Saturday, July 10, 2010

Deconstructing Old Ads with Bill Sonnett


Few words in the English language have taken on so many multiple meanings as the word “dope”. A quick glance at my old Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary shows at least 8 different meanings when used as a noun or a verb. Surprisingly, none fit the present-day slang meaning as commonly used to describe someone who has done something really----- well lets say 'not too bright' . This can lead to some humorous reading of older advertising such as in the two examples given here. Most collectors are familiar with the WW2 era Jitterbug box as seen here. At that time the word “dope” was used as a slang expression to describe somewhat confidential information usually that was meant to give a person the “edge”. “See Dope on Bottom of Box” meant exactly that. Early-on at collector meets (in an effort to be funny) a couple of folks pasted either a picture of a well known collector or a small mirror to the bottom of the box with predictable results.

As a Michigan resident of 40 years, I'm taking a real chance with this next one that comes from the pages of the April 1915 issue of National Sportsman. One of the meanings of the word “dope” is a thick liquid designed to be applied to something. In this case it is mosquito “dope” with a name that might not be the first choice among marketing executives, especially if they plan to sell it in the state of Michigan. From the looks of this year's mosquito crop it would be a big mistake to write off so large a group of potential customers. It might go over big in Columbus, Ohio though!

-- Dr. Todd

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