Date: Thu, 7 Sep 1995 18:45:12 -0500
From: Nancy Dray nancy_dray[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UNEWS.UCHICAGO.EDU
Subject: Anachronistic usage?
Subject: Time:4:56 PM
OFFICE MEMO Anachronistic usage? Date:9/7/95
******Please note that I'm no longer on ADS-L, so EVEN IF YOU POST RESPONSES TO
THE LIST, PLEASE ALSO E-MAIL ME DIRECTLY; my address is n-dray[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]uchicago.edu.
The Linguistics Department at the University of Chicago got a call yesterday
(which I fielded) from someone working on a new film version of "Lolita,"
directed by Adrian Lyne. The caller was trying to find out whether certain
words and phrases in the screenplay are plausible for speech by characters in a
film set in 1947, or if they should be changed to avoid anachronism. The
items are as follows (I've given glosses or context when she gave it to me):
(1) zit ('pimple')
(4) the use of "major" in the phrase "that's a MAJOR option"
(5) "get fucked" (They know that "fuck" is an old term, but they're wondering
about "get fucked," in the following odd context: two girls are talking, one
says, "see you later, alligator," the other replies "in a while, crocodile,"
and the first comes back with "get fucked, Daffy Duck" (which of course also
raises the questions of when the "see you later, alligator" exchanges were in
vogue and when Daffy Duck appeared...).
I have some quick guesses for all of these, but I haven't checked any sources
yet (no time until the weekend). I wish I had asked for more context,
especially for "cool" and "guy"; the use of "cool" she's referring to may even
be the most recently fashionable one-word clipped response, but I don't know
One idea I mentioned to her off the top of my head was to be mindful of
intonation, too, since I've seen a lot of historical shows involving teenagers
that had comically anachronistic intonation patterns, as well as some
anachronistic usage of current catch phrases. (I must admit, though, that some
of my awareness of anachronism is based on the Hollywood world, not the real
world---i.e., language from the 1950s and '60s sounds normal in a western,
because that's the way people talk in old westerns, whether or not it's the way
they actually talked in the Old West; language from the '90s, on the other
hand, sounds really funny in westerns.) I also will suggest that she be
cautious about accepting just any early attestation as confirming that a usage
is okay for any character in the movie, since some usages may have appeared
first in a very different context (e.g., there may be some early attestations
of a phrase among jazz musicians, but that doesn't mean a young white country
girl would be saying it).
But I think it's great that she bothered to check this, and that she knew to
seek out a linguist, so I'm trying to be as much help as I can. (Perhaps this
is an area where opportunities could be created for linguistic consultants and
public awareness could be raised concerning dialects, language change, etc.?)
The caller wanted the info ASAP (of course), and I promised I'd call or fax her
by Monday, Sept. 11, with whatever I had then. I'd therefore be tremendously
grateful for any help ADS-L readers might offer, including suggested references
(preferably on-line). Of course, if anyone feels like actually tracking this
down and sending me an answer I can simply fax to her, I'd be even more
In any case, thanks much, greetings to all, and I hope to be seeing many of you
at the winter meetings in Chicago.
Nancy L. Dray
n-dray[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]uchicago.edu
*****Please note that I'm no longer on ADS-L, so EVEN IF YOU POST RESPONSES TO
THE LIST, PLEASE ALSO E-MAIL ME DIRECTLY******