Thursday, January 20, 2022

The "General Slocum" in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

A few lines after being called "Mother McCree" by the man behind the lunchroom counter, the unnamed woman in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" complains to Joe Harland (whom she has just met) about how she's being treated and then offers a fragment of her story: "Oh mister if my poor husband was aloive, he wouldn't let em treat me loike they do. I lost my husband on the General Slocum might ha been yesterday." Like "Mother McCree", the reference to "the General Slocum" is another rabbit hole to go down: it was a paddlewheel steamboat that sank in the East River on 15 June 1904; over a thousand people died. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"Mother McCree" in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" and the song "Mother Machree"

In John Dos Passos's 1925 novel "Manhattan Transfer", the "man behind the counter" at a lunchroom challenges an annoying customer: "Look here Mother McCree I'll trow ye out o here if you raise any more distoirbance." I've only known that name from the jug band Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, an early incarnation of what later became The Grateful Dead. But "Mother Machree" was a song written in 1910 for a show called "Bally of Barrymore", and the Corpus of Historical American English contains other references to "Mother Machree" that suggest that the expression was used as an exclamation and an insulting term for a woman in the 1920s and 1930s. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January 2022)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Conservative misquotation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a Twitter search for "content character MLK" reveals, many conservatives in the United States spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day quoting Dr. King's 1963 March on Washington speech: “People should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But Dr. King actually said something more specific: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That is, he dreamed that his children – and by extension Black people – would no longer be subject to racism in America. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 January 2022)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Wordle, Mastermind, Jotto

At first, when people began posting Wordle results, I had no idea what it was – although I was able to conclude that it is a word game. The images people posted did not give me a sense of how the game works, but then an article in the Washington Post explained it. And I was surprised to discover that it's just the 70s board game Mastermind, but with words and letters instead of colorful pegs. With its five-letter words, it's also reminiscent of a game my family played back then, which we called Jotto, but unlike Mastermind and Wordle, we only counted correct letters and not the position of the letters. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 January 2022)




Friday, January 14, 2022

Vaccination in Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

There are two references to vaccination in Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". The first is a simile in a stage direction that describes Maggie Pollitt as shutting her eyes "tight as a child about to be stabbed with a vaccination needle." But actual vaccination appears in the dialogue when Mae Pollitt, Maggie's sister-in-law, lists the shots her children have received, "their tyyy-phoid shots, and their tetanus shots, their diphtheria shots and their hepatitis shots and their polio shots, they got those shots every month from May through September." The polio reference is striking: the play premiered in March 1955, and the Salk vaccine was announced a month later. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 January 2022)!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2011/03/12/3/192/1922398/101aa27de292fdc2_Elizabeth_Taylor_Dies_014_wenn1672497/i/Elizabeth-Taylor-circa-1958-Cat-Hot-Tin-Roof.jpg
Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie in the 1958 film of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Learning to drive in 1982 and 1988

I didn't learn to drive until the summer after high school in 1982 – my mother warned me that if I didn't take driver's education at school it would be expensive later. But I hardly drove at all until summer 1988, when I traveled the country with my friend Paul Baer. We met up in Chicago, and he drove us to Toledo, where we stayed at my father's house. The next morning, Paul taught me how to drive stick shift in a parking lot. So I drove quite a bit that day on I-80 East – until there was a huge traffic jam, and we changed drivers in the middle of the highway. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A 1934 boycott of Will Rogers for his use of the N-word on his radio show

In his New York Review of Books essay on two books on comedy, Ian Frazier recounts a 1934 incident from Will Rogers's radio show, when he referred to a song's melody as an African-American spiritual – but used the n-word three times in discussing the song (Billy Hill's 1933 song "The Last Round-Up", which was a hit at the time). If the incident occurred today, the radio presenter would be roundly criticized, while some would lament the criticism as "woke" or "cancel culture". Yet even in 1934, as Frazier points out, the sponsor of Rogers's show was boycotted by African-Americans – part of the long history of resistance to racist images and slurs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 January 2022)