If ever the case should be when you are in possession of a time machine or happen to blink in front of a Weeping Angel and are transported back into the 1910s, keep this post in mind because it will help you understand a hodgepodge of popular slang terminology of that decade.
No doubt everyone already knows the meaning of the word “jazz,” even though its history is less well-known. The etymology of the word is still a bit unclear, though it most likely originated out of the West Coast slang word “jasm,” meaning to be spunky or spirited. This is probably what inspired the 1915Chicagomusic style to be called Jazz, since it was a slightly more spirited form of Blues music. By the late 1910s, the word, “jazz,” had caught on across theUSand was vastly popular. Interestingly enough, it bore a negative association with sex, possibly because it sounded similar to “jism” or because Jazz was originally played only in red light districts where the musicians were hidden behind a curtain. Jazz lost this connotation throughout the rest of the century, though thankfully we still have the music.
One could say that all this information came straight from the horse’s mouth, or rather, from the highest authority. “The horse’s mouth” was relevant jargon in the 1910s when knowing information about the possible winner of a horse race. Those that were closest with the horses, like trainers or stable workers, were considered the best experts to consult with for insider knowledge. Soon enough, “straight from the horse’s mouth” spread beyond the realm of bets and races, though unfortunately for anyone who bid on the longevity of the phrase, it did not last with popularity into the 21st century. One would have to search through hell or high water for the reason.
“Come hell or high water” is another interesting phrase from the 1910s, with a mysterious beginning. It means “any great difficulty or obstacle,” as in one would work through anything to achieve an important goal. It most likely caught on because of its alliteration and striking exaggeration, and was presumably used during the World War I. It is phrase that inspires and promotes stability through even the worst hardships and in anything in between fiery hell and freezing waters. The colloquialism spurned the hell or high water clause in legal documents which ensures that a party must continue their payments regardless of any challenges they face, as well as a music band. It seems that the phrase itself has endured through difficulties, and while it is not heard that often today, it remains a solidified part of our culture to hold on remnants of the past that made us stronger.
By Maria Peltekova
The Phrase Finder: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/336400.html
The Phrase Finder: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/97700.html
Writer’s Dream Tools: http://www.writersdreamtools.com/view/decades/default.asp?Decade=1910#slang
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