around - " Jam and bull? I can't find that on Google, so I don't know if it's idiosyncratic to the character, or was common(ish) slang.

But this is the weirdest - clearly deriving from this meaning of outlaw, with which I was unfamiliar till now: to remove from legal jurisdiction or enforcement. Mason tells someone that "murder never outlaws, you know" and he means there's no statute of limitations on it.

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8 Comments:

At 9:45 PM, March 11, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

No chance some of those are typos? (Not that I recall them from reading the books as a teen). Oh well, if the language usage is as Gardner intended, perhaps someday a linguist will write a doctoral dissertation on the matter ;-)

 
At 8:46 AM, March 12, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I'm not sure what they'd be typos for, is the thing. There are some OCR problems, of course, but "jam and bull" is pretty elaborate for that, and "check out" too. "On the dinner" would be hard to get from "for dinner".

I think casual language - all of these are from dialog - changes pretty rapidly. Plus, this is LA, where they say weird things ('that's the hell of a thing' is something that always struck me when I read in in books by Dell Shannon, who also set her stuff in LA).

 
At 9:39 AM, March 12, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I suppose the one could have been "Here we are in a jam, and bull, your operator..." but using "bull" like that is weird to me, too!

 
At 1:19 PM, March 12, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

As I said, a linguistics dissertation in the making!

 
At 1:46 PM, March 14, 2013 Anonymous Mark P had this to say...

I was trying to reconfigure those expressions into something that seemed more contemporary and didn't have much luck. I thought "fill" could have been a typo for "full." I read "on the dinner" as short for "on the dinner menu."

 
At 1:58 PM, March 14, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

"Fill" could have been a typo for "full" though we'd spell that "an earful". "I ate the steak on the menu" sounds very odd to me, too.

 
At 4:53 PM, March 14, 2013 Anonymous Mark P had this to say...

Yes, they do sound odd, no matter how I try to twist them into something more familiar. It really would be nice to find out how representative of California/other slang they are.

 
At 8:37 PM, March 14, 2013 Anonymous Nancy had this to say...

"On the dinner" would have meant "as opposed to a la carte" -- i.e., with salad, soup, vegetables, and dessert included in one price.

Some old-school restaurants in Los Angeles still maintain this distinction.

 

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