The hard-boiled fiction from the 1930s and the many films noir later, apart from several other similarities, shared a special gangster jargon and street-wise language that lent an extra air of authenticity to those works.
As the many weird expressions, prohibition-time lingo, proverbs and often sexists, racist and plainly offensive words used there quickly went out of style – as is the fate of all once-hip or highly modern argot – their meaning got lost over the decades.
And present day audiences of 1940s hard-boiled novels or film noir classics will barely be able to get much meaning out of “ginzo” (a person of Italian heritage,) “mook” (a foolish, contemptible person,) “ameche” (a telephone,) to “ex-nay” (to stop something,) or “odey” (money).
Neither will idioms such as “being behind the eight ball” (in dire need of money,) “being away at college” (to be in prison,) “his name is Denis” (he is done for,) nor “to buy the farm” (to get killed) make much sense to the unprepared reader.
Author Joe Tradii, copywriter and lecturer, here collected more than 1,000 words of the type and dug deep into the dark and dangerous fictional regions of American crime writing and film making; he started compiling the volume as he unsuccessfully was looking for just such a book.
All the expressions he presents come with examples of proper usage, usually a quote from a film or a novel. (However, there is no etymology or reference to the particular expression in any other language. For those interested in an academic or scholarly volume of hard-boiled slang or a critical morphology: this publication is another category).
The small booklet, less than 120 pages, comes with four appendices. First: 12 noteworthy noir novels, 12 trendsetting gumshoes and 12 hard-boiled gunslingers. The other feature fabulous femme fatales, song lists, playlists, and a selection of movies.
This great little dictionary of vernacular from the golden days of crime fictions is a very welcome addition for any film noir collector or detective story fan.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2019
Joe Tradii. From Ameche to Zozzled: A Glossary of Hard-Boiled Slang of the 1920s through the 1940s. Independently published, 2018, 117 p.