Centennial moments in NYC

(On the brief, skeletal side; I continue to lose most of my days in irresistible exhausted sleep, so this is something of a Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting. My apologies.)

Two events of 1924. First, the Linguistic Society of America (hereafter, the LSA) was founded at a gathering in New York City (hereafter, NYC) on 12/28/1924 — at the very end of the year, but in 1924, so 1924 counts as the founding year of the LSA. Second, also in NYC, Harold Ross and Jane Grant (with the financial support of entrepreneur Raoul Fleischmann) embarked on the creation of a sophisticated humor magazine, with Ross as its editor. Their plans for this magazine, named simply The New Yorker (hereafter, the NYer), were realized in its first issue, of 2/21/1925. So 1925 counts as the founding year of the NYer.

A forthcoming event of 2024. The 2024 annual meeting of the LSA will be held at the Sheraton New York Times Square on 4-7 January. Meeting in NYC is of course no accident, and several centennial events have already been scheduled.

Now, since Ross and Grant (and their associates) were cooking up the NYer in NYC at the very same time the LSA’s founders were gathering there to formally establish that organization, and since the NYer’s one-panel gag cartoons — very often turning on linguistic points — were a central feature of the magazine, it’s natural to think about celebrating the LSA and the NYer together in some way. So there are modest plans for a display project at the 2024 annual meeting looking at cartoons in the NYer over the past 100 years that have to do with language. Cool. As an eminence grise versed in the ways of NYer cartoons, I’ve agreed to provide a bit of help to the young scholar who will be doing the actual work of preparing this display.

This posting is a rumble about things that are just now getting underway. More information to come, with an invitation to make suggestions about stuff for the display. Meanwhile, play with the idea.

Two brief notes. An early NYer cartoon — James Thurber’s “Lookit, Herman–flars!”, from the 9/26/1931 NYer — of considerable linguistic interest, which I’ll hint at in my comments. And then the visible face of the NYer from the very beginning: Rea Irvin’s “Eustace Tilley” cover.

Lookit, flars! The cartoon, without comment, in my LLog posting of 7/30/12, “Thurber and the sexes: the cartoons”:


Picked up in my 3/15/21 posting “lookit, looky”, with OED2 on lookit. But now from OED3 (March 2015) on the verb lookit:

colloquial (originally and chiefly U.S.). In imperative or optative use.

1. intransitive. Used to direct or draw attention, esp. to what one is about to say [1st cite 1907 from Billboard: Lookit! Burlesque Jokes. … 1988 J. Brady, Stone of Heart: Now would you lookit.]

Much more to be said about who uses intransitive lookit, to whom, on what occasions, for what purposes.

And then there’s flars for flowers, with monophthongization of /aw/ to /a/ — a variant that appears in different regions with different social meanings and different patterns of use. It’s a famous feature of some Pittsburgh varieties (in dahntahn for downtown, for example) — famous in part because some speakers who use it take some pride in its value as a regional thing — but it’s also a notable feature of Pennsylvania Dutch English and of other varieties scattered around the country, with different social meanings and patterns of use in each place.

Eustace Tilley. The NYer’s first cover:

(#2) Yes, 15 cents; the cost of living has risen enormously in the past hundred years, so that the most recent NYer issue goes for $8.99

From Wikipedia:

The magazine’s first cover illustration, a dandy peering at a butterfly through a monocle, was drawn by Rea Irvin, the magazine’s first art editor, based on an 1834 caricature of the then Count d’Orsay which appeared as an illustration in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. The gentleman on the original cover, now referred to as “Eustace Tilley”, is a character created by Corey Ford (1902–1969) for The New Yorker. The hero of a series entitled “The Making of a Magazine”, which began on the inside front cover of the August 8 issue that first summer, Tilley was a younger man than the figure on the original cover. His top hat was of a newer style, without the curved brim. He wore a morning coat and striped formal trousers. Ford borrowed Eustace Tilley’s last name from an aunt — he had always found it vaguely humorous. “Eustace” was selected by Ford for euphony.

The character has become a kind of mascot for The New Yorker, frequently appearing in its pages and on promotional materials. Traditionally, Rea Irvin’s original Tilley cover illustration is used every year on the issue closest to the anniversary date of February 21, though on several occasions a newly drawn variation has been substituted.


5 Responses to “Centennial moments in NYC”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    The general bulletin board (physical)) at the Linguistics Dept. at UChicago at the time I was there had pinned to it a cartoon clipped from The NYer. The caption was close to “A dogged attempt to learn another language”, and the drawing (with speech bubble?) showed a dog with some learning tools trying to say “Meow” but only producing distant approximations.

  2. Lise Menn Says:

    I also (physically) posted that cartoon, by my office door, years ago. I can’t swear that it was from The New Yorker, but it’s possible that the word ‘meow’ didn’t appear in it, since our ambitious canine never succeeded in saying it accurately.

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