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Of Interest:

From A to Chimpanzee

You thought we were kidding about monkey news, eh? The BBC is reporting on an article in the journal Animal Cognition regarding the cataloguing of the ‘gestural repertoire’ of chimpanzees [yes, we know chimpanzees are apes, not monkeys] studied in the wild by a team from the University of St. Andrews. Yes, a dictionary of deliberate movements and their meanings.

There are, apparently, as many as 66 recognizable signals, which more than doubles the roughly 30 that had been observed in chimps in captivity. Perhaps most interestingly, by comparing the films to those made of orangutans and gorillas, the researchers are seeing a significant number of overlaps, and this suggests that the common ancestor of all great apes - including humans - used at least some of the same gestures still used today.

The Monkey's Eyebrows

We’ve just come across a delightful bit of linguistic history in the form of a dictionary [or perhaps more accurately a phrasebook] of slang from the 1920s taken from an issue of Flapper magazine.

One function of slang is to define group boundaries - you either understand and you’re “in,” or you don’t, and you’re “out” - and we are made privy to the concerns and mindset of the cool kids of our (great-) grampa’s generation with this peek. While the number of terms relating to dancing as a social function seems outsized to the contemporary reader, there are an awful lot of entries dealing with sex and drugs.
Plus ça change... Some of the definitions themselves seem to be wink-wink end runs around the censor - or the disapproving parent. This all makes for entertaining reading.

We note the number of phrases that still pepper contemporary English: a swan, a grubber, ‘the bee’s knees,’ and those whose usage is lost to time, even if the topic is still regularly broached: “Mustard Plaster”? An “unwelcome guy who sticks around.” These days, actual mustard plasters have been replaced by adhesive bandages, which we usually call “bandaids” - but we’ll address that whole brand dilution kettle of fish some other time.

Like any window to another world, we enjoy this article for opening our eyes and teaching us something about our recent past. As a snapshot of the ever-changing river that is language, we’re grateful for the wisdom we can glean from this find.