Friday, 8 June 2012

“Gee, it’s nice to see you looking swell!” - Vintage Lingo

The pre-1960 years are famous for many reasons: the American Way of Life, the joyous post-war periods with their cutesy rock songs, the classic fashion styles, the sexy and suspenseful film noir... However, there is an aspect that characterizes that period that is usually forgotten. Believe it or not, ladies, one of the most irresistible part of the thirties, forties and fifties is the way people spoke.
Watching a classic film or listening to a classic rock song is enough to point out many typical words, slangs, accents and manners of speaking that have been mostly lost, but are still fabulous.
Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

I. The Mid-Atlantic Accent
Actors Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant
In the hilarious movie Bringing Up Baby, from 1938, actors Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn share a scene where the latter, crying copiously after breaking a heel and falling down a cliff, babbles something that sounds like:
"Ah know when to gaw wheah I'm not wounted! And don't you wahrry about me: Ah can take keah of mahself!" 
Poor Katharine. What she intended to say was: "I know when to go where I'm not wanted. And don't you worry about me: I can take care of myself!" She was a speaker of the Mid-Atlantic Accent.
Phonetically, the Mid-Atlantic Accent is one of a kind on the English language. It has both North American and British influences, and both to almost the same degree. It exaggerates vowels, adding "a" and "e" where they don't belong, and it minimizes 'r' sounds, transforming them into almost "AH". Just as Katharine called her notorious beau Spencer Tracy, "Spensah".
The Mid-Atlantic Accent was considered a rather normal way of speaking in those glorious decades. Despite its almost being lost today, it is recognized as one of the most charming ways of speaking of all time. Some attribute Cary Grant's charm to his chin, some to his accent. And, really, can you blame them?

II. The Over-The-Top Adjectives
Marvellous! Extraordinary! Splendid! Terrific! Formidable!
Formidable actress Audrey Hepburn
It was not uncommon to hear any of those adjectives in normal, everyday conversation, in the pre-1960 years. While today slangs have taken over our vocabulary (awesome, cool, super and all that other junk), back in the good old days, the richness of vocabulary employed by virtually everyone was impressive. Descriptions were rich, permeated by various adjectives, some of them very over-the-top when you compare it to today's speech. This passionate way of talking was trademark of the post-war period, that was characterized by a joie de vivre unseen since the roaring twenties.
But, hey, let's be fair. It's not like the pre-1960 folks didn't have slangs of their own. My favorite one is "swell", word that today has but a negative meaning, was used to describe anything nice, pretty, useful... the list goes on. Basically, swell means everything good. You are swell for reading my blog. I am swell for writing it. We are swell, life is swell. Hooray!

Actor Humphrey Bogart and his "Baby"
III. The politeness 

Okay, let's be fair and square: Not everyone in the pre-1960 era was polite. Of course not. There are lurid people and swell people in every decade. But, the speech back then was so much more polite. You were neither woman nor man, you were lady or gentleman. There was no snogging or canoodling, there was smooching. To make love was more often than not used in favor of to have sex. This is a reflection of two different mindsets: It was both an era where discretion was valued, and the openness of conversation that we have today was not present; and an era where love, affection, companionship was far more valued by society and, mind you, by the media, than sex.
Another endearing proof of the second mindset mentioned were the terms of endearment all too often used between people. Darling was the shining star, used by almost everyone. Honey was pretty common among married couples and sweetheart was used in referring to small children or among friends of the female sex. Baby was almost private property of actor Humphrey Bogart and his wife, also actress, Lauren Bacall. It's my impossible dream to live a devastating love with a man from the forties, who treats me like a queen and calls me darling. Oh, well. 

Anyhoo, that will be all for today, my pals and gals. I hope you all enjoyed my swell little post on the Vintage Lingo, and please leave comments and suggestions in the comment box! Thank you for your visit and I hope to see you again!

So long,


  1. Hi, so I found your blog through the link on your tumblr. I really liked this post, and I hope you don't delete! The classic film community on here is really wonderful and a bit more welcoming than the one on Tumblr; I started blogging last year and at first it felt like no one was reading but I'm sure within a month or so you'll find yourself with plenty of readers. Anyways, you already have one: me. So I hope you don't delete. :)

    1. Hey sweetheart! I won't delete! I'll keep posting, and I'll watch out for new readers! :)