SLEUTH: What sort of word is that?

What do you think of when you hear the word “sleuth?” I think of Nancy Drew.

That made this post on Merriam-Webster’s word origins site pretty interesting, especially for someone like me who writes mysteries.

The etymology of SLEUTH:

“They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” Those canine tracks in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles set the great Sherlock Holmes sleuthing on the trail of a murderer. It was a case of art imitating etymology. When Middle English speakers first borrowed sleuth from Old Norse, the term referred to “the track of an animal or person.” In Scotland, sleuthhound referred to a bloodhound used to hunt game or track down fugitives from justice. In 19th-century U.S. English, sleuthhound became an epithet for a detective and was soon shortened to sleuth. From there, it was only a short leap to turning sleuth into a verb describing what a sleuth does.

Examples of SLEUTH

“Farmer would go sleuthing in the archives of Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies to find evidence of an undiscovered landfall in Canada, and Ward could build a rig that trailed an 11-foot metal detector behind a combine, which is how they unearthed $1 million in pallasite fragments from several square miles of Alberta farmland.”
— Joshuah Bearman and Allison Keeley, Wired, January 2019

“For more than five decades, Morse has sleuthed out long-lost family trees for a living. From his home base here in Haywood, Morse travels the world tracking down missing heirs.”
— Becky Johnson, The Mountaineer (Haywood County, North Carolina), 20 Nov. 2018

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Published in: on January 31, 2019 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Teetotalers Unite!

Well, what do you think the Merriam-Webster Dictionary word-of-the-day was for Jan. 18? (Hint: that is the first day that Prohibition was fully in effect.) Where does the word come from?

I was interested to learn that the word Teetotaler did NOT originate with prohibition, as I had thought.

Teetotaler–one who practices or advocates teetotalism : one who abstains completely from alcoholic drinks

A person who abstains from alcohol might choose tea as his or her alternative beverage, but the word teetotaler has nothing to do with tea. More likely, the “tee” that begins the word teetotal is a reduplication of the letter “t” that begins total, emphasizing that one has pledged total abstinence. In the early 1800s, tee-total and tee-totally were used to intensify total and totally, much the way we now might say, “I’m tired with a capital T.” “I am now … wholly, solely, and teetotally absorbed in Wayne’s business,” wrote the folklorist Parson Weems in an 1807 letter. Teetotal and teetotaler first appeared with their current meanings in 1834, eight years after the formation of the American Temperance Society.

Published in: on January 24, 2019 at 10:40 am  Comments (2)  

Tap Dancing History

I stumbled across this interesting video. Don’t worry-it’s short. Have a look. Tap Dancing History

 

 

Published in: on January 18, 2019 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy New Year!

It wasn’t a very happy new year in 1920 for most people. Sure, those who backed the prohibition amendment were eager for the arrival of the liquor-free world, where there would be no violence from drunken husbands and no hungry children whose father drank up his paycheck. Most women were eager to vote for the first time. But for the majority of Americans who drank beer, wine, cider, or spirits, 1920 looked bleak.

People who had money and storage space had stocked up on their favorite beverages, but no one at the time labored under any illusion that prohibition would be temporary. With hindsight, we know it was repealed 13 years later, but they didn’t know that, and frankly, no one believed a constitutional amendment could ever be repealed. It had never happened, and there was no mechanism for it. Prohibition looked permanent.

On Jan. 17, 1920, the country went “bone dry.”

Published in: on December 28, 2018 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

A commercial break

We pause our regularly scheduled programming for a brief commercial break.

Severn House Publishers brought Murder in Disguise out in paperback for the holiday season. This, the fourth in the Roaring Twenties series, is now available in stores and online for prices that vary from $14-$17. (E-books from $6; hard cover from $25) Find out what Jessie is doing and who she’s doing it with . . . who’s dead and who’s accused and how does the little deaf girl figure into everything?

 

Published in: on December 11, 2018 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Origins of Ritzy

Here’s what I learned this morning from Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day:

César Ritz (1850-1918), a Swiss hotelier, earned worldwide renown for the luxurious hotels bearing his name in London and Paris. (The Ritz-Carlton hotel company is a contemporary descendant of these enterprises.) Although they were by no means the first to cater to high-end clients, Ritz’s hotels quickly earned reputations as symbols of opulence. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer who often focused on the fashionably wealthy, titled one of his short stories “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and the phrase “to put on the ritz” means “to indulge in ostentatious display.” The adjective ritzy, describing either something fancy or stylish, or the haughty attitudes of the wealthy elite, first checked into the English language in 1920.

Therefore, I can safely used the word ritzy in my Roaring Twenties mysteries!

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 7:35 am  Comments (2)  

Prohibition Abroad

We forget sometimes (or I do, at least) that alcohol prohibition was not solely an American phenomenon. I was reminded of that recently, as I traveled through Central Asian countries of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. In each country, our guides mentioned the prohibition era of 1985-1987, when Gorbachev launched a campaign that seems to have been partial prohibition. Prices on alcohol were raised and sales were restricted, but more serious than that, existing wineries and breweries were shut down and farmers were forced to cut down their grape vines. It sounded a lot like the 1920s in America. One of our guides said that his grandmother had to cut down her vines, but since the prohibition was rescinded after only a couple of years, the roots hadn’t been dug up and the vines came back, giving Grandma back her home-made wine production. Since Prohibition lasted 13 years in the U.S., farmers here weren’t as fortunate.

Russia (pre-Soviet Union) did have a go at complete prohibition back in 1914 when World War I broke out. In an effort to make sure soldiers didn’t drink, they banned all sales of alcohol, except in restaurants, which allowed the tiny number of rich Russians to continue consuming whatever they wanted. Predictably, it had about as much success as Prohibition in the U.S., which is to say, very little.

Today, I was glad to see, the secular countries of Central Asia have no such restrictions on alcohol. Wine, beer, and liquor is sold in bars and clubs and restaurants and hotels, and we were able to visit two active wineries. We enjoyed tasting the local wines whenever possible, even though they were not generally the sort I like. Central Asians prefer sweet red wines and don’t make or drink much white–I like my wine dry, red and white.

As an aside, if you are trying to come up with an unusual, safe, and fascinating trip, consider Central Asia. The best country is Uzbekistan. Its cities–Tashkent, Bokhara, Khiva, and Samarkand–have magnificent sights. The only drawback (besides the sweet red wine) is the distance.

Published in: on October 30, 2018 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

When Vaudeville Got Tired

Long before vaudeville ended, it got tired. Some insiders warned that the medium was becoming stale. Years of profits made owners like Ed Albee think they had a magic formula for success, a formula they clung to rigidly. Some tried to point out this error: “Big Time vaudeville theaters in most cities were antiquated buildings run by local manager who never tinkered with tradition. The Big Time stars came back year after year with their same songs, dances, and jokes,” said William Morris (of the William Morris Agency). The editor of one of the more important theater magazines criticized the “blind reverence for, or slavery to, tradition that resists every effort to shake the variety show out of the old routine, the traditional way of choosing and staging acts.”

Some shows bored their audiences with a string of similar acts, such as nearly all dancing acts or nearly all comedians. And audiences were growing impatient with the censorship rules. According to A.F. Wertheim in his book, Vaudeville Wars, the Keith-Albee Circuit (the leading circuit) continued to order performer to delete objectionable jokes, such as “I’ve been studying abroad,” or “Give us this day our daily bread, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum.” Moving pictures were newer, more exciting, more risqué, and more exciting to audiences. The vaudeville magazine, Variety, (founded in 1905) reflected this shift when it moved vaudeville news to the back pages and movie news to the front in 1925.

Published in: on September 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

George Will’s history lesson touches my books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve read THE IMPERSONATOR, you may remember a character who is running for public office named Henry. Henry is a bigot, typical of Oregonians (and many other Americans, it should be said) in the 1920s, who rails against Catholics, the Japanese, and private schools (because some were Catholic). Henry mentions that the current governor is a friend of the Ku Klux Klan, as is Henry himself.  In my third book in the series, RENTING SILENCE, the main character Jessie goes on a vaudeville tour in Indiana and comes up against serious threats from the KKK–but she can’t get help because the town’s entire police force are Klansmen. Some readers thought these portrayals were inaccurate–that the Klan was only in the South.

History books seldom go into enough detail to mention that the Klan was stronger in Indiana and Oregon than it was in parts of the South, but it is true. So I was delighted when conservative columnist George Will wrote about this in last week’s column. Here’s the excerpt:

In the Twenties, however, Oregon was a national leader in a different flavor of nonsense, as historian Linda Gordon recounts in “The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition.” The Klan’s revival began in 1915 with the romanticizing of it in the film “Birth of a Nation,” adapted from the novel “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon. He was a John Hopkins University classmate and friend of Woodrow Wilson, who as president made the movie the first one shown in the White House. Wilson was enraptured: “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

The resuscitated Klan flourished nationwide as a vehicle of post-World War I populism. It addressed grievances about national identity — pre-war immigration (too many Catholics and Jews) had diluted Anglo-Saxon purity — and disappointment with the recalcitrant world that had not been sufficiently improved by, or grateful for, U.S. involvement in the war.

Gordon, who grew up in Portland, says: “Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, and extending through the mid-twentieth century, Oregon was arguably the most racist place outside the southern states, possibly even of all the states.” By the early 1920s, “Oregon shared with Indiana the distinction of having the highest per capita Klan membership” because the Klan’s agenda “fit comfortably into the state’s tradition.”

In 1844, Oregon territory banned slavery — and required African-Americans to leave. Prevented by federal law from expelling African-Americans, Gordon says it became the only state to ban “any further blacks from entering, living, voting or owning property,” a law “to be enforced by lashings for violators.” The state offered free land, but only to whites. It imposed an annual tax on non-whites who remained. Oregon refused to ratify the post-Civil War Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments (not doing so until 1959 and 1973, respectively).

In 1920, Oregon’s population was 0.006 percent Japanese (they came after the federal government banned Chinese immigration in 1882), 0.3 percent African-American, 0.1 percent Jewish and 8 percent Catholic. To make living difficult for Japanese, Gordon says, the state “banned immigrants from operating hospitality businesses.” In 1923, only one state legislator voted against barring immigrants from owning or renting land. In advance of today’s progressive hostility to private schools competing with government schools, Klan-dominated Oregon — it was primarily hostile to Catholic schools — banned all private schools. In 1925, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (Gov. Walter Pierce was a Democrat and, Gordon says, “an ardent Klan ally”), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down this law.

Interesting, huh? Thanks, George Will, for elaborating on this subject.

Published in: on August 12, 2018 at 8:53 am  Comments (2)  

The Last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars

Once upon a time, a sure-fire way for an aspiring screen actress to get noticed was to be named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Each year from 1922 until 1934, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose thirteen young women whom they believed would be the screen’s next stars. The girls got lots of attention, party invitations, publicity, and small parts, and some did break into big time stardom. I found this photo at an antiques mall hanging on a pegboard wall in a shoddy frame and bought it for $10. It was taken in 1934, the last year of the promotion.

WAMPAS Baby Stars you might know include Clara Bow (the “It Girl”), Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers (Fred Astaire’s dance partner), Sally Rand, and Fay Wray (of King Kong fame).  For a complete list, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WAMPAS_Baby_Stars

So when I read in this week’s NY Times that Mary Carlisle, the last WAMPAS Baby Star, had passed away, I thought it was worth noting on my blog. She was reputedly 104 years old, but since she had always fudged her age, no one–not even her son–is quite sure how old she was. She may have been 106. Mary Carlisle was named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1932, along with Ginger Rogers. While not as big a star as some would become, Carlisle had a good film career, playing in movies until 1943 opposite male stars like Will Rogers, Bob Cummings, Jimmy Durante, Buster Crabbe, Ray Milland, and Bing Crosby. As she said in a 1937 interview, she was usually cast as the “sweet young heroine.” Read the NY Times obituary here. Or here, for the Washington Post.

Published in: on August 6, 2018 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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