The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 5, 2016

June 5, 1899

June 5, 1899 is in all liklihood the birthdate for Harold Woodmansee Bentley (1899- 1980). A brief biographical note reads:

Harold Woodmansee Bentley (1899-1980) was born in 1899 in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. He attended Utah State Agricultural College before receiving his A.B. degree from Brigham Young University in 1923 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1932. He taught English and Spanish at Columbia for 17 years. During that time Dr. Bentley was on leave of absence twice. First, he conducted a survey for the Carnegie Foundation of one hundred institutions in the United States and Canada on college athletics. Second, he directed the Benjamin Franklin Library (the American library in Mexico City) and was associated with the State Department's cultural relations program in Mexico City during World War II. As a result of his work there, Dr. Bentley was decorated by the President of Mexico with the Order of the Aztec Eagle for promoting friendship between the two countries.

Bentley came to the University of Utah in 1949 as professor of English and director of the Summer School. He was appointed Dean of Extension Division in 1950, a position he held in Emeritus status until his retirement. During that time, he helped to promote interest in folklore and folk music in the University community, including assistance in establishing the Utah Folklore Society in 1958.

In 1961 Dr. Bentley took leave from the University to accept the position of academic vice president and acting president of the newly created Haile Salassie I University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He returned to his position at the University of Utah in 1962 and remained there until his retirement. He died in October 1980.

His books include A Dictionary of Spanish Terms in English, with Special Reference to the American Southwest (1932). Bentley's scholarship revealed an interest in the history of cant and slang.

About this JSTOR published:

Cat’s Eyes and Belch Water: 1930s Soda Jerk Slang from A to Z
American English moves at the speed of, well, sound, and there’s no better display of the language’s fast pace and colorful texture than a restaurant. That was the case in the 1930s, too, as Harold W. Bentley’s exploration of “soda jerker” slang reveals

Soda fountains may be all but dead in the United States today, but during the Great Depression they were on what seemed like every corner. What Bentley calls a “peculiarly American phenomenon,” these restaurants were temples of food, socialization — and slang.

Bentley saw soda fountains as a place to scout out the novel and bizarre, from drinks named after current events to cheeky terms for otherwise ordinary items. Part of this, writes Bentley, stems from the ingenuity and display of soda jerks themselves. “A clever waiter urged on by an appreciative audience,” he writes, “would be induced to bring forth all the fresh expressions his wits might concoct.”

All those linguistic fireworks led to a vibrant soda fountain slang with distinctive regional differences. From “nervous pudding” (Jell-O) to “skid grease” (butter), soda jerks displayed what Bentley called “a refreshing aptness” in envisioning and re-envisioning the mundane world around them.

In celebration of the special language of the soda fountain, Bentley collected hundreds of words during numerous personal trips (and probably plenty of ice cream sodas) between 1934 and 1935. Here are a few gems from his glossary, which includes many terms you might recognize from modern restaurant slang and many that illustrate soda drinks that have long gone out of fashion:

BELCH WATER: Seltzer water
CAT’S EYES: Tapioca
C.O. COCKTAIL: Castor oil prepared in soda
EIGHTY-SEVEN AND A HALF: Girl at table with legs conspicuously crossed or otherwise attractive
FIFTY-FIVE: Root beer
HOBOKEN SPECIAL: Pineapple soda with chocolate cream
NOAH’S BOY WITH MURPHY CARRYING A WREATH: Ham and potatoes with cabbage
PUT OUT THE LIGHTS AND CRY: Liver and onions
TWIST IT, CHOKE IT, AND MAKE IT CACKLE: Chocolate malted milk with egg
WESTERN: Coca-Cola strong with chocolate flavor

Most of this creativity was a reflection of the socialization aspect of soda fountain culture, is my guess.

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