the cultural background to the term ‘blind date’

Of American-English origin, the term blind date denotes:
– a social engagement arranged for two persons who are strangers to each other;
– either of the participants in a blind date.

The earliest instance that I have found is from one of the unconnected paragraphs making up the column Chunks of Guff, by Andy Pheldown, published in The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) of Tuesday 7th March 1922—the author was apparently assuming that the term was already known to his readers, since he neither explained it nor put it in quotation marks:

Columbus may have been courageous—but consider the fella going forth on a blind date.

The second-earliest occurrence of blind date that I have found is from a glossary [cf. note 1] of the terms used by “present-day youth”, published in The Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.) of Tuesday 14th March 1922—flappers were young women who showed freedom from conventions, and cake-eaters were their male counterparts:

Flappers Cause Revolution in Breezy F Street Lingo
Crowd Gives Razzberry to Two Who Try to Mash Pair of Dolls.

Scene—F street.
Time—Afternoon of any day.
Crowd of young collegians, or scandal walkers, shuffling along sidewalk. Crowd draws up and parks on curb, staring at passing line of breezy flappers.
Two of the gang try to mash in with a pair of dolls and get the G. B. [cf. note 2] Crowd give them the razzberry, whereupon the two duck and beat it up the main drag, walking with a lisp.

Wise to New Lingo.

This type of young people, which includes both sexes from sophomores to subdebs, speaks a language all its own. In addition to the lingo published yesterday [cf. note 3], the following will explain further changes in the lexicon of present-day youth so that the average genus homo may be able to compare whatever of meaning there may be in these expressions:
Fed Up—Tired of anything or anybody.
Loaded—Having a thorough knowledge of something. Also primed.
Jake—O. K. Also knobby.
Puppycuddling—Heavy loving of cake-eaters.
Hitting on Four—Feeling fine.
Shake It—A dancing term—to do a “Chicago” dance.
Soaked with the Bar Rag—Used to describe a youngster who has had one drink.
Crumb-Gobbler—Cake-eater, lounge-lizard, Nunally’s cowboy.

Not Always Happy.

Grumpy—In the dumps. Also groggy, blue.
Sharpshooter—Good male dancer. One who spends his kale freely.
Knee Duster—Flapper’s dress.
Hooch-hopper—Cake-eater who drinks but never buys.
To Stall—Pull a bluff.
To Drag—Escorting a lady. Also to puff a fag.
Sinker—A girl who is a Titanic. Wallflower.
4-0—Highest rating of anything.
I-Hope-to-Tell-You—Equivalent of “yes.”
She’s Gottem [sic]—She knows the ropes.
Razzberry—Boisterous ridicule.
Keen—Good looking, attractive.

Some Old Familiars.

Chin—To talk small talk. Cake-eater conversation.
Mosey Along—A form of F street ambulating.
Hot Sketch—Nifty, keen.
Shelling the Kale—Blowing Dad’s dough.
Meal-hound—Cakie who invites himself (or herself) to a meal.
Diggins—Place where any cake-eatress lives.
Tack—Cigarette. Also cig, fag, coffin nail, dope stick.
Main Drag—Prominent thoroughfare, such as F street.
Dud—Dumb-bell, cake-eater or flapper who can’t stay in the swim.
Bouncer—The house detective.
Woofy—Pronounced as an opinion of anything when one knows nothing else to say. Generally meaningless.

Each Word a Story.

Main Kick—A girl’s steady. Regular sweetie.
Something-to-Your-Eye—An expression of high approval.
Blind DateWhen the parties do not know each other.
Red Mike—A boy who never goes out with a girl.
Snake—One who drags a girl every evening.
Blank Map—Expression on faces of pair of dancing cake-eaters.
Buried—Usual reference to a flapper after she is married.
Skag—A smoke.
O. A. O.—One and only. Referring to a sweetie.
Oil Burner—A girl who chews gum.
Gadgit—Name of anything you don’t know.

This cryptic poem was published in the column High School Dope, by Mr. R. H. S., in The Daily Republican (Rushville, Indiana) of Wednesday 5th April 1922—it probably alludes to The Raven (1845), a narrative poem by the American short-story writer, poet and critic Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49):

'blind date' - Daily Republican (Rushville, Indiana) - 5 April 1922

What was it
About the last
Blind date we
Had that makes
Us think of
“The Raven?”
We all love the faculty. “Huh?”

In the following passage from a letter purported to be written from Lincoln High School, published in the Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) of Sunday 23rd April 1922, blind date designates one of the participants in a blind date:

A fraternity windjammer and sorority porch-railing dispenser of pretty phrases who dotes on Sunday night dates landed one of the handsome beauties on the campus the other night. It was one of those blind, sight-unseen affairs, y’know. She is spending her first breathless year here and hails from Wichita. But her name—I can’t remember it and that is exactly what happened to her blind date that Sunday evening. He was all fussed to the teeth with hair glistening with three varieties of brilliantine commandeered from as many dressing rooms at the house. The crease in his tweed suit trousers was like a razor edge, absolutely the best that freshmen could produce. But alas and alack the pigeon hole for her name was a blank and bottomless abyss. He hadn’t the faintest notion whether it was Rochsky. Steinberg, Hickidoolus or Whiffenpoof. None of the brothers knew. Finally he called some of the town men he knew and described the girl, telling them oh so definitely that she was “that nifty Chi O.” At last one knew whom he had in mind but that awful name was not in his vocabularly [sic]. However, the rescuer ’phoned the man she had dated with the night before and learned the magic word. It was transmitted with all speed to worrying Willie. Of course, it’s still the principal subject for conversation whenever he is with more than one of his frat brothers.


Note 1: I have reproduced a 1922 Flapper Dictionary in “the cat’s whiskers”, and all that jazzan article about the expressions based on various parts of animals’ real or fanciful anatomy and other attributes, such as the cat’s whiskers, the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees and the frog’s eyebrows, which are or were used to denote an outstandingly good person or thing.


Note 2: An initialism from grand bounce or go-by, G. B. denotes a dismissal or ejection.


Note 3: The glossary published in The Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.) on Monday 13th March 1922 is as follows:

Flappers Make Boys Blush with Modernized English

Hot dog!”
In this all-meaning phrase, one “flapper”—as the modern young women who wear blue, pink or orchid homespun garments along with summer-wool hosiery and vari-colored sport shoes topping all with a heavy coating of cosmetics, are termed—described a dance which was held in a sorority house, last night.
“It was the cat’s pajamas,” she continued, after she had regained her breath for the first time since the “jazz” orchestra had struck up the first number. “It started rather blaah, though. A lot of the girls were cracking corns with strike-breakers because their regular fellows were out of town. I think that most of them turned subchaser to get them, too, for I noticed several flat-wheels and cellar-smellers.
“When these pick-ups struck the jazz garden they acted like a bunch of bun dusters and began necking it as though they had never been away from their Ma’s apron strings. But after they had been introduced they began to warm up and in a little while the party was jake.
“Some wallie tried to horn in but was bloused. He crashed the gate like a finale-hopper, but he did not get very far before one of the fellows was wised-up and the Egg Harbor hound was given the air.”
The description continued for more than an hour but unless a word of explanation is inserted at this point, even this much will be meaningless, so, to enable the readers to understand English as it is spoken “in the best circles,” the glossary is appended.
Ankling Along—To take a walk.
Buffos—Dollars, sometimes referred to as rocks, chips, jack and smackers.
Bell-polisher—A “cake” who lingers in the vestibule around 1 a.m. and to whom time is no object.
Blow—To take the air.
Bun-duster—A “cake-eater.”
Blaah!—Anything that is no good or is “out.”
Cake Eatress—The female of the species.
Cat’s Pajamas—Anything that is very good.
Cowboy—Young college lad.
Crashing the Gate—To go to a place uninvited or without paying admission.
Crasher—Anyone who goes to parties uninvited.
Corn-Cracker—A male dancer who dances on his partner’s toes.
Dumb-Otis—A young man from the country, sometimes referred to as merely “Otis.”
Dumb-Dora—A stupid girl.
Dumb-Bell—A stupid male.
Darb—A person with money or class who can be relied on to pay the checks.
Egg—A cakie who lets a girl pay her own way into a dance hall.
Flapper-Alley—Our own poor “cake” and “cowboy” ridden F street.
Flat Tire—Maidenly “flapper” over thirty.
Flat Wheeler—A young man whose idea of entertaining a girl is to take her for a walk.
Finale-Hoppers—Persons who arrive at dances after the ticket takers have gone.
Goof—A sap, a guy, a fish.
Goofy—To be with or attached to, i.e., “I’m goofy about Fred.”
Grease Ball—A foreign cake-eater or bun duster.
Given the Air—When a fellow or girl is thrown down on a date.
Hot Dog—Joyous expression of approval.
Horn in—To get into place without invitation.
Holaholy—A girl or boy who objects to parking, or necking in a dance.
Jazz Garden—Cafe where dancing is permitted.
Jane—A girl.
Jammed—Intoxicated, also shot, shellacked, canned, potted, cuckoo, three sheets in the wind, teed, etc.
Lollygagger—Young man addicted to attempts at hallway spooning.
Monog—Young person of either sex who is goofy about one person at a time.
Mad Money—Carried by a girl in case she has a row with her escort and wishes to go home alone.
Necking—Violent loving. Also parking, spooning, etc.
Not-so-good—Exclamation of disgust.
Princess Mary—Any girl about to be married. (Obsolete now).
Rug Shaking—Shimmying.
Shellacked—Stewed, bunned, etc.
Trou—Navy term for article of female wearing apparel. Terms [sic] and apparel almost extinct.
Soup-to-Nuts—Dress suit.
Subchaser—A man who tries to pick up women on the street.
Squirrel—To hide, e.g., a woman squirrels money in her stocking.
Strike Breaker—A girl put in to take the place of a young man’s regular girl when the latter is absent.
Smudger—One who does all the close fitting dances.
Scandal—A college boy or girl so called from their manner of walking; also the name of a dance step.
Tomato—A pretty girl who can dance very well but is otherwise a “dumb-Dora.”
Take the Air—Leave or be put out.
Up Stage—To get indignant.
Washout—Specimen of maiden somewhat the worst for wear.
Wallie—A goof with patent leather hair.
Wrinkle—The girl’s mother.
Windsucker—Any person given*

[* The glossary is truncated; windsucker is defined as denoting a braggart in the above-mentioned 1922 Flapper Dictionary.]

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