Thursday, March 31, 2016

Okay, it’s “O. K.”—OK?

Probably you know that languages evolve, and words and patterns of speech and even pronunciations change over time, sometimes rapidly….

Sometime when you’re in a full body cast you can read up on The Great Vowel Shift in the English language in England (roughly 1350-1600).

Today’s lesson is a bit less formidable: raise your hand if you know when “O.K.” became part of American English.

Okay, here’s the answer:

In the 1830s, some young folks with a bit of education thought it was groovy to misspell words and then use the resulting abbreviations as slang (guess who probably didn’t quite know what the kids were talking about….). Such as “OW” meaning “all right” (the misspelled form was “oll wright”) and “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”).  Cool, right? Know, really.

So, “O.K.” showed up….that is, “oll korrect” derived from “all correct.” Wicked.

It first appeared in print—as part of a joke—on March 23, 1839, in The Boston Morning Post. You gotta believe that early 19th century journalists had the same awesome sense of humor that pervades the news media today.

So, like, our constantly changing language, GP, y’know?

(“go phigure.” You knew that, right? Cool.)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Alexander’s Ragtime Band!

If there had been a Super Bowl in 1912, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” probably would have been the biggie in the halftime show.

This old favorite by Irving Berlin was the top tune of 1911, selling many millions of copies of….the sheet music. Most people heard the song when someone in the family sat down at the piano to tickle the ivories. The iconic Victrola phonograph was just starting to get up some steam in the consumer market, and radio didn’t go commercial until 1920.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” is a simple version of ragtime—Scott Joplin could have played it with one hand tied behind his back, more or less. So more or less anybody could easily learn it and play it when it was a new release before World War I.

Scott Joplin
Here’s a link to a 1911 recording made a few months after the song hit the market….and here's a linkto The Andrews Sisters (their career spanned 1925-1967) doing their version.

You can sing along too, you already know some of the words:
“Come on and hear, come on and hear
Alexander’s Ragtime Band…
The best band in the land
They can play a bugle call
Like you never heard before…”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Johnny says “drink up!”

John Chapman “Johnny Appleseed” (1774-1845)

“Johnny Appleseed” got rich planting apple trees in Pennsylvania and Ohio after the Revolutionary War.

John Chapman was a savvy businessman who followed the early American settlers as they headed west over the Appalachian Mountains, and he made a pile of money selling them apple orchards and apples to make fermented apple cider.

The happy-go-lucky “Johnny Appleseed” myths were created about 100 years ago by big commercial apple growers who were trying to rehabilitate their image in a time when the evils of John Barleycorn were a big social issue.

Chapman was born in Leominster, MA, just before the Revolutionary War got started. In 1797, at the age of 27, he set out for Ohio country, and lived a more or less itinerant life thereafter.

In much of the frontier lands, hard cider was the only booze readily available. Chapman traveled far and wide, buying cheap riverbottom land and planting apple orchards. He hired boys to help tend the trees, and when they matured, he sold the apples and often sold the orchards to nearby farmers. When he died, he owned more than 1,200 acres of valuable orchard property and he was a rich man. He was a businessman.

The traditional “Johnny Appleseed” persona is “usually pictured shoeless, clad in rags, with a tin pot for a hat, striding happily through the forest with a bag of apple seeds over his shoulder and an assortment of woodland animals as his companions. He is portrayed as a gentle and godly man, who brought the wholesome apple to men and women living on the edge of civilization.”

Chapman was a nature lover and a God-fearing man, but his apple gig was strictly business.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lest we forget….

Maybe it was mentioned in the recent “too white” Oscar flub-a-dub, but I’ll just rack ‘em up one more time for Hattie McDaniel.

If you’re asking “Who’s Hattie McDaniel?” you’re not a Gone With The Wind fan.

Hattie McDaniel (1895-1957) was “Mammy” in that remarkably durable romantic swashbuckler.

She also was the first black thespian to earn an Oscar. She took Best Supporting Actress in 1940, one of the eight Oscars awarded to Gone With The Wind.

Hattie had many talents. She sang in traveling minstrel groups as a teenager, and was one of the first black women to be a radio singer in the U. S.

She started doing films in 1932, and played the roles of maids and cooks in almost 40 films in the 1930s, capping that run with her memorable role as a house slave, opposite Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Hattie’s portrayal of stereotypical black servants was criticized in some quarters, but she shrugged that off, saying she’d rather play a maid than be one.

Too bad it’s too late to say “You go, girl!”

p.s. my trusted personal advisor notes that Hattie—the only black person who was sitting down at the Oscar awards ceremony—wasn’t seated at one of the banquet tables with the white folks, she sat with her escort at a small round table near the kitchen door. Oh yeah, another thing: Clark Gable had intended to escort Hattie to the premiere of Gone With The Wind in Atlanta, but he was waved off—neither Hattie nor any other black person was allowed to attend the film showing.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A dark corner of history….

Here’s a despicable flashback you’ll wish you don’t have to believe:

May 30, 1922, the formal dedication of the new Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 

The few black folks who were invited were forced to sit in a separate, roped-off section. Robert Moton, president of Tuskegee Institute—he was a featured speaker that day—was not permitted to sit on the speaker’s platform, and instead had to sit in the segregated section.

A reporter for the Chicago Defender, appalled by this flagrant display of racism, wrote “The venomous snake of segregation reared its head at the ded­ication…The conquered have become victorious."

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Alexander Graham Bell patented his “electrical speech machine” 140 years ago. A few months later he tried unsuccessfully to sell the patent to Western Union. Apparently the company didn’t think the invention had much promise. 

I think Bell would have bet the ranch that it was plain crazy to imagine that people would someday be able to walk down the street while they were talking to a friend on the other side of the world. One story has it that Bell thought folks would use the telephone primarily to listen to distant musical performances.

In his youth Bell was a dedicated tinkerer, with a steady penchant for inventing gadgets and stuff. Before the telephone became a reality, he and his brothers “built a working model of a mouth, throat, nose, and movable tongue, and attached a set of bellows for lungs. They were so successful in getting the model to wail ‘MaMa’ that the neighbors began to search for a child in distress.”

What are your kids inventing these days?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

“…ain’t no protest song.”

Maybe it’s been a while since you said to yourself “Oh gosh, I’m getting old.”

It’s been 54 years since Bob Dylan introduced “Blowin’ In The Wind” in Greenwich Village. He recorded this iconic song a couple weeks later, and it was released in 1963. Dylan claimed he wrote the song in 10 minutes. The Beatles claimed it was one of the songs that altered their early musical development.

I can mention my personal experience of hearing “Blowin’ In The Wind” sung by just about every band that played for the troops in Vietnam, more or less at the same time they were belting out “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”

Dylan blandly claimed “this here ain’t no protest song.” Of course it was.

Maybe you forget some of the words. Here they are:

How many roads must a man walk down
before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
and pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
that too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.