49. Scofflaw cocktail

11 Jan

“How can one make Welsh rarebit with ambient prohibition? Ale, old ale is absolutely necessary to make the perfect Welsh rarebit. Would you make a scofflaw of me?”

— G. F. Scotson-Clark, Half hours in the Kitchenette (New York: Appleton, 1925), p. 52.

16 January, 1924. It’s been four years to the day since the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution went into effect, prohibiting “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors”. But the legislation hasn’t stopped Americans drinking. Speakeasies are flourishing. Bootleggers are smuggling whiskey over the border.  Rum rows stretch along the coast. And otherwise honest citizens of all classes, whether rednecks or bluebloods, beer-swillers, wine-bibbers or cocktail-guzzlers, have been turned into criminals.

Delcevare King

Delcevare King, businessman, busybody and veteran of the Massachusetts temperance movement, was predictably appalled at the extent to which the law was being deliberately and systematically ignored. Then the man from Quincy hit on an idea: he’d offer a $200 prize for the best new word that described, and stigmatized, these seditious swallowers of hooch. Perhaps, through a bit of old-fashioned name-calling, he might “stab awake the public conscience of law enforcement” (“Lawless Drinker Called ‘Scofflaw’”, Christian Science Monitor, 16 January 1924, p. 3). The competition caught the imagination of the nation’s teetotallers—and of the press. Entries flooded in from every state in the union, and on 16 January major newspapers from New York to Los Angeles excitedly published the results. The winning word, chosen from more than 25,000 suggestions, was submitted by two different contestants, both Massachusites, Kate L. Butler of Dorchester and Henry Irving Dale of Shawsheen Village, Andover, who would therefore share the money between them. From now on a tippler holding the Volstead Act in contempt would be known as a “scofflaw”.

Why “scofflaw”? The judges were guided by five criteria, King explained, which the winners duly met:

The word to be preferably of one or two syllables; to begin with “s”, such words having a sting, in the opinion of the judges, the word to be not an epithet for drinkers in general but for illegal drinkers of illegal liquor, the word to have “law” not “liquor” as a basis, and applying to violations of all laws, not merely the prohibition law, and finally, the word was to be such that it might be linked up with the statement of President Harding that “lawless drinking is a menace to the Republic itself.”

— “Are You a Scofflaw?”, Boston Globe, 16 January 1924, p. 1.

From: New York World; repr. in Boston Globe, 16 January 1924, p. 1A.

New York World; repr. in Boston Globe, 16 January 1924, p. 1.

King was so pleased with the outcome of the competition—and, no doubt, with the attendant publicity—that he immediately advertized a follow-up contest “for the best statement of not more than 100 words which points out why the drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor should be called a ‘scofflaw’” (“Lawless Drinker Called ‘Scofflaw’, Christian Science Monitor, 16 January, 1924, p. 3). This time he promised prizes of $100, $50, $25, $15, $10, which, shrewdly, he announced on successive days for maximum effect. The winner on this occasion was Harold Bisbee of Milton, Mass. (it’s notable that, despite the nationwide participation that King always alleged, the honours always went to Bay Staters), who pontificated as follows:

We live in a democracy or a government by the people. By its very nature democratic government implies a huge sense of personal responsibility on the part of the people. The complement of enforcement of law is obedience to law, and the willingness with which obedience responds to enforcement is the acid test of a true democracy. The lawless drinker places his selfish pleasure above the law of the land, shows himself traitorous to the base principle of his Government, and is therefore in the fullest sense of the word, a scofflaw.

— “Scofflaw Logic Winner is Named”, Christian Science Monitor, 16 February 1924, p. 3.

Bisbee seems to have won because he more or less repeated King’s own statements to the press. Surely the torturous baseball analogy used by Bostonian Ellery H. Clark, who claimed the 4th prize of $15 with a passable imitation of a Victorian schoolmaster, ought to have been better rewarded:

One ideal we impress on American youth: in athletics and in life, “play the game”. “Obey the rules”, we say; “don’t kick at the umpire’s decision; be good sports; heads up, play the game”. The “scofflaw”, most emphatically, does not “play the game”. The umpire, the American Nation, has ruled that prohibition is “safe”, and that the drinker is “out”. But the “scofflaw” refuses to accept the umpire’s ruling. “To hell with America”, he snarls; “I’ve got to have my drink”. Behold him! A skulker; a non-American; a “poor sport”, lacking the manhood to “play the game”.

— “Wins Fourth Prize in ‘Scofflaw’ Contest”, Boston Globe, 13 February, 1924, p. 3.

Almost immediately King’s wheeze was roundly mocked by the men and women of sober reason common sense. One letter-writer to the New York Times pointed out that the new word “contains a flaw”— literally—and could therefore be read in a way unintended by King. To wit: “Scofflaw—one who scoffs at the idea of a flaw in the glorious Constitution of the United States as it existed in the year 1919”. The proper use of a hyphen might bring this meaning out more clearly, the correspondent continued, before signing himself “Scof-Flaw of Roselle” (New York Times, 18 January, 1924).

The soon-to-be-famous columnist Westbrook Pegler satirised King’s fatuous conviction that “those fiends in human form, those social buccaneers, who still drink more or less ardent liquids in defiance of the Volstead Act” would be humiliated by the “scathing sibilant” and moved to mend their ways. He pretended to have witnessed emotional scenes in a saloon after reports of King’s competition reached the ears of its inhabitants. The barkeeper was crushed. “I may be a bootlegger,” he sobbed, “but even a bootlegger has got feelings, and I won’t be called a scofflaw!” Another shady character was outraged: “To think of any dirty bum calling any fellow man a scofflaw for $200!” he exclaimed. “I’ve called many a dirty bum a ‘rotten gink’ for nothing whatever, you understand. […] But this ‘scofflaw’ business is something out of my line. If I should call a guy that around the place where I hang out at, somebody would likely shoot me and no jury would blame him” (“Scofflaw Causes Waves of Giggles Among Scoffers”, Atlanta Constitution, 27 January 1924, p. A6).

Another would-be King-deposer, Mrs Rose Scott of Saugatuck, Conn., decided to retaliate in kind and pitched a rival competition for the best word to describe a prohibitionist, a word that should be “the antithesis of scofflaw, but without its sneer” (“Antithesis for Scofflaw”, Atlanta Constitution, 22 January 1924, p. 1). A housewife and mother of two, Mrs Scott was an unlikely provocateur. By her own admission she never drank “anything stronger than wholesome beer”, had no political ambitions, was opposed to saloons and hard liquor, and favoured temperance (“Scofflaw Sets Experts Hurling Epithetic Muss”, Atlanta Constitution, 2 February 1924, p. 4). But she had been goaded into action by King and what she saw as his fundamentally “un-Christianlike” outlook, which was expressed clearly enough in the slanderous scofflaw. “We believe in the Bible and in respectable living,” she assured the press, explaining:

Centuries ago Puritan reformers, obstinate in their own views, crossed the seas to secure liberty of thought and action. They succeeded at the expense of removing the Indians . . . . Today there are millions of people like those old Indians in their desire for personal liberty and in their willingness to think and do what they consider right. There are those of us who feel we are being grossly imposed upon. It is difficult enough to exist in the multiplicity of existing laws, the worst of which at present being the crime of taking a glass of beer instead of a bottle of sarsaparilla, and now, to add insult to injury, the word scofflaw has been devised!

— “Antithesis for Scofflaw”, Atlanta Constitution, 22 January 1924, p. 1.

Mrs Scott certainly struck a nerve. She received some 4,300 responses to her challenge, among them such coinages as: anderson, bluebiddy, bluesop, buttinbully, contralib, curball, drynut, dryrotter, drywahoo,  freestricter, holygloomer, hypobitionist, killright, libchaser, libertycrab, libertychecker, liberticide, libertykiller, maltruist, meddlebug, messyfoot, muzzlerighter, pesterprig, pharisneer, pokenose, prohibigot, prohibitocritic, purinatic, purinut, pussyfaker, rabidist, reformaniac, rightsthief, shall-nut, slaveheart, sneerlip, snivelpest, snoopergoop, soulslave, superbigot, taboosier, verbotocrat.

Mrs Scott claimed to have accepted submissions from judges, politicians, clergymen, lawyers, college professors, businessmen and workers. One suggestion came from a Native American, “Sunshine-on-Face”, who contributed “newpuritan”. Her summary of his accompanying comments is suspiciously reminiscent of what she herself was quoted as having said a week before, when she announced the competition:

Sunshine-on-Face . . . writes . . . that the original puritan invaders came here with songs and banners about the joys of personal liberty. They were peacefully received by the trusting Indians on promise to make things pleasanter by showing them the reform methods and by introducing them to happier hunting grounds. “Our fathers were soon reformed from the face of their land,” he writes, “but the spirit of reform has again broken out in a new and malignant way, and these ‘newpuritans’ will be as intolerant to their fellow whites as they were to the Indians”.

— “Dry Haters Coin Many Biting Words, Hartford Courant, 31 January 1924, p. 2.

The winner was Joseph French of Chelmsford, Mass with the somewhat disappointing “banbug” (“‘Banbug’ Becomes ‘Scofflaw’ Antonym”, Hartford Courant, 17 March, 1924, p. 2).

The Harvard Advocate, a student newspaper, had the same idea as Mrs Scott, although it was motivated less by lofty principles than a sense of fun (“Seek Name for a ‘Dry’”, New York Times, 25 January 1924, p. 19). Its competition, open to scholars and outsiders alike, also produced a worthier winner. Some 2280 words were submitted, the most frequently recurring of which was, inevitably, “Delcevare”. The more imaginative neologisms to make the short list included: pure-tank, camel-louse, cocktail-flea, jug-buster, scoffprop, fear-beer, aquaduck, smugger, cookie-pusher, and dryad. But the laurels, and the $25 prize, went to Katherine Greene Welling of New York City for the truly brilliant “spigot bigot” (“‘Spigot-Bigot’” Wins in Harvard Advocate Contest”, Boston Globe, 29 February, 1294, p. 1A). Interviewed afterwards, Mrs Welling, 67, was adamant that citizens had a duty to obey the law, and disapproved of bootlegging and blind pigs, but added: “I think prohibition is outrageous”. Accordingly, she planned to donate her winnings to an organization dedicated to overturning the Eighteenth Amendment (“Aged Greenwich Villager Coined Spigot-Bigot Sneer”, Atlanta Constitution, 2 March 1924, p. 7).

King was untroubled by the push-back. As long as newspapers across the country continued to print and use the word “scofflaw”, he would be happy: “the more that certain wet journalists try to ridicule it and what it stands for,” he defiantly declared, “the more the terms will be pressed into the public consciousness” (“Scofflaw Proves Good Press Word”, Christian Science Monitor, 12 February 1924, p. 2).  He had a point. Even as the Boston Globe wondered whether the label would “stick” and become “a byword”, concluding that scofflaw “doesn’t appear likely to get far forward on its career” (“Scofflaw’s Problem, Boston Globe, 17 January 1924, p. 14), its own headline writers, as well those of other dailies, did their best to ensure that it entered the lexicon of journalese. Here are a few examples: “Story of a Detective Who is a ‘Scofflaw’” (Boston Globe, 9 February 1924, p 5); “Woman Scofflaw Aged 102 Years. Given Jail Term” (Atlanta Constitution, 20 February 1925, p. 10); “Jail Urged for every Scofflaw” (Los Angeles Times, 9 April 1926, p. 7); “Scofflawism is Sacred Duty in Driest Dixie” (Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 October 1928,  p. 10). And it worked: the term is still in use, long after Repeal, but interestingly its meaning has shifted: a scofflaw is nowadays usually a violator of parking or traffic laws (see e.g. “City Will Crack Down on Scofflaw Cyclists, New York Times, 22 October 2010).

King, then, won the war of words. But the best way to get back at him— of course!— was to invent a cocktail called “Scofflaw”. Which is precisely what a Paris-based mixologist did—a little more than a week after the results of King’s first competition were released: “Maxim’s bar has invented a ‘scofflaw’ cocktail, three parts rye, two parts French vermouth, a dash of lemon juice, and a dash of grenadine. The cocktail is most popular with American prohibition dodgers” (“‘Scofflaw’ Cocktail Gives Yanks Relief at Maxim’s”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 January 1924, p. 2). Just like the word that inspired it, the cocktail found its way into the canon. By the time it was immortalized in the Savoy Cocktail Book, however, the recipe, or at least the balance of the ingredients, had been tweaked. Harry Craddock’s formula is:

1 Dash Orange Bitters

1/3 Canadian Club Whisky. [Canadian Club was the most widely available rye in 1920s Europe]

1/3 French Vermouth.

1/6 Lemon Juice.

1/6 Grenadine.

Now, that it far too much grenadine, especially if you use shop-bought gloop, which will result in a luridly pink and cloyingly sweet drink in which the whiskey and vermouth have been completely overwhelmed. That’s fine if you’re struggling to swallow throat-scraping moonshine fetched from a Tennessee still, but otherwise you’re ruining perfectly good booze. After some experimentation, taking my cue from the original recipe and adjusting slightly for a more generous modern pour, this is what I ended up with, a satisfying sharp compound with an appropriately sub rosa hue:

1.5 oz rye whiskey

1 oz. dry vermouth

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp grenadine

A dash of orange bitters.


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