The snow is falling in Paris and Jonathon’s thoughts turn to cocaine and laundry-theft…
The snow has reached Paris and up by the fountain round which the office workers parade their flat-imprisoned chiens morning and night Fifi’s owner is wielding her caninette for which I thank her since the white may not be pristine but is more attractive sans anything with which Fifi might wish to embellish it. But picturesque is not enough and there is, I imagine, a pivotal moment in life when snow ceases to bring joy but merely inconvenience and I passed that some decades back. Now I see it, as I do much else, merely through slang’s opaque prism. I could put this forward as number two in the colour thread, but it is not. It is white, but it is also wet, cold, traitorously slippery and fortunately ephemeral. It is simply snow.
In the way of much of ‘real life’ when snow (a.k.a. confetti, dandruff and to and fro) encounters slang it takes on new roles. The lit. and the metaph. It enters the realm of rhyme, let us dispose of that at once: snow and ice: the price; snow and slushed, flushed, snow whites, tights. I have heard none of these ‘live’ but there they are. To continue along the margins we find dyspepsia in a snow storm, apparently used around 1900 by America’s short-order chefs to signify an order of pie topped with powdered sugar; for tramps a snow shoe was a mug of warming cocoa. Snow is rarely snow but still in the kitchen we can roast snow in a furnace which predictably means to attempt the impossible; the result is perhaps snow broth, which in slang is cold tea and in standard English water produced or obtained by the melting of snow, especially from natural causes. A snow bunny is a young woman who frequents the slopes for the social life as much as the skiing. Anglicé, she could be a snow bird, but she is not. This American confection refers to those who go south for the winter. The original destination was Florida and the early adopters were hobos, who arrived via freight-train boxcar; the modern version is old, ‘senior’ if you prefer (though I who am do not), and comes by Winnebago. Another meaning, still with tramps, was one who enlisted in the forces as the winter arrived: there was food and shelter for the next few months, and then you deserted when the warmer weather returned. (British wanderers, similarly shivering but lacking the sunny south, would commit small crimes for a few months in the nick but I have no generic). Vagrants who persisted in staying north were said to eat snowballs. It does snow down south, but only if one’s petticoat is drooping. And where would we be without a pun. This week’s thigh-slapper is pull a Hank Snow, drawn from the C&W star’s hit ‘I’m Moving On’ (Above. Though Hank, fittingly as we shall see, also recorded ‘Cocaine Blues’).
Let us turn to serious things but first, a pause for form if not substance. The smooth white blanket implies equally smooth verbosity, snowing the listener under with a snowfall or snow job. A snowman, elsewhere an addict, has a smooth line in chat and renders the victim snowbound.
Thereafter the link is colour. Before moving to linen and drugs, we have hair and the blond in Australia is snow or snowy (obvious? true, yet a redhead is bluey, perhaps some nudge towards the reverses of Down Under). Like white, snow can indicate the silver tones of coinage. Snow or lady snow is a white girl among black men and to put some snow in your game is to con a white person for financial gain. A snowflake is also white but a snowball, in one of those humourless jokes so beloved of racists, is a black person.
In a world of washer-driers such exposure is unnecessary but once our wet linen was laid to dry on hedges. This too was snow or snowdrops and has given snow-birding, snow-dropping, snow-gathering and snow-hunting, all of which refer to the stealing of said laundry. Those who did it regularly were on the snow rig or snow lay. Fetichistic modernity has meant that the snow may be neither white nor linen but women’s underwear and the hedge no more than a washing line. The dropper still prowls.
Cocaine is white and as such denominated snow (as well as snowflake, snowball, lady snow and snow white); so too have been heroin, morphine, amphetamine and who could forget crack. That said, there is something essentially dated about snow and its companion of choice was surely the monochrome melodrama of the noir movie and Victoria Spivey’s ‘Dope Head Blues’ of 1927: ‘Just give me one more sniffle / Another sniffle of that dope’. Still, the compounds are plentiful: snowbank, a place where users gather at a snow party to take their drug; snow bird, a regular user as is a snow flower who is female; snow-cap, cocaine sprinkled onto a pipe of marijuana and smoked; meanwhile snow pedlars and merchants sell the stuff. To blow snow is to sniff it; to be snowed (under) is to be intoxicated as is to be caught in a snowstorm or to go for or take a sleighride which in turn gives the addicted sleigh-rider and the act of sleigh-riding.
Then there is snow as semen. Uncharacteristically – could it be the clichéd purity of all this white – I shall resist. The words are snowstorm, snowball, snowballer and snowjob and the definitions possibly suggest themselves. If not I offer another s-word: sharing.
image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.