Dash and Ray: Slang’s Palookas

Author Dashiell Hammett
Author Dashiell Hammett: No fakeloo here!
Why were Chandler and Hammett not just great mystery writers, but great authors and literary stylists? It wasn’t that they initiated the hardboiled style of detective novels. It was because they invented language and prose to go with the detectives. Some of the words are still with us today and some have taken a deep six only to be found at Miskatonoic University’s site, Twists, Slug and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang.  

Those two palookas initiated language that knocked the public on its keister. Being a pug myself, reading their stuff, knocks me out like someone slipped me a Mickey Finn. Their language is for the top draw, the critic’s critic.

When I tried to use words in a way that emulates theirs in my novel, my mind takes a Broderick, and I wind up behind the eight ball. I wish they were still around so we could drink out of the same bottle, be like buds. But they’ll always be the top dogs in my book when it comes to creating atmosphere and prose. When they come to a writer’s diction fight, they carry the bulge. I feel like a rube compared to those two.

I tried to write newer versions of their type of language in my manuscript and ran it by my critiquing group. They thought I was flim-flamming them and running a con job. They were as confused as a bunch of jingled-brained bimbos.

Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler: Isn’t sure you can handle the low-down
But I ain’t no chiseler; I’m on the level. Still like some flat-footed fuzz, they policed my writing and told me that it was off the tracks (violently crazy) to think that today’s audience would be wise or respond to those words. The meaning would be like dust to them. My friends spilled that I was playing my readers for a boob and would get so mad that they would ask that the author get the electric cure, frying on the hot seat.

I doped it out that maybe they had the low-down dirty truth. I needed a gunsel or hatchetman who could change their opinion with Chicago lightening, burning powder with his gat. My cupboard was bare, so I just asked them to breeze off, do the heel and toe. That left me doing the-me-and-my-shadow, sitting in stir, but gave me time to crank it mentally. I figured the group was on the square, and giving me the straight dope. So I dealt with the legit facts, no one today would get it straight. They’d think I was playing a Chinese angle.

I didn’t want our argument to lead to a gashouse rubbarb. Things like that can lead to wearing a Chicago overcoat and doing the deep six. You know what I mean, the big sleep. 

The difference between the average mystery writer and those boys (Dash and Ray-Ray) is the difference between a hash house and the Four Seasons. It’s a cinch that you would rather chow down wearing a monkey suit than at a dump or dive bar surrounded by fakeloo artists whose chin wagging is meant as a grift to separate you from your cabbage.

Let some boozehound who thinks he’s in Coocamonga dip a bill with that conman, and get buncoed out of a c-note or three. Us wise guys, we give them the gate and tell them to fade. No need for us to be on the nut (flat-broke) because they fleeced us as the patsy.

When that chiseler has skipped town, the elephant ears, yeah I said the coppers, will need a snitch to turn that hood into a resident of the big house. Otherwise he’ll make a clean sneak to bozoville and start over with another sap whose brain is addled from giggle-juice, and hooch.

And even if some one put the dicks wise and they nab the creep, his shyster mouthpiece will spring him faster than a clip joint separates a swell from his lettuce.

So sitting down and sharing tiger milk with some bum that you know from nothing is like pitching woo to a porcupine. You have to do it carefully. Always give that sharper the once over with the complete up-and-down, to get the slant on his gig. Don’t care what kind of gonif he claims not to be, make him spill the beans, or you show him the heat your wearing, or use a knife to let the daylight in. You don’t have to perforate that type to have them sing; they have a yellow streak down their spine.

Don’t get fleeced. Make him bump gums till he stoolies on himself. Make sure he’s on the square, or you’ll be the mark losing the lucre. Better yet, give him the bum’s rush out of the dump and order yourself another glass of eel’s juice.

This world’s lousy with creeps and con men, so get ribbed up for your protection, or be ready to take a fall.

Yeah, they don’t write ’em like that anymore.

Is that good or bad? You tell me.

Dr. Lewis Preschel aka TheMadMutt. Wouldn’t you be Mad too?


  1. Thomas Pluck

    You forgot my favorite, “eggs in the coffee.” No one knows if it means good, bad, jumbled up, or what anymore.
    And “gunsel” amusingly enough was Chandler getting past the censors, it is old slang for a homosexual. People took it to mean a gunman, a heavy… and that’s how we use it today.

  2. Absolutely*Kate Author / Promoter

    [b]Bird, [/b]
    [b]You could blow one down with that chin wag and not even be wearin’ glad rags. Yep, you’re no coffee and doughnut, Bub.[/b]

    ~ Absolutely*Kate, with moxie
    World needs more moxie.

  3. Barbara

    Absolutely brilliant!

  4. Terrence McCauley

    Well done!

  5. Art Frank

    Too bad the pulps that made Hammett and Chandler so popular died out. It is not only a loss to readers but writers even moreso, since an entire market for theitr work evaporated. Now if you want this kind of stuff, you have to turn to Otto Penzler and The Black Lizard Press , which keeps them alive. Don’t forget Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, a character as enduring as Hercule Poirot. Probably the closest thing we have to the Golden Age of crime stories is Raylan Givens in the king of modern fiction Elmore Leonard’s JUSTIFIED. Try reading RIDING the RAP if you are in the mood, or Leonard’s recent work ROAD DOGS that brings back Jack Foley and the 178 banks he robbed. The lingo survives the stories. It is a good thing these guys decided to write instead of being crooks, because they really have the criminal mentality down pat. Keep up the good work. The country needs more noir from whatever source it occurs. Art Frank

  6. Dr. Lewis Preschel

    Been away a while on vacation, but thanks for the responses. And Art you are right, if anyone has picked up the gauntlet for language in dialogue, it is Leonard Elmore. “Eggs in coffee” means : Easy, a piece of cake, okay, all right according to Miskatonoic University’s site, [url=http://www.miskatonic.org/slang.html]Twists, Slug and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang[/url]. As to why it is easy, that is a question I find hard.
    It’s fun writing in that style, too bad there is such a small audience for it.

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