Translation of a Victorian description
August 10, 2019 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Reading a story from approx 1900 (“The Shadow Dance” by Bernard Capes), I came across a description that totally mystified me as the references mean nothing to me. Can anyone explain what is meant?

The quote is:
“He was a modern version of the crutch and toothpick genus, a derivative from the ‘Gaiety boy ‘ of the Nellie Farren epoch, very spotless, very superior, very- fundamentally and combatively- simple.”
posted by KateViolet to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's basically describing a toff - 'crutch' here means a fashionable walking stick, nothing to do with disability.

"Crutch and toothpick" was a comic song of the era.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:34 PM on August 10 [10 favorites]

Nellie Farren was an English actress who specialized in playing boy characters at the Gaiety Theatre.

That goes in with kickingtheground's notes, so yeah, it sounds like they're saying the person was kind of a toff, a sort of fancy lad.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:51 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]

Lovely question! I'd never heard the phrase, but here's Eric Partridge's definition from the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English:

"Crutch and toothpick brigade: Foppish 'men about town' : London society : c 1885-1905.
Originally 1884-5 Hangers-on at stage doors, esp the Gaiety, 'They affected. as a badge of their tribe, a crutch-handled stick and a toothpick'."

(The quote beginning 'They affected' apparently comes from Farmer & Henley's seven-volume Slang And Its Analogues, pub 1890-1904, which I don't possess and now very much wish I did)
posted by MinPin at 2:00 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]

MinPin, Slang and its Analogues is available from Google Books.

Also, Crown Publishers published a one-volume version in 1970 containing all 7 original volumes. I can't find availability of that, though.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:51 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Sorry, the one-volume Slang ... was published by Arno Press.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:57 AM on August 11

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