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Another WTF moment

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honestly folks, I got nothing. Is it real? Is it a joke? Is it some kind of code? Search me. But it's still pretty cute and nice for a short Sunday entry.

Here's the text:

Cher Ami. - What has become of you? I quit peddling fish when the war broke out, but the old red blanket yet hangs in my ancient boozing ken in Cherry street. For gracious sake write your venerable preceptor at once, same address, unless our long estrangement has rendered it "highly improper" to do so.

Yeah, your guess is as good as mine. I lean toward this being an in-joke. Someone, somewhere got this, I'm sure, and for them it made perfect sense. For the rest of us, it will remain a mystery. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that the war he refers to was, of course, the Civil War. I think Cherry street is most likely Cherry Lane, which is what's now Commerce Street in the West Village of New York. But honestly I'm not even sure about that; there's no Cherry Street that I know of in NYC, nor was there ever, but if it was one long code it could mean something else entirely.

In any event, I will leave you to ponder for yourselves. That's all for today, folks.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


Ms Avery June 28, 2009 at 11:03 AM  

...the mind boggles...

Anonymous June 28, 2009 at 6:48 PM  

Wow, what a conundrum. I think it's definitely one long code or injoke, but have you considered that "Cherry street" might not be an address at all? It's interesting that the S of "street" is not capitalised. There are three prosaic explanations for this - that the writer of the advert made a mistake and didn't capitalise it; that he did capitalise it but the newspaperman mistyped it; or that he did capitalise it but his handwriting was too poor for the newspaperman to recognise as much.

The first seems unlikely - after all, he capitalised Cherry, used commas properly, and quotation marks around "highly improper". Secondly, the newspaperman seems to have transcribed (or added) appropriate and more complicated language/punctuation throughout the advert, and I haven't noticed many mistakes in what you've been printing so far. The third also seems unlikely; he'd hardly have made 'street' indistinguishable when a) he'd just made Cherry so clear and b) the message itself was so complicated and self-conscious, suggesting it was composed and written out with care.

Instead, I think 'Cherry' might be a play on Cheri/Cherie, following on from 'Cher Ami'. The writer's vocabulary is very interesting; 'peddling fish' seems to have been a nuisance in New York as late as 1903 (google it), 'quit' sounds American, while 'boozing' and 'ken' definitely don't - British English, again unlike the Latinate lexis of 'venerable preceptor' (which in turn suggests a level of education that makes the 'peddling fish' seem even more unlikely). Could 'old red blanket', following the war reference, recall the Confederate flag?

Pam June 28, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

@clamorousvoice - Wow that was so beautifully thought out that I hate to disenchant you on any of it but, if you look at all the other ads you'll note that people didn't actually capitalize the words "street" or "avenue" at all back then. So while your interpretation about the meaning of "Cherry" makes some sense, it wouldn't have anything to do with the transcription.

As for the British spelling, that again might be a function of the time - spelling and word usage has definitely changed over time. You read American books, etc from 100 years ago and they are much more similar to British ones then as opposed to American vs British books today (in my opinion).

As for everything else here, well, that sounds about as good as anything I've come up with!

Anonymous June 29, 2009 at 11:12 AM  

Retired Madam still does the occasional virgin pimping. Interested? Same old address.

Pam June 29, 2009 at 11:29 AM  

@mdyesowitch - I love it! I think you might be right!

JP July 1, 2009 at 2:58 AM  

That's not a bad guess. Plenty of times 'blankets' or quilts were used for signaling during & after the Civil War. With quilts it's known for the African American community. But the madams did indeed need to be quite crafty about their trade, and I could see this as a 'straight ad' in an everyday paper. They had their own 'trades' and 'little address books' put out specifically for 'bawdy houses' in certain 'red light' districts of select cities. These are fairly rare, but not uncommon to encounter. But then again they were as thick as the saloons in some places, which means that there could easily have been several on 'Cherry St'.

But you're quite right on the orthography & language usage from 100 YO. In some ways we've been coarsening the idiom ever since. But always a mix & mash up of everything that could be going on in the locale. Spanish with French in NOLA. Russian with Chinese in some NW places. Mixed again with Japanese idioms & expressions coming into some of the West Coast cities. Mix again with Eastern European patois for further inland (Denver) for all the miners.

Good Luck, JP

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