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Fashion & Design Illustrated Books

Flapper Satire: The Deb’s Dictionary

Deb's Dictionary

First edition of The Deb’s Dictionary by Oliver Herford (1931).

The Deb’s Dictionary (SOLD) is a charming satire of flapper life by Oliver Herford, the author of Sea Legs, a similar book recently featured in this blog. “Deb” was a 1920s slang term for “debutante”, and Herford’s dictionary skewers the pretensions and behavior of young upper-class men and women and the popular culture of the Jazz Age. Herford illustrated The Deb’s Dictionary himself, and the book is now uncommon in the colourful dust jacket that he designed.

Below, a selection of illustrated terms from the dictionary.

For another humorous dictionary see “The Original Slang Dictionary: Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” (SOLD)

Deb's Dictionary - Ambidextrous

Ambidextrous: Not letting your right hand know who is holding your left hand.

Deb's Dictionary - Beach

Beach: (Baileys) A place where the knee-plus-ultra of Society have their legs photographed for the Sunday papers. [Cataloguer’s note: Bailey’s is an elite private beach club in Newport, Rhode Island.]

Deb's Dictionary - Bloomers

Bloomers: A conspicuous item of feminine apparel. See also underskirt.

Deb's Dictionary - Chivalry

Chivalry: The High Resolve of every man to protect every woman against every other man.

Deb's Dictionary - Cinder

Cinder: A mythical substance that gets into a Deb’s eye in a Pullman car and can only be removed with male assistance.

Deb's Dictionary - Cocktail

Cocktail: Prohibition’s most notable contribution to the Sophistication of America’s boys and girls.

Deb's Dictionary - Coyness

Coyness: Provocative modesty. Go away closer. Pull it down higher.

Deb's Dictionary - Duel

Duel: The highest compliment possible for two men to pay one woman.

Deb's Dictionary - Heart

Heart: The organic ticker that registers the flurries and fluctuations of emotion in Love’s Stock Exchange.

Deb's Dictionary - Joint

Joint: A get-together place.  A knee-joint. An elbow-joint. An uptown joint.

Deb's Dictionary - Melody

Melody: The Bogey of modern music.

Deb's Dictionary - Modesty

Modesty: The gentle art of enhancing your charm by pretending not to be aware of it.

Deb's Dictionary - Rag

Rag: A bit of gladsome chiffon doing its best to stick around a frisky sub-deb at a fraternity dance.

Deb's Dictionary - Television

Television: An invention to prevent fibbing on the telephone.

Deb's Dictionary - Zephyr

Zephyr: A naughty, flirtatious breeze.


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