Elim Portuno Personal blog.

Dumb talk

Strikingly contrary to this aspect of the dandy slang and its intention was the impression it gave to the general public. The dandy had a poor footing to begin with, and his verbal incomprehensibility did not help to improve his image. Quite the opposite, the dandy was perceived as utterly dumb by most of his contemporaries in the beginning of the 19th century. J. K. Paulding‚s remark is exemplary:

They possess, it is true, the faculty of speech, but seem almost destitute of ideas, and talk in a kind of jargon peculiar to themselves; so difficult, that, I am told, even the celebrated Hamilton, of Baltimore, will not undertake to teach it in less than twenty lessons.

Nathaniel Chauncey, reporting from the meeting of The New-Haven Dandy-Club, asserted that the club’s president „had never during all his life been guilty of advancing a single idea in any company whatever, although one of the most loquacious of men, constantly talking without cessation or intermission. […] he began an inaugural address, and proceeded a considerable time without uttering any thing that bore even a distant resemblance to thought.“ Contrasting the ascertained scarcity of the dandy’s language, Chauncey further notices that „loquacity, or the power of talking ad infinitum on nothing; and the faculty of rarifying and spreading the smallest possible quantity of sense over the greatest possible surface, are considered indispensable to all who aspire to our desirable rank in society.“ At any rate, this mode of talk requires great rhetoric skill, as it turns jabbering into art.

Most observers, though, confirmed the alleged idiocy of the dandy. Robert Folkstone Williams, for example, identifies „the silly dandy, who lisps out his words, as if their utterance gave him inexpressible pain, and does not seem to possess so much as the shadow of an idea.“ Meanwhile, a writer of the Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine detected „a faculty of uttering articulate though unmeaning sounds.“

Evidently, these four aspects of the dandy slang are co-dependent. The exclusiveness and incomprehensibility of the dandy’s mode of talk hold the general public off. The intention to surprise succeeds, yet does not necessarily culminate in admiration but rather indignation – which may be the ultimate desired effect as it proves attention, yet keeps the vulgar crowd at bay.