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Oh those crazy kids!
December 6, 2012 5:21 AM   Subscribe

"For a few months in 1922, throngs of America’s youth — from schoolkids to shopgirls — were swept up in a leaderless pyramid scheme that promised “something for nothing” and encouraged promiscuous flirtation. These were the “Shifters.” This is their (brief) story." (NYTimes link) Previously on the flappers and flapper slang: 1, 2.
posted by OmieWise (43 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Slam-book: diary in which you “knock” your friends

Alas, these poor kids did not have the benefit of Harriet the Spy to teach them the folly of this practice....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:30 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess with so much life online, our current subcultures and youth fads will never be as mysterious as this, though, I am sure, they will seem just as inexplicable. In any case, it is fun to look at the slang, it occasionally makes me feel like I can connect with the 1920s versions of hipsters.

A few even seem very modern:
O.A.O.: One And Only
Woofy: in place of nothing else to say; generally meaningless
Mad Money: streetcar money in case of a row with your fellow
Monog: one who is “goofy” about one person at a time

But these are great:
Nunnally Cowboy: cake eater, lounge lizard
Snugglepupping: spooning, petting
posted by blahblahblah at 5:32 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's something vaguely menacing about "Shifters"... I expect it to be a Bioshock enemy class or something.
posted by selfnoise at 5:37 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lollygagger: young man addicted to hallway spooning

Pardon my ignorance - what is "hallway spooning"?
posted by hot soup at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2012


This is awesome.

Here's something about Shifters at Wake Forest University. Here's a PDF of a Times story about a school banning the group of "giggling grafters," and here's another most concerned with all the kissing. This fabulous piece in the Ogden, UT, paper (top left in image), has quotes from an interview with one of the Kestermans: "Simple as buying hootch...pick out your little idea, hit it on the head, skin it on the spot, and sell it for a thousand or a million."

Folkloristically, I think it belongs in the general taxonomy of college secret societies. THis one seems like a college society that escaped into the wild. It's interesting to think about all the influences on this particular story: the secrecy of fraternal organizations, the prevalence of political secret societies in the just-past WWI, changing attitudes about sex and social mores, and a ripe bed for frankly, gleefully cynical capitalist ventures like the creation of the emblems.
posted by Miko at 5:41 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


what is "hallway spooning"?

Making out in the halls between classes.
posted by Miko at 5:42 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mad Money: streetcar money in case of a row with your fellow

Curiously, I just had a conversation with a friend about this term. I recall being told (by my Grandmother?) that "Mad Money" was the money you saved out of the household budget so you could "go mad" and buy something you wanted. Later, I heard it used in the sense of the article -- money a woman took on a date so she could leave if she got mad or felt unsafe. My friend had always understood it to be the money you saved from the household budget so you could leave if your husband became violent (or too violent or violent one too many times).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


THis one seems like a college society that escaped into the wild.

I am imagining this as the plot for a Hollywood thriller. A secret government project to develop the ultimate meme is incubated on college campuses, but a careless researcher (or a mole trying to sell the secrets to... well, not the Russians, surely, these days) allows it to escape and the hero must race against time to secure the antidote before the whole world is wearing their hats backwards and quoting lolcats. Or something.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I learned it from my grandmother as basically the "anger" two meanings. You carried it on a date so you could get home yourself if you needed to leave, or (if married) you could leave the house. As used by married women, I always interpreted it as a sort of cheeky holdover from dating.
posted by Miko at 5:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always understood it as the money that allowed you to be free if you got angry at your date. The "free" spending still has that aspect of freedom, but I've always heard it used in the former sense.
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


money a woman took on a date so she could leave if she got mad

I worked in a museum with a curator who was an aging flapper. When a collection of flapper clothing came in she made sure to point out the tiny pocket book, which contained only enough space for a lipstick, a house key, and in two itty-bitty silken pockets on the side that held exactly one dime and one nickel, the cost of a phone call and a cab ride.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:53 AM on December 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


Drag: to escort a Flapper somewhere

I've always wondered what the Squirrel Nut Zippers' song "My Drag" meant. They must have been Shifters.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:58 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the Ogden UT link:

The "Shifters" have their own line of talk. A male "Shifter" meets a girl "Shifter" and asks "Cash or Check?". If she answers "Cash" he kisses her then; "Check" later. But if she doesn't like his looks she says "Banks Closed" and he must respect her answer.

This would never work today. Too much easy credit available.
posted by three blind mice at 6:00 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


From now on, I am going to keep an eye out for ladies with two paper clips on their hat brim.
posted by Flunkie at 6:03 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


[woofy]
posted by emelenjr at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


'Shifters' sounds like the title of a bad 1990's syndicated sci-fi television show.
posted by item at 6:05 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mad Money: streetcar money in case of a row with your fellow

That's not how the term is used now and given the time period I'm a little skeptical that they meant "mad" as in "anger" then either.

Mad money is money you can do something mad, i.e. crazy, with. Like a buy a painting of a cat for $125 on the spur of the moment. That's a completely hypothetical example, natch.

In certain situations you might ALSO be keeping the mad money around in case your relationship breaks down. But I don't think that's the original of the "mad" part. The OED only lists the "crazy" definition. However, one of the examples does use the above sense, but the "mad" doesn't refer to the girl getting angry at the guy but to the guy acting mad, "i.e., acted with an excessive freedom of manner."
posted by DU at 6:24 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


'Shifters' sounds like the title of a bad 1990's syndicated sci-fi television show.

Really? I thought more like an obscure British band of the early MTV era....

Or, possibly, a roving band of religious revolutionaries in 17th C England.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:25 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't the NY Times kind of known for falling for made-up "argot lists" in subculture stories like the one quoted?
posted by nicwolff at 6:28 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not how the term is used now

Yes it is. Several people have commented in this thread to that effect. My grandmother, my aunt, my step-mother, and her friends would all differ with you.
posted by OmieWise at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


On Aug. 12, The St. Joseph Observer of Missouri explored “the dust bin of memory” to list some of the “things that roused us all to a frenzy” during the first half of the year. This list included galoshes, Flappers, Lady Astor, ectoplasm, radio, Babe Ruth’s return to baseball, Eskimo pie and, yes, Shifters.

The odd thing is, I recognize more terms and names in that list than I think I would given a similar list from today. What does that mean?
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hopefully no one debunks the argot list before I finish recording "That Wallie's got a Wrinkle (He's a real Flat-Wheeler)", but I guess that once a past subculture is in the NYT, it's a flat tire anyway.
posted by frimble at 6:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


galoshes, Flappers, Lady Astor, ectoplasm, radio, Babe Ruth’s return to baseball, Eskimo pie and, yes, Shifters

People are such shitty judges of what the future will care/know about.

Also, Paz de la Huerta, the prototypical Shifter.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:36 AM on December 6, 2012


My grandmother, my aunt, my step-mother, and her friends would all differ with you.

They also differ with the OED. I usually tend to trust scholarship over folksy back etymologies.
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on December 6, 2012


I don't understand that comment. You're saying that the OED determines how it is acceptable to use a word, who is "right" about how it's used now? You said: "That's not how the term is used now," when it clearly is used that way now.
posted by OmieWise at 6:44 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, on as to your etymological argument, the OED seems to be incorrect about when "mad" came to mean angry, or at least "made crazy because of anger." Here is a citation from 1922 of the use of "mad money" under discussion here.
posted by OmieWise at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And another citation from The New Republic, July 19, 1922, Vol. 22, page 214 in 1922: "Mad Money, he explained, quite seriously, is what they take with them to get home on in case they fall out with the fellow they've gone with."
posted by OmieWise at 6:55 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're saying that the OED determines how it is acceptable to use a word...

Nope.

None of your citations are showing a "mad = angry" connection for "mad money". Just because a couple people you know have misinterpreted it that way means nothing globally.
posted by DU at 6:57 AM on December 6, 2012


Um, guys?

I am pretty sure that the phrase has mutated over time and distance and developed unique meanings in different places and/or cultures. I don't imagine any of the people who defined it for me were lying, and I have no reason to believe that they were particularly mistaken.

In other words, we can all be right. On the internet. Let us savor this moment. Now, on the count of three, let's all put down our citations and back away. I will buy the first round of eggnog (or, given the FPP topic, bathtub gin).
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would make me happy to read that something contemporary is also being denounced for being a “bunco outfit”. That would be awesome. I'm tempted to try to make it happen. A coworker or four will be denounced as being members of bunco outfits, just to get it back into the Weltgeist.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 7:06 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not how the term is used now and given the time period I'm a little skeptical that they meant "mad" as in "anger" then either.

"Mad" has usually not meant "crazy" in 20th century US slang. Only very recently does it mean something like "large amounts [of a thing]"

I've got to differ with the OED too. By the way, did you link to or cite an OED definition? I can't see one but I'm working hastily.

Let's look at some sources.

Merriam-Webster: money that a woman carries to pay her fare home in case a date ends in a quarrel; also : money set aside for an emergency or personal use

1922, in a piece in The New Republic about slang: "...I wanted to know, what was mad money, the young lady said that of course she had her mad money along when she left home. Mad money, he explained, quite seriously, is what they take with them to get home in case they fall out with the fellow they've gone with.

1922, Forbes: "He has never figured it out that the two commonest kinds of chatter are the monologue and the joint debate, and that the salesman who indulges in either had better have his mad money handy when the party is over."

1924, Everybody's Magazine: "I take lots of chances, Mr. Brede. But I'm too canny to go anywhere with a man without taking "mad money" along."

1927, New York Nights: "I had to use mad money on Tuesday night. Lucky I always carry five dollars mad money in case of need."

1928, Morrow's Almanack: "The typical female Scorpion [astrology] always carries "mad money" about with her and has to walk home from automobile rides." (I think this means she's quick to anger).

1934, The New Dealers: "...the attitude of a girl out on a pick-up party towards the "mad money" which is her insurance against being forced literally to walk home."

1935, Slang to-day and yesterday: "Mad Money. A flapper's money-reserve against a quarrel with her " boy " : from ca. 1910 (orig. naval)."

It seems like kind of a lock that our grandmothers were right. At least when this term was relatively new slang, it meant carrying money to take care of yourself on a date even when men were expected to pay for everything. It was a way to retain independence if you got "mad."

I agree that over time, the derivation has become clouded by the "Crazy!" sense of "mad," and that today we see it all the time in copywriting and on TV to mean "pocket money just for fun." But the sources indicate that's an extension/expansion of a term that started out as something much more specific.

Finally, one thing I can't help but reflect on (I know, sorry MeFi), is how rape-culture-related this term is. I know from my grandmother and great-aunt that the issue, to take the sheen of nostalgia off of it, was ending up in a private place with a "masher," who was a guy who "wouldn't take no for an answer," and would basically force himself on you. We'd use different terms today. But objecting to that dismissal of consent was what "getting mad" often meant in that context. There are other slights that I'm sure could do it too, but this was the concern: if you need to run away and get a cab ride home, and the guy is so untrustworthy you can't ask him to drive you, you need your own money to do that. In a way, it's a linguistic artifact of rape culture.

Interestingly as well: before the 1920s women did not really carry purses because they didn't need them. They had reticules and things, but the idea of a shoulder bag or handbag was not really important because you had nothing to carry. You shopped on credit in most stores, maybe carried a bit of money in a lady's wallet in a pocket of your jacket or a string bag, but it wasn't until the 20s that women (a) went out at night alone without an escort and (b) had things other than money to carry - most importantly, makeup and cigarettes, which were both new to middle-class women at the time. So the purse came in, which was a practical answer to "I don't have a steady partner to carry my stuff, but I need to hold my lipstick, smokes, and some money in case things turn foul."
posted by Miko at 7:07 AM on December 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


Cross-posted with OmieWise; didn't mean to repeat your sources, just composed that before viewing other comments!
posted by Miko at 7:08 AM on December 6, 2012


Nope.

None of your citations are showing a "mad = angry" connection for "mad money". Just because a couple people you know have misinterpreted it that way means nothing globally.


Huh, I had kind of a debate with myself about whether you, would be able to say that you were wrong in the face of the evidence. I almost included a question about it in my last comment, but then I thought, "No, there's no way, despite all of the snark and the evidence that he could be that arrogant. He'll see he was incorrect and graciously admit it."

I see that I underestimated you. I apologize for that.

See also:

The Complete Book of Etiquette, 1926: "This term, by the way, is one of the few surviving words of the early flapper-vocabulary — an apt designation of the loose change taken by a girl to cover the exigency of a quarrel with her escort which would necessitate her going home alone."

H.L. Mencken's The American Language[!!!!!], 1931, p. 373: "mad-money: money reserved to pay a flapper's way home in case she quarrels with her beau"
posted by OmieWise at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


a pyramid scheme of enrollment and enrichment that was encapsulated by the Shifter motto, “Get something for nothing.”

Shifters, grifters?!
posted by Segundus at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2012


My mother was a flapper, and she would hand us a folded bill when we left for the night in someone else's car. She'd say, "Walking around money." I took that in DU's meaning, but in retrospect now I think it very well might have been in OmieWise's.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:20 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love most of that slang and will endeavor to start using it immediately...um, slightly adapted, as I am already over 30 but fancy myself cool enough. My mission for tonight: call someone a tomato or a sharpshooter.

[grabs handful of paperclips]
posted by desuetude at 7:28 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought mad money was the five bucks spent to register with Metafilter and get mad at other people on the Internet.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:31 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, Mad Money is the $10 that you paypal to someone who sends you an unsolicited mail inviting you to Metafilter Gold, and it turns out that it's just a Greasemonkey script that makes the background yellow.
posted by frimble at 7:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


She'd say, "Walking around money."

I almost brought that up, too! My parents always called it "walking around money" when they gave us a little something to go out with our friends.

I don't think it's exactly the same thing, though. Here are some references:

Discussion at WordReference and The Straight Dope, a little convoluted - it has social and political meanings.

I remembered two other expressions which meant "money for women to spend on themselves" -- butter and egg money, and pin money.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father, who would have been 9 years old back then used to occasionally use the term "Tomato" in this manner. Always found it to be odd, and it is cool and insightful to see it listed here as "Shifter Slang".
posted by Windopaene at 8:14 AM on December 6, 2012


In New Jersey, you can still see "Jersey Tomato" tee shirts for sale every summer. That "hot tomato" sense is current still at least in that region (because of the famously good tomatoes grown in the state).
posted by Miko at 8:49 AM on December 6, 2012


Life would have been so much easier back in my dating days if women had worn paper clips on their hat to broadcast their availability.
posted by COD at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2012


Isn't the NY Times kind of known for falling for made-up "argot lists" in subculture stories like the one quoted?

Really? Harsh realm, dude.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


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