One would not necessarily expect the 1940s to have a string of seemingly strange rhyming slang terms, and yet expressions like “fuddy-duddy” and “gobbledygook” became increasingly popular at the time. Why the ludicrous-like phrases? Perhaps a look into their origins can provide an answer.
“Fuddy-duddy,” referring to a foolishly old-fashioned or stuffy person, is not altogether an old-fashioned word. It was coined in the late 1800s, possibly originating from a fictional pair of joke-tellers in the Boston Evening Transcript, whose names were Fuddy and Duddy. Then puns must have been seemed outdated to people of the 20th century, who then created the comic character Elmer Fudd, an homage to the expression as Elmer is the very embodiment of a dodgy, old-fashion man.
As it to be expected, “gobbledygook” also has somewhat humorous origins. In 1944, Texan congressman, Maury Maverick, allegedly grew tired of the obscure language that other politicians used in their speeches and proclaimed them to be like turkeys, “always gobbledy gobbling.” The word popped up in other official’s terminologies and soon became a staple of 40s slang. To this day, it still means long speeches or double talk.
Other peculiar rhyming slang terms that were popular in this decade (and seemingly only in this decade) include chrome-dome, a word for a bald man, and eager beaver, which means an enthusiastic helper. Similarly, “khaki wacky” indicates someone who is boy crazy, and “what’s buzzin’, cousin” was another way of saying “what’s happening?” Of course, rhyming phrases are not unprecedented; they are easy to learn and pick up, and seem to be the type of expressions that become popular the quickest. However, there is no denying that 40s did have a large amount of rather silly rhymes in its vocabulary. Add to that slang like “hi de ho,” for saying “hello” and it appears as if the whole generation was childish (to us) sayings. People collected and created the expressions out of anything they thought unique or interesting, without the strictness of thought they applied to their fashion and food rations at the time.
Given that this is the decade in which WWII occurs, along with all its heavy consequences, including the “lost generation,” and the concept of the Cold War is introduced for the time, I have to wonder who society readily accepted these silly terms. Rhymed expressions are often a way of referring to taboo items indirectly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. So were the expressions a coping mechanism or a way to ignore for a moment the brutalities of war? Was it the children of the fun-loving 20s swingers that created this upbeat terminology? Or was it due to the many dance-devotees and music lovers that rhymed and rhythmic slang phrases were coined in such a large amount? Perhaps in some way all of these short-lived factors contributed to the rich vocabulary of the 1940s, which would explain why the next generation would find words like “khaki wacky” completely obsolete and random.
The Phrase Finder: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fuddy-duddy.html