Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 10

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I WONDER how many times my girls are slangy? I wonder if they ever think what a lack of refinement is shown in being slangy in word, dress, or manner? I wonder if they ever think how this much-to-be-deplored slanginess affects the listener and the looker-on? I cannot believe that any of them think this out, and so I am going to preach a little sermon about slang. The first step down on the very quick descent of bad manners is shown in the use of it. Commencing with the mere words of slang soon, very soon, a general degeneration in the girl herself may be noticed. A girl may claim that she uses slang in a joking way; she may just at first, but commenced as a bit of fun it gets to be, like all bad habits, difficult to overcome.

The American girl is bright, cultivated, and refined; she is pretty and interesting, and yet when you hear her say, as many a one does every day of her life, about a book, or a song, or a play, or somebody's manner, "Oh, I caught on to it," or about something of which she was tired, something that wearied her, "Oh, I'll give it the shake," or of somebody who was very quick in manner or perception, "Oh, ain't he fly?" what would you think of her and what does the world conclude about her?


You ask her if she knows something and she responds, "You bet!" You ask her if she enjoyed herself at some place and she answers, "Like a streak!" If she starts to tell you a story she would possibly be surprised to be told that she uses slang. She does not know where she gets it herself. Nobody ever does know. She sees no harm in it. There is no use of profane or unclean words, and yet this slangy mode of speech is the little rift within the lute that, by and by, will make all the music of the fine womanly conversation not mute, but drowned in a hubbub of loud sounds and common words. The girl who continually uses slang as naturally elevates her voice as she breathes; she does this because she wants to give the full effect of her mode of speech, or, as she says, "Give everybody a chance to catch on."

In the great world of to-day it would seem as if there were plenty of girls with brains, plenty of entertaining girls, plenty of pretty girls, but can you tell me how many girls you know whose words, dress, and manners are perfectly refined? I know that it is said that the various reformers see no charm in the woman who is conspicuous by her quiet manner, sweet voice, and good English, and yet she is the woman who is a power where the slangy girl receives absolutely no recognition. Good English is not difficult to speak. It does not mean words of many syllables. The very best is that wherein the shortest and simplest words are used.


I do not want my girl to be slangy. So now I am going to make a little suggestion: Suppose you take a sheet of paper and a pencil, put on your thinking-cap and then write down the various slang words you are in the habit of using, and I am sure you will be surprised when you see them in black and white. You have not realized that you are a slave to slang. But having discovered the power of the enemy half the battle is fought. Now just take to fining yourself each time you use a word of slang, and then give your fines to something or somebody to whom you do not wish to be generous. You will be a bit surprised when you see how quickly you will stop using the objectionable language, and how easy it is, after all, to express all that you want to say in pure English.

Then, too, just think how ridiculous slang words would make certain situations in life. You are fond of that pretty play called "The Lady of Lyons"—fancy, after Claude Melnotte has made his beautiful avowal of love—one of the most perfectly expressed and exquisite word-pictures in the English language—just fancy Pauline looking up into his face and meeting his question by saying, "I should smile!" Imagine, if you can, when Richelieu, to protect Julie, draws around her form "the awful circle of our solemn Church," and causes the villains who are pursuing her to recognize the power of the cardinal as well as the purity of the girl—imagine Julie turning and saying, "Well, we got there!" Now there are times when your slang sounds just as ridiculous as this, and without considering the other bad effect it has on you, it makes you appear silly and undignified.


A puzzled girl says: "How can I be slangy in my dress?" I'll tell you, and then you can see whether you are or not. The girl who, because lace frills are fashionable, has her frills wider than anybody else, who accentuates the width of her skirts, the brim of her hat, who, because pink roses are fashionable, has the greatest number of pink roses and those deepest in tone, this girl is slangy in dress. She is the girl whose dress tires your eyes as you look at it. She is the girl who, the very minute she enters a room, makes you conscious of her presence by the noise of her skirts, and who gives you an overpowering sense of her having too much to wear. That is one type.

Another is the girl, who, seizing the jaunty fashion of cloth skirts, soft blouses, and pretty jackets, makes it slangy by having the soft blouse developed into a loud, stiff shirt, and the jacket made to look as much like a man's coat as possible. With this she wears a masculine tie, a stiff plain hat, and, unconsciously, she assumes the manners of a man. But as she is not a man she does not succeed in this, and the consequence is that she appears to you as being neither a feminine woman nor a manly boy. Dress has its influence over everybody, and girls who are slangily dressed, that is, who go to extremes in any style of dressing, certainly become exaggerated in their manners and speech.


A young woman I knew, who affected this masculine get-up, was so pretty that it seemed a shame, and a gentleman ventured to expostulate with her, telling her that she was so charming as a woman that she ought not to try to look like a poor imitation of a man. His words were met by a prolonged whistle, and this reply, which was unanswerable, "Oh, but it is so tart!" This same young woman was invited to a dinner-party. She announced that she intended to make a sensation by her costume, and it was generally believed that she was going to appear in some very beautiful gown. Imagine the horror of the hostess when she entered the drawing-room in a black broadcloth skirt that fitted her figure closely. With this she wore an evening shirt, a black waist-coat, cut low to show the expanse of white linen, and a black dress-coat. Her shirt-buttons were white enamel ones, so were the links in her cuffs, and her tie of white lawn was arranged after the fashion affected by men in the evening. After she went away the son of the hostess said to his mother, "Never invite that girl to the house again. No woman with the least refinement would, even for a jest, appear dressed in that The mother gave a sigh of relief and said, "My dear boy, I am so glad to hear you say that. She is so bright and witty and the men all seem to admire her so much that I was afraid you would not look at her dress with the eyes of a woman." "No," he answered, "I am not looking at it with the eyes of a woman, I am looking at it with the eyes of a man, and to a man it is a thousand times more offensive than it would be to a woman." Will you just think this over a little bit and conclude whether you are slangy in your dress?


How long do you suppose you will keep women who are refined and intelligent and womanly as friends if you are boisterous, loud, and slangy? Gradually these friends and acquaintances will slip away, and you will discover that, instead of the people who had at one time a deep interest in you, you are surrounded by those whose manners are quite as bad, if not worse than your own, and who only regard you as somebody who affords them "great fun." It will come home to you some day and hurt you when you realize that the girls you liked visit you no longer. After awhile they will begin to bow coolly to you and perhaps not recognise you at all. Wise mothers do not care to surround their daughters with objectionable friends. It will annoy you at first to think that you are counted one of these, but after awhile you will assume an air of bravado and say that you don't care. But you will be telling an untruth, for you do care. There is no woman who does not like to think that she has real friends—friends who love and admire her, and who are loyal to her. The slangy girl may have hundreds of acquaintances, but she will never get these thoughtless people interested in her so that she will be compensated for the loss of a friend who would have stood by her through sorrow and through joy.


The girl who is slangy in her manner is the girl who commenced by being slangy in her speech, and who is to-day the worst specimen of bad manners in existence. Carelessness in speech has brought this about. She sees no use for the pretty courtesies of every-day life; she doesn't care to be treated like a lady, because she wants to be "one of the boys." She likes to call herself "a jolly fellow." She leans her elbows on the table at dinner, she lolls in the chair in the most careless of attitudes. She thinks it very funny to jump on and off the car as it is going, and equally funny to whistle for the car to stop, instead of motioning for it as other girls do. She sees no reason why she should be respectful to older people—she shrugs her shoulders and announces audibly that they bore her. She doesn't care to read books unless they have what she calls "go" in them. She is familiar with the scandals of the day, as gleaned from the newspapers, and is greatly given to announcing that she doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade. She is very pronounced in her likes and dislikes and will not endure contradiction. She doesn't trouble herself to hint for anything that she wishes men to do for her, she deliberately asks them, and it rather surprises her after a while to find that, considering her just one of themselves, a man will refuse her request. She doesn't seem to understand that while a man may be attracted by her prettiness and amused in a way by her manner, he very soon gets tired of her, for from the beginning of the world men have never loved the women who were slangy in their manners, but rather the woman who represents what a French writer calls "the eternal feminine."

The girl who is slangy in speech, dress, and manner is very apt to grow slangy in her amusements. She is best pleased by the trashiest of literature, and for a book to be advertised as not quite nice is to her a special recommendation for it. In music she selects, by preference, songs that have neither wit, melody, nor sentiment to recommend them, and which only please by their lack of sense. No man cares to hear a woman whom he respects sing comic songs. It lowers her in the eyes of everyone, and the fact that she sings a comic song well does not add anything to the making it desirable for her to do it at all.

The slangy girl is apt to be the jester of the company, and who likes to see a woman wear the cap and bells? Why do not girls understand this? Why can't they see that to amuse people by making a clown of one's self is vulgarizing to the last degree?


It is absolutely certain that the girl who is slangy in her manner forgets to be gracious and doesn't hesitate to say disagreeable things. She is, day by day, stilling her conscience and hardening her heart, and she fails to see why she should refrain from hurting other people. She entirely loses the grace of consideration. With this gone, it is sad to relate, she next loses her belief and her regard for the belief of others. Probe way down into what heart she has and she may, all unknown to herself, still believe, but she has an idea, a very false one, that it is an evidence of her intellectual strength to sneer at all belief and all accepted faiths. She doesn't know enough to realize that knaves and fools can say, "It is not so, and I do not believe what I cannot see," but that it is the wise man who prays, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." She can talk very rapidly against all faiths, using the arguments of the non-believers of to-day, which are simply those of the non-believers of thousands of years ago. Poor girl, she is to be pitied, for it has not yet dawned on her of how little account she is to the world, and how she is, after all, hurting nobody as much as herself. My dear girl, you who begin to use slang in your speech must stop right now, for if you continue it is certain that you will grow slangy in dress and later on in manners.


Can you afford, for the sake of amusing a few foolish people, to lose your own womanliness?

Can you afford, for the sake of being conspicuous on the street, or at some place of amusement, to express in your dress your contempt for all women?

Can you afford, for the passing admiration of an hour, to give away your attraction as a well-bred girl, while you pose as "one of the boys"?

I do not think you can afford it. The day will certainly come when you will regret it, and then it will be too late. We who are fond of flowers know that if we wish them to give forth sweet perfume and beautiful buds we must see that they are not choked up by weeds. This is only done by continually watching for the weeds, pulling up each one, little root and all, and burning it. The sweetest blossom of humanity is a gentle girl—won't you make her number increase?