Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yo? No.

Recently, I saw a movie that was set in the 60's, and a couple of things grated on me.

One was that a character said to another, "T'sup?" Nope. That's a recent locution. You wouldn't have heard it in Harlem, Haight-Ashbury, or Kansas City.

The other telling, and wrong, detail was the way in which a character pronounced, "cool." Oh, we said "cool," back then, but it was pronounced very differently from how it is said now. Then, it was just a straightforward, "cool," in the way you'd say, "We have cool weather." Cool car. Cool girl. Cool party. But there was no special inflection, there were no extra syllables, just. . .cool. It wasn't used as a single word either, but only in a complete sentence. "He's so cool!" "What a cool car!" I think its meaning was a little different then, too. It was all about popularity and/or attitude, not so much about voicing approval or agreement. ("Want to go get drunk and throw up?" "Sure. Cool.") The preppy (also not used then) quarterback of your high school team might be cool, but so was James Dean. (They were also "dreamy.") But nothing was "coo-uhl," or all the other inventive ways the word is pronounced now. It's cool the way it's used now. I like it. But it's different from how it was used back in the day (which is also a phrase you would never have heard in the 60's). There was no such thing as the word "uncool," either. Neither was there a "chill," except in the air, or a chill-out.

It's tough to get every detail right when you're doing a period piece, whether in a novel or a film. I don't like to watch Vietnam era movies anymore because we're far enough away from it that the portrayals tend to be just off, or way off. Simply playing "White Rabbit," wearing tie-dye, and saying groovy a lot doesn't do it. (There were several different ways to say groovy, btw, much as there are for "cool" now.) It's the same with the Fifties. Sometimes I can barely recognize the time they think they're depicting. Makes you wonder about movies about the French Revolution, doesn't it?

You probably think I'm leading up to some point with this, don't you? Ha! I guess my only point is a plea. . .if you're writing about a time when you weren't here, and there are still people around who were, check it out with them. They can tell a cool from a coo-ul, and a what's happenin' from a T'sup? and a Brother from a bro. Some of you may remember that when I was writing Virgin I asked on the Booman Tribune blog if anybody remembered if boys called girls "hot chicks" back in the eighties. Thanks to your input, I decided to say it another way. Things like that can make a difference in leading the reader to trust everything else you tell them.

And thass a fact (which was also not said back then in the same way that it's used now).


AndiF said...

I really notice mistakes like that, though I think I notice it more in books than in movies/tv. Probably because it's more jarring to the flow of the book.

Of course, readers/viewers have their own sin in this area which I just committed recently -- I was reading a book set in Kenya after WWI and realized I kept criticizing characters for failing to have current attitudes. Once I did realize it, though, I also realized what a great job the author was doing of both showing a realistic range of attitudes for the period and also subtly suggesting how the evolution of attitudes occurs. said...

Que pasa

Nancy, you are dead on. Having moved from the west coast to the interior in the 60s in my youth, I noticed then, though, some striking regional differences in youth pop culture and expressions. [ It’s not like I got beat up immediately, but almost. ] Some of these things varied widely, too, among social cliques.

I know you’re talking about current sensibilities and expressions being removed backwards. And I don’t remember “cool” then at all, especially as it used now. I do remember stud and bitchin. No one I knew personally, btw, every said the F word out loud in the 60s. That was 1970s in my life experiences.

The tie-dye I remember in the 1960s (home done stuff, usually one-color) wasn’t common. We were much more likely to be concerned with Madras shirts, surfer bangs, and NOT having our pants too long. We did wear dimes in our penny loafers. My best pants were butterscotch plaid bell-bottoms (but not too drastic on the bells).

About the same time I had Bonanza shirts in my wardrobe I was also wearing a peace-sign on a chain around my neck. I remember ordering my first set of love beads in the late 1960s from Tiger Beat and a handful of kids wore them, but a handful of kids also wore Boy Scout uniforms to school on Flag Day.

“Groovy” was indeed in vogue. I had friends who said “outasite” and “far out” with irritating regularity.

Beth said...

Getting in early today so's I don't miss the fun. Morning ghost and andi!

I still use "cool" (the short version) all the time, without realizing it. Although it's probably not. (Cool, that is.)

And I watch older movies and wonder why they don't just grab their cell phone and call for help? :-)

Anonymous said...

This is exactly the reason I am reluctant to take up any "historical fiction." I don't know if anyone can really do justice to an age that they were not a part of. And I don't mean just the vocabulary or the clothing styles. I doubt that I can get a fair sensibility of the age from someone who wasn't there. I find reading Jane Austen novels far superior to that movie "Becoming Jane" because of this very thing.

Paul Lamb said...


Wanna Do Music?

The 60s was transitional in almost all aspects. 1968 was so very different from 1964. I had love-beads hanging from my belt in 1968. The belt was thick, too. My leather watch-band was four-inches wide. By 1969, I had a thick blue corduroy double-breasted car coat (hit below my knees) with very wide lapels. I thought I was Jim Morrison.

As for White Rabbit this is where it gets tough to confess. We really didn’t always know the difference in quality between Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, Red Roses for a Blue Lady, Last Kiss, Dead Man’s Curve, Love Potion Number Nine… and the Real music that was starting to happen.

At one point I thought “In My Room,” “Red Rubber Ball,” and “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” was the best music on the radio. And I would literally pull my car off the road and park to listen to Van Morrison’s (once he broke from Them) “Brown Eyed Girl.” And the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

The “cool” stuff was the Kinks “You Really Got Me;” Animals, “The House of Rising Sun,” but we also grooved on Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” Temptations “My Girl,” and the R Bros “You’ve Lost that Lovin Feeling.” Mary Wells’ “My Guy” was pretty hot stuff. As for the Beatles, it was more along the lines of I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Petula Clark was just as much a part of the British invasion as anyone else.

“Leader of the Pack” and “Chapel of Love” competed straight-up with the Zombies’ “She’s Not There.” If you were really on top of it, you might have been listening to Dylan a little bit, but it was more likely the Supremes’ “Baby Love” and The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.”

I mean, “My Red Rooster” was hanging around somewhere, but so was “My Boy Lollipop.” You know? “It Aint Me Babe” and “Time is On My Side” were cutting edge, but, heck, we liked “Rag Doll” and Manfred Man’s “Do Wah Ditty Ditty” about as much.

Of course, being west coast for awhile, Fun Fun Fun, Don’t Worry Baby, and I Get Around blew our socks off. So we didn’t wear any and pulled our hair down, when we got away from the house, into surfer bangs. And, honest to god, I knew some older kids in 1963 or so who had a “Hi-Fidelity” set-up. They listened to the Ventures. That’s all. The Ventures. And they owned albums when I only had singles. So they had to be cool, right?

Eventually a few of us were listening to Donovan at home. I’m just wild about saffron…

Eventually it was Woodstock. But not for most of the 1960s. Anyway, if someone tells me there’s a movie set in the 1960s, I would say “Which 1960s?”

Rick Bylina said...

I remember the 60s like it was yesterday, no, wait, that was an acid (1966) flashback (1902)! Pscyhedelic (1957)!! Far out (1954), man. said...

Yes, Paul; it is tough to do any past period justice.

If you're lucky, you can find someone's letters as background for cultural sensibilities. I set half a novel in 1817 and relied almost entirely on Mary Shelley's letters and a current (1816?) travel guide by Stendhal. And it's still pretty much hit or miss.

Yet, I do think it is important for each generation to re-interpret the past, to re-define the classics. I'm not sure popular-plot movies are the best way to do it -- bt it may be the only way the current generation will notice.

There are always new ways of looking at history and sometimes the sensibilities of the current age are best defined by how we interpret and accept or reject aspects of the past.

I have a friend who wrote a novel called "When Teddy Roosevelt is A Hero Again." The first line was something like "I eat nails for breakfast." :-) said...

Man oh man, Rick, when did we say man after everything? Wow, I forgot that.

katiebird said...

(What a day to have to Lurk)....

You Go Guys!

Kimberly Frost said...

Morning everyone,

This is so timely! I'm revising my novel, and I have a ghost (a flapper who died in 1926) that the main character channels when a spell goes wrong. I researched the popular slang in the 20s so I could pepper it into that scene.

Some cute examples:

button shining = close dancing

cellar smeller = guy who knew where free drinks were to be had

red ink = homemade red wine

wally = smartly dressed man

And some things that survived into other decades:

dudd, carrying a torch, bootlegger, gun moll, G-man

Kimberly Frost said...

I love today's comments! Thanks, Andif, Ghost (what a great first line to your friend's book & I love Van Morrison), Paul, Rick, & Beth. Katiebird, sorry you can only lurk. Miss you!

So, I have a question for this well-read and interesting group. Please come to my blog when you get a chance and answer the question for the "It was the Best of Books, It was the Worst of Books" entry.

I'm very interested to hear your responses.

Kimberly Frost said...

Oops, that comment appeared twice. Sorry for the itchy trigger finger. Nancy, please delete the repeat post & this one. I'm a little jittery I guess. Better head to the kitchen for some milk. :)

FARfetched said...

I might join KB in lurkdom after this, but I remember "cool" occasionally stretched out a little in The Sixties (a period which I define as being from roughly 1966 to 1974). Example, a car goes by that has had some serious customization, "oh, coooool." But never "kew-ul." And I have to agree, I never heard "'sup" (let alone the variant "'sup bro") until the late 90s.

OTOH, there may well have been some speech communities using such phrases as early as the late 70s. Most colloquialisms are born in the inner cities, then move to California to get famous. :-) said...

The Sixties (a period which I define as being from roughly 1966 to 1974).

LOL. Yup.

A lot of people my age, Far, date the sea change to the summer of 1968. A different world before, a different world after.

... Off to Kimberly's blog.

Kimberly, you can delete your own comments by clicking on the trashcan (while signed-in). :-)

Nancy P said...

Cool comments!
Morning, Andif, Ghost, Beth, Paul, Rick, Far,Katieb,Kimberly.

Andi, good point about the reader's sin--and the reason Huckleberry Finn keeps getting banned.

Kimberly, cell phones, no kidding. They have made it so much harder for writers to make characters isolated and helpless. At first we could cover it by saying the cell phone was "out of range," or the battery was dead, or there was interference, or whatever, but I doubt that readers want to hear that anymore. Cell phones make writers work harder, damn it.

And, yeah, Ghost, there were definitely two Sixties. For me, in Missouri, it was 1959 until 1967, but I was slooow at the U of M. So yeah, a lot of the Sixties was in the Seventies.

Jen said...

if you're writing about a time when you weren't here, and there are still people around who were, check it out with them.

This presents such a challenge when some of your main characters are several centuries old, and some of your minor ones are older than that. It's not just getting the era-specificity correct, it's also characters who transcend time periods and whose speech patterns change with the times, but some of the old stuff sticks. I try to be clever about it in any number of different ways, but I know I mess it up sometimes. (As well, I frequently find myself researching things like the history of Amaretto, and I could not possibly write these stories without the internet.) I just hope my readers, should I ever have them, will be forgiving about it.

I asked on the Booman Tribune blog if anybody remembered if boys called girls "hot chicks" back in the eighties. Thanks to your input, I decided to say it another way.

I was quite delighted when I ran across this part in the finished book.

Nancy P said...

Jen, I'm so glad you noticed! :) You know, I don't think I have ever pointed out that my dedication in that book refers to my on-line friends and my RL ones. And by on-line, I meant you guys at the Booman Cafe, along with some others.

Nancy P said...

Congrats to Condo who passed an important test she had to take on Wednesday!

Beth said...

Booman Cafe? I just went there - you guys hang out somewhere else, and I didn't know!! Where have I been? What have I been missing?

(smacks self in forehead)

Nancy P said...

Beth, about half of us originally met at Booman's blog, I think, and several of our buddies still hang out there. I don't anymore, but I loved the Cafe there--which was where I got my first practice at hosting a post. I'm so glad those friendships continue in this Village of ours where we've added new friends, too.

Beth said...

Thanks, Nancy. You mentioned before that you all met somewhere else originally. Now I understand.

Thanks for clearing it up for me!

FARfetched said...

Guinness, anyone? I ain't gonna be able to drink all of that myself!

Beth said...

Yum, my favorite! Save me one or four, Far! I might even make some Guinness brownies...

Kelly McCullough said...

Lurking, but here. No tea and tons of stuff to do. Sigh.

Nancy P said...

Funny last line of that article, far: The spokeswoman rather brilliantly added: "What could they possibly want with all that beer?"

Put mine in a glass, please.

Hi, Kelly. No, don't look up. Put your head back down. :) said...

Wait a second! Guinness brownies? If I go to camp somewhere, Beth, will you send me some? Or war or something? Whichever!

I will pay a dollar to kiss anyone who has eaten one. said...

I just put a new sign on my truck:

Will mow lawn or vacuum house for Guinnerss brownies.

Jen said...

This holiday season, I'm definitely going to try this recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cake that I saw in a comments thread at Pandagon -- sounds too tasty not to spread it far and wide.

Man Eegee said...

Guiness Brownies and Cake?

[drool emits]

FARfetched said...

ooo, Guinness for cooking??? The question is, would there be any left for the cake/brownies after opening a bottle?

Nancy, since the loot was all in kegs, the glass is pretty much your only choice. Unless, of course, you just wanted to lie down underneath and open your mouth & the tap. (Which I wouldn't do only because I don't want to give The Boy any ideas.)

Kelly McCullough said...

Far, you open the bottles two at a time. Bottle for the chef, bottle for the food. Repeat as many times as necessary.

One of our local restaurants does a Guiness ice cream that's just to die for.


Nancy P said...

Can we tell it's Friday?

Keg, glass, keg, glass, either way, far.

Glug glug.

boran2 said...

To succinctly sum up, the devil really is in the details. ;-)