Monday, December 12, 2011

How You’re Insulting Your Low-Class Hangers-on

You could find a number of reasons to object to the word slut, from the way it enforces a double standard about gender and sex to the way it just sounds terrible. SSSLLLUT. It’s sluicing and sliding and slithering and slinking and slitting and I just don’t want all that flowing around my ears, you know? But call a lady a trollop and you get a better reaction — possibly an altogether good one if she’s a dumb trollop who just doesn’t know what the word means. Maybe charmed by the British accent you’re faking. She can’t tell. She grew up in Kansas, the dumb backwoods trollop. Why, trollop kind of sounds like a cross between tra-la-la and roll-up, and she used to eat Fruit Roll-Ups with Grandma Bertie back before Grandma Bertie fell asleep in her smoking chair. And, well, in a way it was what she would have wanted, because she loved that chair and you couldn’t tell where the smoking chair ended and Grandma Bertie began. It doesn’t seem so long ago, really…

(Word of the week.)
hoyden (HOY-den) — noun: a rude, uncultured or rowdy girl or woman. adjective: high-spirited and boisterous; saucy, tomboyish.
I wouldn’t have learned of the existence of this polite-seeming alternative insult — which, by the way, comes from the Dutch heiden, “a rustic, uncivilized man,” which in turn descends from the Middle Dutch word for heathen — had it not been for Annie, Get Your Gun. I had to watch this movie this week, and though I got paid to do so, the experience was painful, because musicals — and in particular, the especially musical-y musicals from the midcentury — annoy the hell out of me. I mean, you wouldn’t a boring movie could be made about a feisty, illiterate crackshot who could split a flying playing card in half from ninety yards, but is boring when the majority of the film consists of her singing now-tired showtunes like “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).”

And although Annie Oakley could be called a hoyden, especially in the dirty, semi-feral state in which she’s introduced in the film, that’s not where I heard the word first. There’s an interesting backstory in which the role of Annie in the first-ever big screen adaptation initially was to go to Judy Garland. I’ve always wondered when Garland ceased to be the singing, dancing wunderkind she was in her Wizard of Oz days and instead became the slurring, hysterical dinosaur that I know best from Kristen Wiig impressions on Saturday Night Live. Well, it was Annie, Get Your Gun. Garland’s movie career basically ended when she more or less couldn’t find the set, and she was replaced by an actress named Betty Hutton, who as near as I can tell is a sketch character that Amy Poehler went back in time and played before her establishing her current comedy career in the late 90s. And Hutton scored the role of Annie Oakley because she had previously found success in a similar biopic: The Perils of Pauline, where she portrayed silent film star Pearl White as “an ambitious hoyden who rises from amateur-night vaudeville” to mainstream fame.

And that, dear children, is how English got the now-obscure word hoyden, how Judy Garland rode that crazy train called Hollywood to an untimely end, how Amy Poehler was a time-traveling immortal from beyond the stars, and how Grandma Bertie survives in our hearts as a great reason not to smoke.

But I have to share one more bit with you. Even though Annie, Get Your Gun wasn’t my cup of tea, I did a little bit more research into Hutton’s career and consequently watched a clip from The Perils of Pauline. And it featured a song. And it was called “Rumble.” And I’m including here for one specific reason.


The reason: There’s something funny about a woman scooching up and down a piano, singing “Rumble, rumble, rumble / Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” and I think it’s that it it sounds like she’s suffering from some severe digestive discomfort.

Happy new word!

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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3 comments:

  1. A couple of random things:

    1) Annie Oakley is a fascinating real person made into a boring character--check out all her page time in the non-fiction "Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris..."

    2) The most amazing Betty Hutton film is one where she doesn't sing--Preston Sturges' outlandish "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek." Her character's name: Trudy Kockenlocker.

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  2. Well, I did note that Oakley's actual life was more interesting than the movie made it seem, which is really too bad. But yes, I will totally read her actual story. How haven't they made a good movie about this woman yet?

    And that is an awesome name. I read about that other film. It's on my Netflix queue.

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  3. Judy Garland was already pretty hysterical in The Wizard of Oz, wasn't she?

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