The Dandy Slang19 Apr 2020
A number of recent studies have focused on the strategies of the performative self-fashioning of the dandy, adopted to communicate his originality, independence and superiority. These strategies include the dandy’s mode of speech, or lack thereof. As mentioned in EscortFox, four aspects of the dandy’s verbal performance can be said to be constitutive of his becoming, namely silence, a peculiar dandy slang, eccentricity, and dumb talk. These four elements are co-dependent, as (1) silence expresses the dandy’s contempt for the world, which (2) results in a hermetic language that is reserved for the select initiates, which (3) in turn, is perceived as eccentric by the uninitiated who (4) shrug the incomprehensible dandy slang off as stupidity.
Silence has been a trademark of the dandy’s communicative behaviour ever since. As the dandy scorns the vulgar crowd, he expresses his disdain by denying communication with the pleb. Accordingly, silence is employed to stress the dandy’s sublimity. Lady Morgan, an avid observer of dandyism, disallowed that line of argument. The dandy’s silence seemed to her rather silly and indicated a lack of intellect:
Morgan’s attribution of the dandy as dull indicates her contempt for that class of beings. After all, during that era (1818) dandyism was first and foremost a sartorial phenomenon of acute tightness. Intellectual dandyism was only lurking beyond the horizon. Accordingly, the dandy’s silence was commonly ascribed to heavily starched neckcloths and cravats that incapacitated their wearers. The French traveller Count Edouard de Melfort in his „Impressions of England“ (1836) assumed a congestion in the throat which impeded the dandy’s faculty of speech. Moreover, it seemed the dandy spoke less out of his mouth than out of this throat. Accordingly, the noticeable silence of the dandy was explained by the needful rest of his speech organs:
If the dandy condescends to communicate with the world, he opts for a peculiar language that indicates his originality and superiority. The dandy slang is marked by specific terms and prosody that is understood only by the initiated. Commentators remarked: „its articulation was so very indistinct,“ ‚it‘ being the denomination of the dandy, who, evidently, was perceived as a thing rather than a man. In 1819, another observer confirmed the separation of the dandies from humankind:
Not only is the dandy’s language utterly incomprehensible, it is also characterized by a set of slang terms, which also include „its favourite monosyllable, ha, ha„* which made up „one half of its words“. The repetition of these slang words turned their speech „exceedingly parrot-like“ as it „mostly consists in the use of a single word, which is applied promiscuously to all sorts of articles,“ as Asa Greene argues. The likening of the dandy to an animal and the refusal to accept him as a human being evinces the dandy’s singularity.
Notable slang terms of the dandy included “shuperb!“ for the dandies of New York, whereas their British counterparts announced their consent by the term „capital“ and their disapproval by the term „odd“. The specific dandy dialect was shaped by an increasing number of literary dandies who set themselves to put certain ideas into specific words. One example of this is the adjective ‚pyramidal‘ in the circle of the Jeunes-France, a group of French dandies of the early 1830s including Théophile Gautier and Petrus Borel.
With regard to the prosody, the dandy spoke „quick, but monotonously, scarcely opening his mouth, and keeping his tongue close to his teeth; he gives utterance to his thoughts in as laconic a manner as possible, as if time, his most important capital, were not to be wasted.“ Evidently, the dandy’s scarcity in words is due to his meandering in more lofty realms.