Slang in the Dos Passos Oeuvre

Crib Design 2

The fictional works of Dos Passos present a plethora of American slang. Street talk is an essential components of his most popular masterworks: Manhattan Transfer, U.S.A., and Three Soldiers. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a couple expressions from his books. “Hell of a note” was evidently a conversational hallmark in certain circles in the 1930s. Also, “Before the whole thing goes belly up” is something I remember well from U.S.A. I suspect that my grandfather was surrounded and saturated by slang during his WWI service.

This recent article admirably explores the meaning of “crib” as “house” from Shakespeare to Dos Passos to MTV. In the world of Dos Passos’s The 42nd Parallel, “crib” means “cheap brothel.”

Dos Passos had a keen ear for slang and all facets of common speech. One need look no further than Shakespeare–or for a contemporary example, David Mamet–to find examples of slang that, with a clever pen, becomes poetry.