|WWI "dazzle-painted" ship (unidentified)|
The entire film was photographed from a position that permitted the camera to encompass a peculiar amusement concession named "Razzle Dazzle." It consists of a large circle suspended from cables, giving it the effect of a maypole. Children sit on it and the circle is revolved and undulated in the air.
From this and other turn-of-the-century sources, it is evident that the term razzle dazzle was commonly-used English slang far in advance of World War I, when dazzle schemes were first employed for ship camouflage. For example, the following is a lengthy article (sorry, but it does have its moments) titled RAZZLE-DAZZLE: A Reporters’ Still Hunt After the Mysterious Phrase; Popular Ideas As to Its Full Scope and Meaning; Shall the Phrase Enrich the Columns of the Unabridged? from The Evening World (New York), March 1, 1889, p. 1—
You hear of it everywhere.
It is indoors and out of doors.
It is a persistent mystery and follows us with a mysterious persistency.
Evening World reporters, fired by a zeal worthy of the cause, set out on its track, determined to chase it out of its word-shadow form and, if it has a common meaning and an inclination to stay in the language, to hunt it into its proper place in the vocabulary.
These were the questions with which the city philologists were confronted wherever they were met this morning—
What, in your best judgment, is the meaning of the phrase “Razzle-Dazzle”?
Do you favor its permanent incorporation into the United States language?
There seemed to be a preponderance of affirmative opinion in answer to the second question.
Here are some of the replies, showing great diversity as to the interpretation of this new-born phrase:
Major Grant—I really do not know. It is a weird combination. It razzle-dazzles me to give an interpretation.
Judge Martine—If a person does not know what he is about he is razzle-dazzled. Lawyers frequently razzle-dazzle witnesses.
County Clerk Reilly—As there is no razzle-dazzling done in this office we don’t recognize such a phrase here. However, it is an expressive combination. If a man gets so tangled up that he does not know what he is doing he is razzle-dazzled.
Alderman Divver—I suppose it’s when a man has been on a tear. I saw a picture in The World of a dilapidated chap being taken to the station house between two policemen. The tired-looking party had the razzle-dazzle.
George Slosson, the wizard of the cue—If I could only get at Jake Schaefer in a match game of billiards I could give him the razzle-dazzle in the most approved fashion.
Broker Ed Murphy—Razzle-dazzle is a nineteenth-century slang expression that in the eighteenth used to mean full as a boiled owl. But the 400 don’t use it. They say “somewhat screwed,” which is English, you know.
Broker William F. Howe—When a fellow has got bottled lightning in his brain and can’t get it out I guess he is razzle-dazzled.
Alderman Barry—I see people are using the term instead of “boycott.” But I don’t think it means just that.
Assistant District Attorney Lindsay—Razzle-dazzle means a good old-fashioned drunk.
Lawyer John Graham—I never heard the expression before, but suppose it means something like hocus pocus. I mean to look it up.
Clerk Sparks, of the Criminal Courts—I suppose when a man is on a lark he is razzle-dazzled.
Actor Murphy, who created the razzle-dazzle song—One night after the theatre, after I had sung my razzle-dazzle song, I imbibed a little too much razzle-dazzle juice, and went along Broadway singing the song. I was run in and fined $10. I was razzle-dazzled.
Lawyer Fred Swain—When a man is somewhat under the influence, he usually feels razzled. If he escapes being dazzled as well he is lucky.
Probate Clerk Tinney—It’s when forty men come in here and ask forty questions apiece when I am busy. Then I get razzle-dazzled, and refer them to the Surrogate, who razzle-dazzles them in turn in short order.
Administration Clerk O’Brien—When a man is made to believe something that is not so he is razzle-dazzled.
Assistant Administration Clerk Scannell—When a man gets doubled he is razzle-dazzled.
Counsellor Joe Steiner—When you are introduced to a man and he steals your watch he razzle-dazzles you.
Deputy Coroner Conway—When I was a young man I knew what razzle-dazzle meant, but for the last few years I have been out of practice. Possibly, however, during convention time I might still experience the razzle-dazzles.
Clerk Edward Reynolds—When a man has been having too good a time he is often razzle-dazzled.
Secretary Burns, of the Park Department—I have often heard the term, but really am at a loss to give you a definition. When a person does not know what he is about, I presume it may be claimed he is razzle-dazzled.
C.H. Smith, of the Park Department—It is like a razoo. People get the razoo or razzle-dazzle when they have been having too good a time.
J.J. Odell, of the Park Department—I am a Quaker, and not a New Yorker; so of course I have never experienced a razzle-dazzle. You had better ask some of the natives.
Deputy Mortgage Clerk Loper—When a man is too full for utterance, he is razzle-dazzled.
Delivery Clerk Pyne—Wine looked on when it is red is apt to produce the razzle-dazzles.
Grantee Clerk Lynch—When a man is drunk as a lord he has no regard for anything and will do all sorts of razzle-dazzle things.
Broker P.G Weaver—When one has been out all night, painting the town red, so to speak, he is apt to feel “rocky” when he gets home—in other words he is razzle-dazzled.
Broker S.O. Caldwell—The conditions of the stock market in Wall Street is a razzle-dazzle.
Broker Louis Marks—When a man gets mixed he may be said to be razzle-dazzled.
Broker Walter Smith—Ask [US President] Cleveland what a razzle-dazzle is. He knows. He got one last fall [in losing his bid for re-election].
J.D and Mr. D., Wall Street brokers, said to razzle-dazzle a person was to entangle him.
Mr. E., also a Wall Street man, who said he had lived at the Windsor Hotel ten years and wanted this fact duly chronicled, claimed that razzle-dazzle meant hifalutin.
Broker M. said it meant hither and thither.
Broker H. defined it as follows: “When a gentleman does not know whether he wants a pancake or a gin cocktail he is razzle-dazzled.”
Broker C. Spencer Boyd—Under the surroundings and impressions of a lurid evening, and when the luridness is continued till the sun rises, a man is likely to feel razzled. When he cools off after a good sleep he is more likely to feel dazzled to think what a fool he made of himself.
Broker Robert Van Hueson—What do you ask me for? The didoes cut out by Ed Murphy after 12 o’clock at night are razzle-dazzlers.
Broker John Helyer—When a man gets off his base he is razzled and dazzled, too.
Broker Wood Gibson—When a man can’t tell the difference between a billiard ball and a [high]ball taken over the bar he is decidely razzle-dazzled.
Up to this point there had been the voice of one person to adopt the phrase into the language. Webster’s great work was declared to be seriously abridged while lacking this expressive form.
Billy Edwards, ex-champion lightweight pugilists—If I plank a man between the eyes or on the jaw I rather think he would be razzle-dazzled for a time, or if a man drinks too much of the sparkling water he is very liable to become slightly under the influence of the razzle-dazzle.
W.E. Harding, of the Police Gazette—We gave the detectives in Toronto the grand razzle-dazzle when we made the match for Jake Kilrain to fight John L. Sullivan right under their noses.
Arthur T. Lumley of the Illustrated News—I’d just like to razzle-dazzle John L. Sullivan for writing such an infernally long letter this week. Here are four columns which have got to be chopped down to less than two.
Frank Stevenson, the sporting man at 157 Bleeker Street—Do I know what razzle-dazzle means? Well, now, if I don't you can have my hat.
Billy Ottman, of the St. James Hotel—It’s to be skinned. I can’t think of anymore expressive explanation.
Clerk Simpson, of the St. James—Were you ever guyed? Well, then, you have been razzle-dazzled.
W.H. Robertson, of 296 Broadway—If you should go to a ball and have your overcoat and hat stolen and your pockets picked, I should say you have been razzle-dazzled in great shape.
“Yes,” chimed in L. Lavein, the well-known athelete, “and how about the umbrella? You are beaten out of anything nowadays, and you have to console yourself by the charming thought that you are razzle-dazzled.”
Harry Chapman, the veteran theatrical manager, who is on the other side of sixty—I first heard “razzle-dazzle” about thirty years ago as a gag by Billy O’Neill, an Irish comedian, who was then performing at the old Bowery Theatre. It was used in a farce where O’Neill played the lover and fooled “the ould man,” whom he said he had “razzle-dazzled.” If my memory serves me rightly, I also heard Tom Riggs, another Irish comedian, use the same term. It wouldn’t do to incorporate it in the language. Like every other slang word, it will die out in a little while.
Mike Kelly, the $10,000 prize beauty and pet of the baseball community—I first heard “razzle-dazzle” from George Floyd, Nat Goodwin’s manager, in Boston, last August or September. The song was originated in California by a social club, who gave it to Charlie Hoyt. Noah Webster’s spirit would rebel if we should put it in his dictionary.
Miss Ella Rodriguez, soprano singer on the vaudeville stage—I heard it as a gag before the song appeared, but never used it myself. I know the song well and have often sung it. I don’t think it sounds good enough for the dictionary.
Will Collins, comedian—I never heard it used on the stage in traveling companies I have appeared with, and it was not until the song came out that the word became commonly used. Being slang, we should not incorporate in our dictionaries.
Gus Heckler, presiding genius at the Bohemia—I first discovered it at the last election, when I ran for Alderman in the Eleventh Assembly District and got gloriously defeated. Lexicographers will scarely adopt the term.
Eugene Wellington, business manager of “The Dark Side of a Great City”—I first heard it seven or eight years ago in the Buckingham, at Louisville, where J.J. Quinlan, of the “Horseshow Four,” used it as a gag. I also heard him use it in this city. It will hardly do for Webster’s dictionary.
Harry Cottrell, comedian and singer—Jim Quinlan, of the “Horseshoe Four,” used “razzle-dazzle” in a variety performance in this city several years ago, giving it as a gag. There are good enough English words without giving the dictionary the “razzle-dazzle.”