Musings, Poems

The Case of the Autograph Book Curiosity

DSC03937I am working on the new museum exhibit on autograph book poetry, and I have found an interesting poem/page in one of the books. This comes from a 1940-1941 autograph book that belonged to Betty Boerner from Hampstead, Maryland.

1st Curiosity
The poem in question appears to be original to the writer, which was highly unusual. One of the things I’m finding in my research is that the same group of rhymes, with little variations, were used over and over throughout the 20th century in these books. Of the twelve books that I have that range from 1892 to 1974, this is the only occurrence of this poem:

The little fishes are in the brook,
Mae West caught them with a hook,
Wimpy fried them in a pan
Joe Penner said, “You nasty MAN.”

2nd Curiosity
While I know who Mae West and Wimpy were, I was not familiar with Joe Penner, so I looked him up and found he was an American vaudeville, radio, and film comedian. He had a famous burlesque act, and he developed some catch phrases while doing it, one of which was “Wanna buy a duck?” and the other was “You naaaaasssss-ty man!” This phrase was usually delivered after another person’s unwitting double entendre. The odd thing here is that the date of the signature is the day Penner died, at only 36 of heart failure.

3rd Curiosity
IDK. This abbreviation, the bane of every schoolteacher, supposedly had its origin in digital communications or texting. dates it to 2003. The Urban Dictionary dates it to 2002 and also includes this illustrious user-added entry about IDK from 2005:

The newest in a long list of annoying internet acronyms, “idk” has become extraordinarily popular with the 13-year-old lie-about-your-age-to-get-on-MySpace grade school slut crowd.

Commonly seen as a BS response when filling out memes and surveys. Double annoyance points when paired with the equally meaningless “lol.”
Last time you dreamed something really crazy and then it happened the next day: Idk lol
by d4rk September 19, 2005

However, IDK was in use in 1941, people. Instead of writing one of those oft-repeated “Yours Till” phrases (yours till Niagara falls, yours till Russia cooks Turkey in Greece, etc.), Shirley Hale decided to write “Till IDK.” Awesome.

4th Curiosity
This is a curiosity of the book, not the specific page. This book, unlike any of the other autograph books I have is spiral-bound. The first spiral-bound notebook did not appear until 1934, so in 1940 when Betty was using this autograph book, it was still a very new thing. And let me tell you, they made those spirals the right way back then. This notebook is almost 75-years-old, and it works perfectly, stays in place, has not rusted, and looks like it would last forever.

I never imagined I would find such interesting stuff from one page of a notebook . . . I hope you find it interesting, too. Please come to the museum when I get the whole exhibit done. It will be an appealing presentation of poetry straight from the people.

–Shaun Perkins

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