Words and pictures. Whatever happened during the week that I can remember. Occasional pleas for money. A new one every Monday.
Every now and again I check out the Dial Bookshop’s Instagram because they post the unusual finds which come in. That’s where I saw A Dictionary of the Underworld. I traded the cost of one of my Chicago writer illustrations for it and have enjoyed flipping through it randomly ever since.
Tucked before the dedication page is a fortune-cookie-fortune-sized slip of paper with the following message: Owing to production delays this book was not published until 1950. Inside, I learn that amusers were people who threw dust into people’s eyes, after which their partners would offer to “help” the newly-blinded and disoriented. Going over the Alps meant going to jail, an academy was a whorehouse, and an Adam and Eve on a raft was just two fried eggs on toast; ask to “wreck ’em” if you want them scrambled.
Assembled by Eric Partridge, this fascinating book’s subtitle is a beaut—
Being the Vocabularies of
CROOKS CRIMINALS RACKETEERS
BEGGARS and TRAMPS
THE COMMERCIAL UNDERWORLD
THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC
Reading this or that definition I can’t help wondering what a dictionary of this age would read like. Meaning is more malleable than it’s ever been. Words we used to understand will change definition hour to hour or from one mouth to another. Good thing we have word-processing programs rather than printing presses because a dictionary of our time would require a whole separate appendix of apologies for the inevitable production delays; could such a book ever even be completed to anyone’s satisfaction?
This line of thought is so depressing I have to find escape in quaint, overpriced rabbit holes like this old underworld dictionary. I close the New York Times tab and learn that to balance was to swindle, cheap talk is balloon juice, and a beard-splitter is one who enjoys women. It’s doubtful I’ll ever be able to use any of the information gleaned from these pages, but neither is there much value in following the news these days, aside from giving yourself ulcers and migraines.
I reviewed a great new Manual Cinema production called The End of TV this week, but a commenter named Reader Censors Real Chicagoans wasn’t buying it: ” What a surprise–so-called “progressives” HATE PROGRESS! And oh yes, Communist limp-wristed Dimitry boy–why didn’t you tell your Reader bosses that you didn’t want your posted ON THE INTERNET! Idiot snowflake libtard cuck.”
What a country! Give me spivs, beggars, and tramps any day of the week.
More next Monday.
p.s. I recorded a conversation with Chicago painter Brian Wells. The article I’m writing about him should be published in a couple weeks and made a video clip for my upcoming art show at Dominican University.
p.p.s. Here are the Shel Silverstein and Harriet Monroe cards. I think the Silverstein one was what I traded for the dictionary. I have to believe Shel would’ve approved.
All artwork and photos: Dmitry Samarov
Originally published in Dmitry Samarov’s Pictures & Blather here.
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Dmitry Samarov paints and writes in Chicago, Illinois.
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