Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Cab Calloway’

Pimp Steak

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2013

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

When you hear someone exclaim in horror: “Pimp steak again?” don’t be alarmed. They’ve just found out they’re being served a hot dog. So how is it that the perfectly good name for a hot dog wound up with this moniker as well?

For one thing, the term pimp didn’t always mean someone who procures customers for a prostitute or brothel and lives off the earnings. Back in the 1630s, it was used to describe any despicable person, and in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the term has been used since the mid-20th century to identify a spy or an informant.

The Boston Phoenix reviewed “The Old Settler” by John Henry Redwood on November 4, 1999. It was playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and critics had identified the play as one of the Top 10 most-produced plays of the current season. The reviewer, Carolyn Clay, referred to the play as “theatrical comfort food, rich in ethnicity and emotion, served warm.” The play, set in 1943 Harlem, centered on relationships and healing. The review read in part:

The Old Settler is sentimental and easy to see coming (’40s Harlem meets The Heiress), but it is carefully wrought. And it paints a colorful picture of African-American life in an earlier time, a particular place where magical if disreputable spots called Small’s Paradise and the Savoy Ballroom duke it out with a strong, supper-slinging black Church. Moreover, there is in the elegiac evocation by Bess and Husband of the Southern places they come from a feeling of displacement that’s one of the themes of August Wilson. Redwood tells a tighter story than Wilson does (though at first, with Husband searching like haunted Harold Loomis for his lost mate, The Old Settler seems like a lightweight Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). And if he doesn’t make as vivid and musical use of black speech as Wilson, Redwood does doodle a linguistic tune. Quilly’s conjuring of the chitterling dinner at Singleton’s Restaurant on Lenox and 136th Street is a feast in itself. And who ever knew that a hot dog was called a “pimp steak” or that “swamp seeds” were rice?

Now back in the 1940s, Dan Burley chronicled Harlem nightlife for the Amsterdam News. He was born in 1907, the son of a Baptist minister, he spent his childhood in Kentucky and Texas.  By the time the Black Migration of World War I slowed, the Burley family lived in Chicago, and one of his classmates at Wendell Phillips High School was jazz musician, Lionel Hampton.

He became a journalist for the Chicago Defender after leaving school, and in 1937 (at age 30), he joined the Amsterdam News as a reporter, city editor, nightlife columnist, theater editor and sports editor. What came of his time at the Amsterdam News was a 157-page book entitled “Original Handbook Of Harlem Jive” which was published in 1944. And right there, among the many other expressions that came out of Harlem was this definition for a frankfurter: pimp steak!

But in reading Cab Calloway’s book “Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive” published in 1939, the term doesn’t show up anywhere in his listings.  Either the expression wasn’t in vogue at the time or it was in vogue but not popular enough to rate inclusion in Cab Calloway’s dictionary.

Either way, the earliest this expression can be pegged at is sometime during World War II (1939 – 1945). Hope that works for all you hep cats out there.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Posted by Admin on August 8, 2011

The next time you hear someone is between the devil and the deep blue sea, express your condolences.  What it means is that the poor soul has found himself or herself having to choose between two equally unpleasant situations.

On June 23, 2009 the Birmingham Mail in England published as news story entitled, “Press Whistleblowers Deserve to Be Protected.”  It dealt with manner in which reporters have been treated in the past with regards to journalistic confidentiality and refusing to provide police with the sources for some of their stories.  The story began with this paragraph:

It is no secret that the provincial press is battling for survival, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, the devil being the economic slump and the deep blue sea the internet revolution.

Back in 1931, Cab Calloway recorded the Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen jazz standard, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”  It’s such a fun song that even George Harrison covered the song in 1988 showing how timeless the song truly is!

On November 24, 1950 the St. Petersburg Times published an article written by Marquis Childs entitled, “Democrats Are Caught Between The Devil And Deep Blue Sea.”  It dealt with rising prices, the consumer price index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and everything tied to it.  The journalist launched into the story with this opening paragraph:

The more the Democrats contemplate the months ahead, the more they realize the trap they are in.  That old phrase — between the devil and the deep blue sea — has rarely applied with such literalness as it does to the party in power.

The Devil and the Deep Sea” is the title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1898, and reprinted in subsequent short story collections in the early 1900s.

On March 4, 1875 the Colonist newspaper in Nelson, New Zealand reprinted a news story from the Otago Daily Times entitled, “A New Doctrine Of Election.”  The story focused on Mr. Hare’s system of representation which was not well received by everyone.

This is to endanger the success of the party triumphing by splitting votes.  More seats were lots to Mr. Gladstone at the last election by this mistake than in any other way.  If any one thinks that we are exaggerating the possible difficulties of the situation, let him recall the elections he remembers best and he will find that the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea has been offered within his experience — not infrequently.

In nautical circles, the devil is a seam in the planking of a wooden ship on, or below, the waterline.  When sailors fell from a footrope, they would either land on deck which was known as the devil plank or in the water which would be, of course, the deep blue sea.  Understandably then, sailors talked about what little choice they had for their deaths when falling from a footrope, since their only choices were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In Robert Monro’s  book “His Expedition With The Worthy Scots Regiment Called Mackeyes” published in 1637, the following passage is found:

I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea; for sometimes our owne cannon would light short, and grase over us, and so did the enemies also, — till I directed an officer to our owne batteries, acquainting them with our hurt, and desiring they should stell or plant their cannon higher.

Since it was used with such ease in 1637, one can safely assume it was an established phrase at the time and most likely dates back to the early 1600s, if not farther.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »