Recent Research – Language of the 20s

I recently read an article about how some language research used some analytics acquired through Google Books to compare the scripts from Mad Men to actual phrases in use at the time. This inspired me to reread some period literature from the 20s to identify phrases that we don’t use any more, and phrases that we still use. I’ll use this research in East of Yesterday to make sure the speech of my characters who belong in the 20s is authentic. Because this is a time travel novel, my main characters, Mike, Adele and Brad, will speak like they are from modern times–at least at first. But characters from the 20s should sound like they are from the 20s. African American characters should sound appropriate as well, but I will not attempt to use dialect. I thought I’d start with The Great Gatsby. Next, I believe I will read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because it, like Gatsby, was published in 1925 and probably has a good deal of dialog and slang. Lots of things have stayed the same, and other things have changed very subtly. You might get “tanked up” instead of drunk, and you would say “oughtn’t”. You would still use phrases like “Don’t you think” and “if you know what I mean.” Men refer to each other by their last name. It’s always Gatsby, almost never Jay (for men) unless you are a relation. Terms like “gypped” were still used, and men are still “crazy about” certain women, and vice versa, or maybe you “can’t stand” someone else. You might get “roaring drunk” and “have a gay time”. You would say “excepting” instead of “except” and you would still use the word “fortnight.” It’s a “gasline station” as often as it is a “gas station”.  Did someone thank you? A polite thing to say would still be “don’t mention it” or “don’t give it another thought”. And you would replace “whatsoever” with “whatever”. That’s all I’ve collected so far. Notice these aren’t necessarily slang–just common phrases that have change or may not have changed. I enjoy language research; I think it goes hand-in-hand with being a reader and a writer.

5 thoughts on “Recent Research – Language of the 20s

  1. It is interesting how words have changed. In that era, I don’t think anyone called homosexuals “gay” yet. Gay was a close kin to light-hearted, happy, and carefree, yet different from any of them. Dad still laments the loss of the “old ‘gay’,” because no current word really says what it did. You need a few sentences to explain it fully now. {lop-sided smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin


  2. Laguage research does sound like fun. I didn’t realize `Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’ was a book. I though it was a movie only. Funny how often that happens.


  3. Sorry it took me a while to reply. It was a surprise for me too. I was looking for books published in 1925. I was going to look for it at the library.


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