That student of the American language, H. L. Mencken, almost always had his finger on the pulse of usage:
Every lover of the true, the good and the beautiful must needs be interested in the Hon. A. Toven Worm’s campaign for a reform in the nomenclature of chorus girls. Hitherto, as we all know, the terms used to designate girls of different heft, altitude and talent have run to a distressing vulgarity. The smaller girls have been called “ponies,” “broilers” or “squabs,” and the larger “hillhorses,” “amazons,” “welterwetghts” or “beefs.” It is the aim of the Hon. Mr. Worm, who represents Miss Gertrude Hoffmann in the capacity of confidential fictioner, to remedy this curse by substituting names of a romantic and poetic nature. Accordingly, he takes space in the current Sunpaper to announce that Miss Hoffmann will be surrounded on her coming appearance here by a choir of “chickens” and “canaries,” with a few “violets” and “rosebuds” for good measure.
A benign reform, but one which Mr. Worm has failed to workout to more than one place of decimals. His invention of “canaries” deserves all praise, but he makes concessions to current slang in “chicken.” Why not rename the whole hierarchy of chorus girls, from “squabs” to “hillhorses,” with the names of pretty birds? Why not begin with “humming-birds” and run up the scale to “swans,” or even to “penguins” and “cassowaries”? Why not attempt to differentiate between girls who can sing and girls who can merely stand and wait by calling the former “nightingales,” “canaries” and “mockingbirds”? I submit the following provisional and partial list to the Hon. Mr. Worm for his consideration and judgment:
CANARIES—Singing blondes of less than 120 pounds weight, but of a generally rotund aspect.
DOVES—Small, sylphlike creatures, demure and dumb.
PARROTS–Large, gaudy girls with aquiline noses.
PENGUINS—Stately beings in ball gowns, heavy on their feet.
OSTRICHES—The grenadiers of the chorus, none less than 170 pounds in weight.
FLAMINGOES—The so-called “showgirls” of yesteryear: Florodora sextetters.
SWABS—Tall, resilient, necky girls, vocal only in the final chorus.
PHEASANTS–Bunchy little ones.
CROWS–Inky brunettes, large and sad.
TANAGERS—All red-haired girls, regardless of size. (Formerly called “Zazas”).
STORKS–Long, panatella girls, voiceless and austere.
SPARROWS–Happy little chirpers, unbeautiful but industrious.
BULBULS—Deep-chested contraltos, gurgly and amiable.
And so on and so on. I offer only few suggestions. Let the Hon. Mr. Worm engage a competent ornithologist and proceed to the completion of the list. Again, he might try a list of flower-names, beginning with “violet” and running up to “chrysanthemum.” “Sunflowers” would be apt and excellent for towering, gawky blondes, and “dahlias” would fit the auburn-haired admirably. Let the hon. gent. proceed to the business at once. He has launched a laudable and long-needed reform. All connoisseurs of nomenclature look to him to give it substance and permanence.