Verbal anachronisms in period movies

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by Inkstainedwretch, Mar 25, 2016.

  1. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch One Too Many

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    I didn't know whether to post this in the "Things that tick you off" thread, but it involves movies so here goes:
    In movies set in the Golden Era, I often hear people use words or, especially, phrases that came into use much later. For instance, in the excellent film, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name, the look was pitch-perfect, but at one point the James Cromwell character advises the Guy Pearce character: "Lose the glasses." This is set around 1951, and I don't recall "lose"used in this fashion at least until the '70s.

    Staying with the James Ellroy theme, Brian de Palma's pretty-good "THE BLACK DAHLIA," set in 1947, had a couple of them. In one, Bucky Bleichert says, "She wasn't the worst Dahlia wannabe I'd seen." I never heard the term "wannabe" before the '80s, in the early Madonna days. This one is forgivable, because it's in voiceover and we know that Bleichert is relating a story from his past. For all we know, it's the 80s when he's writing his memoirs. Still it's annoying. A worse one is when Scarlett Johanson's character speaks of something happening "back in the day." This is another turn of phrase I never heard before the 80s. In fact, I first remember hearing it used on an episode of "Miami Vice."

    These happen because the scripts are written by people too young to remember the period. They've heard these phrases all their lives and assume they were always in use. Period scripts should be proofread by people old enough to remember the vocabulary and speech patterns of the time depicted.

    Does anyone else have favorite examples of this annoying practice?
     
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  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    A real character in 1951 would have said something like "ditch the glasses."

    I hear this kind of stuff all the time, especially when writers are trying to use "period slang" which they get from the internet or a book. A white teenager in a movie or novel set in 1942 might say something like "Straight from the fridge, dad" or "lay me some skin," but no actual white teen of that time, unless he was Mezz Mezzrow's secret son or something, would have any idea what such phrases meant. That type of hard-core "jive talk" was found almost exclusively in urban black neighborhoods where the average white kid would be completely lost. Slang in the Era was often highly circumscribed by culture and geography, far more so than it is today.

    Swearing is another area where they get it wrong. Swearing in the Era was much heavier on the blasphemy and insults on legitimacy than it is today -- you'd get fifty g--d---s out of someone's mouth for every one "f word," if you got the latter at all. It was also much more common to turn insults into adjectives -- "bastardly" was one of my grandfather's favorite words, along with "jeezly," a corruption/adjectivization of the Lord's Name. You would stack these adjectivizations to call someone you really didn't like a "g-- d--- bastardly son-of-a-b----ing jeezly son-of-a-w----." Nowadays, screenwriters don't understand how this worked, so they just have the guy call his enemy a "m-----f-----." That word was used almost exclusively among urban African-Americans in the Era, and didn't really get mainstreamed until it became popular among soldiers of all races during World War II, so to have Joe Whiteguy yelling it in 1930 is a most likely an anachronism. He would, if he had any self respect at all, been much more creative in his swearing.
     
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  3. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch One Too Many

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    It's been noted that the police were major vectors of slang. Much of the slang of the period originated with jazz musicians. Jazz was a venue where black and white musicians mingled. It was a pretty druggy milieu,(mostly marijuana and speed) and these guys were always getting arrested, so police picked up their slang. Thus the hepcat slang of the 40s became the police slang of the 50s and passed into the general public by the early 60s. Listen to the stylized way the lowlifes talk in the "Peter Gunn"series for a sample of it.
     
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  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The best documentation for actual teen slang of the pre-WW2 era is the "Harold Teen" comic strip, whose author made a point of talking to actual high school kids of the time, at least until the strip ossified during the war years. But pre-1940, it was the nuts.
     
  5. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

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    One gesture ruined Titanic for me. When the young couple dodged a guard and jumped into an elevator she flipped him the bird. No, no, no, no. She would have thumbed her nose at him. She would have no idea the other gesture existed .

    The slang thing ruins a lot of movies for me. I like Sherlock Holmes but modern adaptations remind me of a bad high school play just because of all the modern slang.

    One wrong word or one wrong gesture can spoil an illusion it cost millions to create. I have no idea why they spend millions on scenery, costumes and set dressing then spoil it with a 50 cent script.
     
  6. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

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    The all purpose insults of the forties and fifties were son of a bitch and bastard. Real creative cursing was rare. Only used when very angry. And of course never indulged in while the fair sex was present.
     
  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    You never met my Aunt Edie.
     

  8. Or my Aunt Kate. At least she had the good manners to wait until *after* church to weave her color.
     
  9. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

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    Or my grandmother. She could curse you out in at least 3 languages and if she gave you a backhander you would be pinched for speeding in China.
     
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  10. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    I'm still waiting to hear Dr. Watson say: "No sh*t Sherlock."
     
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  11. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch One Too Many

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    Oddly, "son of a bitch"was once a euphemism. The original insult was "whoreson,"but that was so vulgar that people used "son of a bitch" as a more family-friendly version. But in the way these things happen "son of a bitch"became the vulgar term and by extension, "bitch"got to be a dirty word where it had previously been a perfectly acceptable word for a female canine.
     
  12. emigran

    emigran Practically Family

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    One series whose language always irked me was DEADWOOD... about the old west gunfight days... every other word was M..F...anyone know if
    that language existed in Dodge City cowboy times etc...
     
  13. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch One Too Many

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    I'm willing to give "Deadwood"a pass because it was almost as much a fantasy as a western, and the dialogue reached almost a sort of foul-mouthed poetry. It's like pointing out that there were no cannons in Hamlet's day, or tolling clocks in Julius Caesar's, despite Shakespeare's anachronisms.
     
  14. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    If Western pulps are to be believed, nobody in western times ever said anything stronger than "yuh mangy owlhoot, yuh consarned yaller polecat!"
     
  15. Zombie_61

    Zombie_61 I'll Lock Up

    I've mentioned this in a post in another thread, but shortly after Deadwood had been declared "a hit" the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the show's use of "colorful" language. They verified the words, terms, and phrases heard in the show were indeed in use in the late-1800s. They went on to explain that Deadwood, South Dakota, was one of those towns where the veneer of civility barely existed--the worst kind of behavior was tolerated, and even encouraged--so the use of such language in the show, and the way they used it, was appropriate.
     
  16. KILO NOVEMBER

    KILO NOVEMBER Practically Family

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    Like this guy?
    [​IMG]
     
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  17. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I was watching an episode of "Mr Selfridge" last night set in, this episode anyway, 1928 and a young couple kept saying "we're pregnant." I thought a couple referring to itself as "we're pregnant" was pretty new as it seems to me that it used to be "I am [if the wife was speaking] or my wife is [if the husband] pregnant / expecting." I thought the use of "we're..." happened only in the last ten or twenty years.

    That said, I am regular surprised that things I think are new, aren't. So I thought I'd put this one up here to see what other members thought? Was it an anachronism to use "we're pregnant" in a 1928 show?
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2016
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  18. 2jakes

    2jakes I'll Lock Up

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    This might have been common in saloons or brothels & have read that
    such language existed long before cowboy times.


    Before radio, television or movies, folks were aware of news or events by
    means of newspapers. Sometimes it was weeks before it was known.
    So as a whole, people were not exposed to this unless someone in
    the family had a member who expressed themselves with a salty language.

    I was reading a diary from 1842 about the events of men being captured & taken
    prisoners. The profanity was of a religious nature & not a sexual tone.

    I still enjoy Deadwood although the M..F.. is a bit overcooked in the series!;)
     
  19. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    That's one of my least-favorite phrases in the world -- "we are, are we? Will *we* be having an episiotomy?" The only phrase that irritates me more is "baby bump." Don't get me started.

    I doubt very much any actual couple of any class in 1928 would have said "we're pregnant," unless they were two women who were pregnant at the same time.
     
  20. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I didn't want to fire anyone up, but as they say, you went there - I, too, hate the expression for both its inaccuracy (you did that point justice) and the squishy, touch-feely, need to be out-loud "we are in this together" meme. Sure, one always hopes that a couple is committed to each other and the wife's pregnancy, but the need to torture linguistic to make a point is off putting to me.
     

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