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Category Archives: Banana oil

New York Times, July 3, 1871. There are only two ways to get a significant pay raise in academe: accept an offer from another university, or use such an offer to shake down one’s current employer for more money. Judging from this story, the principle goes back a good ways, but there was a time when one had to pretend that one’s motives were other than pecuniary.

race baseNew York Times, August 14, 1907. Tawana Brawley surely made stuff up, but she invented nothing. I’d say it was a lucky break for hostler William Engels that Bridget Dwyer flaked on her court appearance.

Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1927 (left) and August 21, 1929. Further to the Jazz Age prevalence of the phrase “banana oil.” Strip on the right is not so hot, but I needed more than one image to effect the fully-magnified gallery view of the one on the left, which is a lovely little jumble sale of forgotten slang. “Cracked ice!” “Not so dusty”! What do you say we all go back to talking like this, starting September 1st? It would be totally dusty. (Or “not so dusty.” Whichever means “good.”)

smell test 1Washington Post, October 20, 1912. This is the kind of science I can get behind. I’ve never understood the perfume thing. None of them smell good to me, and the urge to colonize other folks’ olfactories with a cocktail of floral essence, whale puke and volatile biological substances extracted from the buttholes of rodents strikes me as passive-aggressive or sociopathic, depending on the intensity of the pong. Never in my life have I gotten out of bed and said to myself, “Yes indeed, everybody’s gonna smell me coming and going today!” Maybe the notion made slightly better sense before the democratization of soap, hot water, flush toilets and other techno-hygienic blessings, but there’s just no excuse for it now. Anyway, it’s been shown to cause hysteria and neurasthenia. Read More »

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