Friday, March 21, 2008

Old-timey Slang of the Day

Today's word:

darb: an excellent person or thing. As in, "Ain't that a darb?!" or "She's a darb, Sully, a darb!" or "My new jalopy is a real darb, I tells ya."

This comes up a lot in movies from the 1920s and 1930s. I've also seen it in an old Krazy Kat cartoon from the 1910s. Most recently, I heard it in Sons of the Desert, a great Laurel & Hardy comedy I saw on TCM the other day. I think I heard three different permutations of it in that one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: the term "darb" comes from the name of an oilfield entertainer--following info from the blog: "Oil Stories and Histories"

One female name that was repeated so often it became a slang expression was Ruby Darby. She began in a Dallas chorus line, honed her act in World War I army camps and made her mark as one of the first to sing the blues in the southwest boomtowns. Known in the 1920s as the toast of the oil-field workers, this brazen sensuous showgirl toured the oil camps in a big red flashy chauffeur-driven automobile, coming in wearing only a fur coat and a smile to guarantee a packed house for the night’s performance. Her trademark song was W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues but more popular than her sultry voice was her exotic dancing. They said she would strip at the drop of a driller’s hat; had ridden a hoss completely nekkid down the mud- and oil-splashed streets of Keifer, and had danced bare-skinned on a tool shack roof as men tossed silver dollars at her feet. She packed a pistol, wore silk stockings and would try anything once… and an acquaintance called her a natural adventurer. There was a popular couplet warning, If you’ve got a good man keep him home tonight/for Ruby Darby’s in town and she’s your daddy’s delight. (Wallis 1988, p. 187).

She was so highly loved in some of the Oklahoma oilfields that when a gusher came in the men would call it a Ruby Darby. Eventually, to call something a Darb was to say it could get no higher praise. In Ernest Hemingway’s (Fig. 14) The Sun Also Rises, the main character suggests his companion has some excellent acquaintances: You’ve got some fine ones yourself. The listener agrees that his acquaintances are good ones. Oh, yes. I’ve got some darbs. (Hemingway 1926, p. 107).