Slang City Mail

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May 3, 2007

Slang of the Week: the Boston version (noun phrase)
the “clean,” censored, G-rated* version of a performance

Elspeth’s community theater group put on the Boston version of Oh! Calcutta**. It was five minutes long.

Celebrity quote:
“[During the Depression] Burlesque houses were always being temporarily shut down after complaints to the police from local censorship or religious groups. (Nudity was forbidden, but its threat or semblance was enough to call out the cops. If a ticket- seller spotted a censor, he could flash a signal at the footlights to warn the artists to play ‘the Boston version.’)”
— Theater critic Rhoda Koening in The London Independent

As I have noted before, Boston is still pretty puritanical. The suburb of Arlington, for example, which is less than a mile from the Slang City headquarters, is a “dry town”: no bars and no sales of alcohol except with a full dinner at a sit-down restaurant.

However, Bostonians are not responsible for Boston’s latest morality excitement. The upset last month at Mike Daisey’s monologue, Invincible Summer, was caused by a high school group from California. Upon hearing Daisey use a profane word in reference to Paris Hilton, chaperones hustled the students out of the theater, citing "safety" concerns. One chaperone was so angry that he came up to the stage and poured water on Daisey’s notes. (You can see a video of the episode at  

Apparently, though theater management said the group had been warned of the adult content before they bought the tickets, they didn't realize that the Boston version of New York shows no longer exists. These days, we’re happy to get whatever they send us. In the past, however, plays were often toned down for local audiences. Some, like Lillian Hellmann’s controversial 1934 play The Children’s Hour, were banned entirely. (In Boston’s defense, the play, which dealt with lesbianism, was banned in Chicago and London, too. We don’t have a corner on the censorship market.)

*for non-Americans, G is the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating for films that could be safely shown to small children (no nudity, bad language or violence). More on MPAA ratings:

** Oh! Calcutta was an off-Broadway theatrical review featuring nudity and sexual situations. It opened in 1969.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: learn more about the Boston version and other forgotten cultural and linguistic artifacts in Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century.