Re: RARA-AVIS: slanguage

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 20 Aug 2003

Catching up on some old emails I set aside during busy times.

Mat C wrote:

"True, of course, but i think the thrust of the fred was that some hb writers overuse (and perhaps create) slang to such an extent that it isn't/wasn't smooth reading even on the day it was published - I can't know, of course, but I suspect this is the case with some passages in Harvest, where it seems very close to parody or perhaps self-parody. Or just a guy with a deadline."

Kevin pointed out that an author can't worry about whether or not he will be understood by future generations. True, no one can predict what slang will become part of the veracular and what will fall by the wayside. Mat countered, above, that some of this slang may very well have been obscure even to contemporary readers. I wonder if that might not have been on purpose on Hammett's part.

We all know that Hammett used a lot of slang, very influential slang within the genre (even when misunderstood, as with "gunsel"). Could this have been a conscious attempt to play up his bona fides as a real private eye? Did contemporary readers know of his Pinkerton past? Did Shaw and others point this out in editorial comments or authors' intros? If so, couldn't Hammet's extensive use of obscure criminal argot have been an overt and self-conscious sign of the supposed authenticity of his stories?


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