The Marvelous Mrs. Anachronism

January 29, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston
“The authenticity of the [ancient parchment] scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text.”*
Most language anachronisms are harder to spot. But why?

“Mad Men” begins in 1960, but the ad men and women use terms that didn’t enter the language till much later: niche marketing, iconic, enough on her plate, how’d that work out for you, key demographic, bi-coastal, and many others. (“Mad Men posts are here and here.)

And now we have “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, set in roughly the same time and place as “Mad Men,” New York City 1958, though the social geography is slightly different – downtown comedy clubs and Upper West Side Jews rather than Madison Avenue and WASPs. The trailer for Season One summarizes the concept and setting.


From the opening shot with Checker cabs through to the final frame, everything is visually perfect for 1958 – clothes, interiors. But then (at 1:42) Midge says, “This comedy thing – it has to work.” But that construction – “this _____ thing” with any noun in the blank – was all but unknown before the mid-sixties, and it didn’t become widely used until the 1980s.



Many other people have noticed the language anachronisms on this show. A twentysomething I know caught “touch base with.” My own list includes: reach out to, alternate universe, scam, low bar, talking trash, I’m fine with, out of the loop, perp walk, kick [some big-time comedy] ass, she has been killing it, wackadoodle, crunching the numbers.

At first I thought that the writer/creators just didn’t care. But on a recent interview on KCRW’s “The Business,” they said this.



Here’s a slightly edited transcript


Q: Do you ever do the research and say, “Would a woman in the 50s do this?”

A: We have this delightful researcher who has like twelve masters degrees in everything in the world, and all she gets is like “Did they say *** back in nineteen-fif . . You [Palladino] had a couple where I was like that just feels too modern.

We don’t want to get caught out with that stuff ’cause everyone around us is so good – our production designer, our costumes, our props . .  And the last thing I want to do, when everyone is making sure that the piping on the wall and the colors are all correct, is that we’re the ones that come in and throw in a bunch of dialogue that’s not appropriate.

If they’re so good about the props and costumes, how can they throw in a bunch of dialogue that has so many anachronisms? Part of the answer, I think, is that our dominant sense is sight. We are much more likely to notice an object that doesn’t look right than a word that doesn’t sound right. Second, these things are the object of deliberate thought. We consciously choose our cars and clothes and colors. We also know that someone has consciously designed them and that the designers are deliberately trying to make them new and different. Not so our words. Nobody is advertising “wheelhouse” or “drill down” as the must-have word for this year. All the influencing and being influenced occurs out of our awareness. As a result, our language seems “natural” – unplanned and spontaneous rather than arbitrary. So we assume that this must be the way people always speak and have always spoken. 

That’s especially true for people who were not around during the historical period in question. If you weren’t watching club performers in 1958, you might just assume that the emcee then, as now, would say, “Let’s give it up for. . .” And if you weren’t familiar with stand-up comedy from that period, you might assume that comics then would ask, as Mrs. Maisel does, “What’s up with that?”

In fact, her whole style of stand-up is an anachronism, but that’s a matter for another blog post. The writers are familiar with the new comedy of  the late 50s – Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx, and others. And there’s a reference to Nichols and May that includes a glaring anachronism. When a male comic offers to work with Midge as a duo, her manager Susie advises against it.

SUSIE: He wants to fuck you.

MIDGE:  He wants me to work with him. He says we’ll be like Nichols and May. Nichols and May don’t fuck.

SUSIE Nichols and May totally fuck.

Nichols and May did in fact have a brief romantic involvement. But in 1958, nobody “totally” fucked. Nobody “totally” did anything.


[A few months after I posted this, I had second thoughts about language anachronisms in contemporary TV shows. That post is here.]

[Update, Feb. 3, 2019. Some commenters have mentioned the profanity. In a more recent post (here), I suggested that what was anachronistic was not the amount of profanity but the specific words. Sixty years ago, the adjective of choice among White middle-class New Yorkers would have been goddam, not fucking.]

--------------------------------

* From Woody Allen’s essay about six parchment scrolls discovered by a wandering shepherd in cave near the Gulf of Aqaba.

94 comments:

Thomas said...

Found your blog just because I was troubled by the script’s anachronisms. I noticed “perp walk” and “give it up for” that you mentioned, and another that you didn’t — “rock star” used to describe Ricky Nelson. 1958? Come on!

Jay Livingston said...

Right. Rock stars did not exist before the mid-sixties at the earliest. There were other terms I had my doubts about but didn't include. And Reddit has a discussion about "I'm like" followed by a clause (“So I'm like what's going on here”) to use a made-up example)which I'm sure didn't exist till much later.

But now I have another thought, which I may blog briefly about. If the characters did use the terms that were hip in the 1950s but then went out of style, we would feel more distant from them as people. (I can picture Susie saying to Midge next season, “A comedian has to be relatable,” as you and I wince.) The clothes and props are part of the external world, but the language is part of the person.

maria erin said...

In her opening wedding speech she said “Who does that?” which felt very modern!

Jay Livingston said...

I agree, like totally. One of the reasons that the writers and script-checker didn't catch this is that, like some of the other anachronisms, it's a very simple phrase made up of very ordinary words. How could it be a recent creation?

Thanks for writing . . and reading.

Unknown said...

The idiomatic anachronisms grated on my ear, but it made me nuts that they showed Joel coming in from work while Ed Sullivan was on the televsion. Ed Sullivan was aired on Sunday nights. It also irritated me that they did not seem to know the difference between Pyrex glass bakeware and Corningware ceramic bakeware.

Jay Livingston said...

I didn't catch either of those. I guess they wanted something that would be emblematic of the time, hence Ed Sullivan.

Unknown said...

In the courtroom the description of a guy who looks "kind of rapey". "Really?" in that whiny, uptalk way. nerd alert, take a meeting, is that a thing?, I don't hear this many modern idioms in my day to day life. It's like they are trying to fit as many in as possible!

Jay Livingston said...

The really interesting thing is that neither the experienced writers, who presumably have a good ear for dialogue, nor the person they have on staff to check these things notices. It's not that they don't care (unless Palladino in this interview is lying). Oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Anonymous said...

The first series is in 1958, Midge refers to “pantyhose” which were not on the shelves unti 1959, and they were called panti legs.

RIchard said...

I'm glad to see, among all the rave reviews for Mrs. Maisel, that some find the anachronisms irritating. Being in my 60s, I may be more sensitive to the genuineness of the language. I guess younger people wouldn't notice or care as much. Jay, you mentioned how they got the props right while letting the language go. Last night my wife noticed Midge and Susie were dipping their french fries into a McDonald's-like plastic cup. On the whole, I think the anachronisms dilute the potency of the comedy.

Claire Caterer said...

Also, I’ve noticed “I’ve/you’ve got this” (Midge is mocking Dr. Spock’s idea that a mother “knows more than she thinks she knows.”) She says, “That’s his advice? ‘You got this’?” I know that one has only been around the last ten years at most. And another one that struck me: A jazz musician recounts how he was arrested for spitting; “Spitting while black,” Lenny Bruce clarifies. “—ing while black” is very recent also, beginning with DWB (driving while black) in the 1990s. The word “nerd” dates back to 1951, but “nerd alert” does sound a bit modern. I don’t much care if something is 1960s vs. 1950s, but once you’re getting modern enough for me to remember it, it is jarring.

Jay Livingston said...

In 1958, it wouldn't even have been "while Black." It would have been "while Negro." Well, maybe Lenny Bruce would have said "Black." More likely "spade," which was hip then. (Hip lingo changes so quickly. As Dave Frishberg says/sings in "I'm Hip," "When it was hip to be hep, I was hep.")

I saw in WestSideRag that the show was going to be filming yesterday about ten blocks from where I live. I was tempted to go up there with a big "No Linguistic Anachronisms" protest sign and march back and forth on the sidewalk.

GrammyK said...

Nerd alert was used in the first party scene. Since this was the time period I grew up, this show drives me crazy with anachronisms of speech.

Anonymous said...

There are elements of this show I like, but the anachronisms are driving me to distraction. Not only the verbal ones, like those already mentioned and "It is what it is," but also the situational ones. In one episode her son is watching Howdy Doody after supper. The show appeared only on Saturday mornings. In the same episode, set in 1958, she talks about "two for one pantyhose," but that were not invented for another year. This is just sloppy writing. Hire someone that was alive at the time as a consultant.

Jay Livingston said...

The Wikipedia entry for "Howdy Doody" says, "Originally an hour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (at 5 p.m. Eastern), the show moved to Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 6 p.m. EST in September 1948."

On Wednesday, the show will be filming just a few blocks from where I live. I'm tempted to go up there and tell them they need a better anachronism-checker.

Anonymous said...

Several observes have noted that "pantyhose"is referenced when it simply wasn't around in 1958. Along the same lines, you can see many of the women in skirts or dresses are bare-legged, a big no-no in 1958. A sharp automotive enthusiast will also spot cars in this series that are newer than '58.

Jay Livingston said...

The other thing that goes with the hosiery is a girdle. It's possible that a woman as thin as Mrs. M wouldn't wear one, but many (most?) women did.

ElliotNC said...

I am watching this series on Amazon Prime, so I didn't catch the episodes in real time. (Of course, they didn't have that luxury in Mrs. Maisel's time, hence the Ed Sullivan and Howdy Doody slip-ups).


What caught my attention was a reference to ordering General Tso's Chicken at Ruby Foo's. General Tso's Chicken made its first appearance in NY in the early 1970's and was quickly adulterated in a myriad of ways. This is a dish that had an actual creator and is not something from a traditional Chinese cookbook.

Jay Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

Chinese food in New York in the 50s and early 60s was nearly all Cantonese. Shun Lee, which claims to have invented General Tso's chicken, didn't open till 1971. In 1958, UWS Jews would have been more likely to go for steak kew or chicken chow mein at Ruby Foo's. In her day, Madame Foo was probably the number one Chinese restaurateur-entrepreneur in North America, but that day is long past. Good-bye Ruby Foo's day.

Unknown said...

When Joel goes to Abe's office to tell him of his new job and income, he sets doen a Samsonite black attache case with a metal frame. Those did not exist until the late 60's or early 70's. In 1958 Joel would have probably carried a leather breifcase or at best a leather-bound attache case. A jarring visual anachronism to an otherwise perfect set. And yes, the verbal anachronisms are very annoying. Such a shame, because this is an excellent show and deserves authentic dialogue.

SkyRiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SkyRiter said...

Thanks very much for this insightful post. I just binge-watched all eight episodes of Season One this week and overall I enjoyed it very much. But after the first episode I started taking notes, and by the final episode I had filled three Post-it notes with anachronisms. Many have been discussed here: General Tso's chicken; perp walked; wackadoodle; nerd alert; rapey; big boy pants; spitting while black. I also questioned many other phrases, including "gender-specific" in reference to children's goody bags--used twice! But I have to disagree by noting the automotive anachronisms are rampant throughout this show, starting with that very first scene referenced above. In fact, neither of the two Checker cabs used in virtually every episode are correct for 1958 because they are later models (albeit of a design that underwent very few changes clear through 1982). The vehicle used most frequently on TMMM sports the heavy-duty Congressionally-mandated 5-mph bumpers first used on 1973-1974 models. What's more, both Checkers are wrong for this show--and dozens of other period-piece TV programs and movies--because they are painted solid yellow with black striping. The ubiquitous New York City yellow cab didn't become ubiquitous until after 1967, when the city required all medallion taxis to be painted yellow. Prior to that, nearly all NYC taxis were multi-colored and not solid yellow. Googling old photos from before 1967 show most Checkers were yellow/green/black, etc.

Jay Livingston said...

Bumpers, wow. You certainly know a lot more about cars than I do. I was not in New York in 1958, but I have a dim memory of green-and-cream Checker cabs in Chicago (with a narrow checkerboard black-and-cream strip just under the window line). Did Checker make the same color scheme for all cities?

There’s a YouTube video (here) of a a 1958 Checker, green and yellow, I confess that I do not remember any such car.

Chris said...

Thank you SO much for this, Jay. I love the show, but this and Mad Men often make me wince. Why why WHY can't they hire someone who knows (even if it IS only because I watch so many old movies and TV shows) to tweak the scripts? I'd love to have a job like that! I recall one New Year's Eve on Mad Men, Joanie looked at the mirror and deadpanned, "1960, I am so over you." Aiyeee!

Regarding girdle-wearing: My 95-pound mother was reprimanded at work for not wearing one in 1960. The issue was having two buns... you needed a perfectly smooth bottom in them tight sheath dresses! ;)

SkyRiter said...

Jay, it was the taxi companies that decided on the colors and livery, not Checker (just as airlines decide how aircraft will be painted, not Boeing). Below is a photo taken in Times Square in the early 1960s that shows a multi-colored Checker and other taxis. But when it comes to cars used in period pieces, it's not just about getting the years right. For automotive geeks, the main complaint about TMMM is that virtually every car on camera is beautifully restored, even the cabs. There is not a dent or ding or scrape or missing hubcap in sight. Which is impossible, as anyone who has lived in NYC can tell you. There is one scene of Midge walking through Greenwich Village and every car she passes is so pristine it's like she's at an auto show.

As for Mad Men, Chris is so right about the anachronistic language at times. I still recall a character being directed to Human Resources rather than Personnel.

http://www.oldnycphotos.com/ts42l.html

Mark said...

Hi Jay,

I found this blog from a link in Dec 4th, Times article.

It's great. I also hate anachronisms but, as you say, maybe they're trying to get a young audience to relate to the characters.

It's like when a 30's movie character says something like: I love this place; it's so gay.

To a modern ear, it's very jarring.

Anyway, good to hear from you.

Mark Koppel

cfredc said...

You guys “hate” the anachronisms? I find them great fun, a chance to look down on those young whippersnapper TV biggies. You know, this ain’t “Roots.”

Chris said...

LOL, cfredc. True, they are rather fun. And true, they are far more jarring in drama (or dramatic moments).

I was just remembering how, in 1930s big-studio adaptations of Dickens stories, there often was quite Edwardian English spoken (a friend of David Copperfield's, not aware his father had died before David's birth, remarks that "[his] old man must be a dashed hard-nosed old chap," or suchlike).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I initially enjoyed the show but the anachronisms did indeed drive me nuts. I agree it's sloppy writing/research and am shocked that the creators/producers are not more aware of them, as indicated by the interview clip. "Give it up for..." as a way of bringing up a performer to the stage was especially glaring...how could any researcher not know that? In fact the entire character is an anachronism, as Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller would never have gotten away with that kind of vulgarity back then, even in a downtown after-hours club. Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer were decades away.

Jay Livingston said...

cfredc — You have a point. At first, the anachronisms were irritating and distracted me from the show. But now, it’s like the “can you find eight things wrong with this picture” games in the puzzle books of my childhood. It was fun to look for and find the mistakes. OTOH, I wouldn’t want that picture hanging on my wall

Anonymous said...

One other linguistic anachronism I heard was when someone used the phrase "take a meeting with." I don't recall the episode (one of the later ones in the first season) or who said it. Yes, to anyone who's old enough, those anachronisms are jarring!

Ann Heitland said...

Isn't this like demanding that Ben-Hur be filmed in Latin? The modern audience needs to understand the actors.

Unknown said...

mannn... i searched far and wide for a blog like this! i'm not necessarily bothered by the fact that there are anachronisms, so much as i'm bothered by the fact that they're not owning up to them. (like, i'm a novelist and willingly go out of my way to not capitalize in blog posts. weird? sure. but I owns my sh*t!) it's part of the charm!

one thing really does chap my hide, though. in a truly spectacularly styled show, none of the women wear hose. it's irksome because i'm a throwback. a hypocritical one, sure, but, well. i'm just sayin'.

fabulous post! and I love the bandwagoners. makes me feel less of a nitpicky nutjob.

Anonymous said...

It just seems sloppy. Maisel's dialogue mistakes are so much more basic than Mad Men's. "That's not a thing" is SO new. Also, in the first episode of Season 2 did you catch "I can't". I thought I was the only one who this kind of stuff annoyed. Glad to find this self-confirming blog post, or I should say: glad this is a thing.

Anonymous said...

What was with the use of “gay” twice in the last few episodes? I AM gay, and I can tell you for a fact that wasnt the word they woukd’ve Used. I guess the writers are avoiding the PC police. But: I SERIOUSLY love this show!!!

Jay Livingston said...

I wondered about gay when I heard it in Season One. But what word would a good, liberal Jew or a hip Village denizen have used? Homosexual sounds formal, almost medical, but every other term I can think of was a pejorative.

nanoRat said...

Has anybody ever thought that the anachronisms are intentional. To make Midge Maisel "ahead of her time". To place them in sharp contrast to all the meticulous detail in the couture and interiors. YES, her stand up style IS more like a modern day comic. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT. It's obvious that Amy Sherman-Palladino is a lot smarter than all you self righteous, know-it-all assholes.

Jay Livingston said...

nanoRat: Your point is similar to what I said in the follow-up post (here) that I mentioned in the addendum at the end of this post. It was about being “relatable.” What I said about language there applies even more so to styles of stand-up. If Midge were doing the kind of comedy that most working comics were doing at the time — telling jokes — she wouldn’t be relatable. That may also be true if she were doing the “new” comedy of that era that evolved out of improv and sketch comedy. Bob Newhart (whose act Joel copies word-for-word in S1 E1), Shelly Berman, Nichols and May — were all playing characters.

The modern style, combining observation and confession that appear to be based on the comic’s real experience, makes for a more interesting TV character. Sherman-Palladino may have deliberately made that decision. But I take her at her word when she says that she strives for historical accuracy in language. Apparently, she just isn’t very good at it. Or maybe, it’s just that when there’s a conflict between what sounds historically accurate and what sounds right to today’s ears, she chooses the latter every time.

Unknown said...

Mrs. Maisel's type of comedy may have been ahead of it's time but only in the mainstream. Recall "Shy Baldwin" commenting on how "Moms Mabley" "tells it like it is." And it did hit the mainstream only a few years later (Joan Rivers appeared on and wrote for Candid Camera in 1960) Also, if Midge, Susie and Lenny speak in an updated vernacular it makes sense because they are supposed to be on the cutting edge. But when Joel's dad tries to reassure Midge that "We will always be there for you" that sounds a little ridiculous. No one born around 1900 would have said that in 1958.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

The production is fine, the music is fine, the actors are fine, but Midge in front of the audience looks fake and a bad quip about Benjamin Spock´s book.

Jay said...

I guess I'm first to notice the record label anachronism in the last episode of Season 2. When Midge comes to Susie's apartment to tell her the Shy Baldwin news, she's listening to a Warner Brothers LP with a label that didn't exist until 1968 or 1970 (either 4A or 5A on this list):

http://www.vinylbeat.com/cgi-bin/labelfocus.cgi?label=WARNER+BROS.+%28WB%29&label_section=V

Also, people didn't say "I was, like," to mean "I said" or "I thought" until sometime during the '80s.

Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing all of this out. It's been bothering me a lot, too. I hope some writers care enough to read it, for future seasons of this show or others. About Mrs. Maisel's style of comedy, I agree it's anachronistic, and seems more like something from the mid-60s or later, well after Lenny Bruce. But I think the "foul" language might be (accidentally?) not so anachronistic. There are some slight references to Rusty Warren in the show (first recordings 1959 and '60 -- my parents had them when I was 3-4 at the time but I didn't hear them until much later!). If she was getting that kind of material on records (and not dirty party records sold under the counter, which was a thing), I imagine a lot more direct and risqué material was heard live in clubs ca. 1959.

Anonymous said...

Another one was Susie saying you're freaking me iut here.

oogada said...

So many horses here, and all so high.

Linguistic prudishness/purism can wreck your life, certainly your enjoyment of a seriously good entertainment, am I right?

Like Evangelicals' failing to recognize the book to which they proclaim themselves devoted and use to pass judgement on all of humanity is the often-perverted, politically and culturally manipulated product of many translations, multiple versions, and obsessive parsing of words and phrases that will never again be understood the way they were when first employed, "anachronistic gotcha" police fail to admit that what they're checking the script against is never origin dates ("nobody would have said that...") but, rather, popularization dates.

That is "Give it up for..." had to be uttered by some schmo in Lansing enough times for the wanna-be in Toledo to pick it up and use it that night the tour bus broke down outside the club in Archbold and the drummer carried to the next night's show in Danforth.

One failed house band date, new back-up studio gig, interview with hometown paper later, maybe some cub reporter throws it in a story and, wham!, the world records "Give it up..." for your script researchers to find and your temporal language cops to comment on.

This isn't as cut and dried, as write and wrong as the trend of this conversation seems to indicate, and it certainly isn't worth messing with a pretty nice production over.

Climbing off my own lofty mount, I have to admit all this is fun. Its just the growing air of critical self-righteousness that irritates...

Anonymous said...

Clearly there was a Back to the Future situation from which they learned all the futuristic expressions.

But seriously, I did pause to check the first use of "for f---'s sake" which some sources say was 1959! I was surprised it was that old. The language anachronisms are totally jarring. They need to hire an olde tyme language checker.

ssul1982 said...

I think I heard the term micromanage somewhere in the third episode of the second season.

Jay Livingston said...

ssul: "Micromanage" doesn't surprise me. I've only made it through Episode 2, which gave us "low hanging fruit." I don't like the tone of season two. It's in the style of a movie of a Broadway musical -- caricatures instead of characters, stylized dialogue delivery. They basically told us this in the opening scene of S2 E1, which was like a choreographed dance number but with rolling chairs and no music.

Michelle said...

I caught "hanging out" "font" and "FYI."

Hester said...

I wish you'd start a thread commenting on the use of the expression "If you'll excuse me", which is heard in almost all period dramas and strikes me as a modern phrase. Is anyone else bothered by that?

Anonymous said...

SO much focus on the gorgeous visual aspect, yet so careless about the speech. Why? It's grating, and unnecessary.

Paying a sextuagenarian editor would be a lot cheaper than paying for the costumes and sets. (In fact, I'll bet they could find sextuagenarian volunteers who would advise them for free! I would do it.)

Yep: Font, FYI. And how about "Chinese Reds?" I remember "Red Chinese."

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying the excuses for Mrs. Maisel's unending string of ridiculous and distracting anachronisms, especially in a show whose protagonist is supposed to be a writer/performer of the period! It's simply lazy writing, it undercuts characterization and it's tiresome.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

I simply stopped watching TMMM. I could not stand the anachronisms, the often irritating nasal voice of Rachel Brosnahan, the profanity in high degree, the disrespect for the Catholic Church (in the episode of the her friend´s wedding ceremony) and the disrespect for Mr. Benjamin Spock.

Taking these issues apart, I praise the TV show for the good actors and the production design.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog after searching for "mrs maisel anachronisms in script". After reading all of the comments, I leave here vaguely gratified that I'm not the only one who noticed, but mostly horrified at the tenor and content of the comments.

Folks, it's a show produced in the present day that is set in the 1950s and 60s, not a historical document. The intended viewership is a modern mass market audience. You want complete fidelity to the language and mores of the period? Go watch old films from the day.

The show delightfully and accurately captures the larger zeitgeist of the time, and in particular nails NYC Jewish culture in that period spot-on. The patter and rhythm of the characters' speech owes more to Neil Simon than historical archives. The show uses some anachronistic language to make the lines flow more smoothly to modern ears and to make the characters more relatable to a modern audience. As entertainment, it works, and it works extremely well.

To use a modern phrase: Get over yourselves.

Unknown said...

I'm glad to hear someone calling this show out for what I have to call sloppy writing and research. It's a cute, perky show, but the ignorance of the times shown by the writers is often stunning to me. I found one review that covers this well, says it better than I can sum up here. https://www.heyalma.com/sorry-but-the-marvelous-mrs-maisel-has-a-history-problem/
They barely note the fact that her manager is a very strongly butch lesbian and she is a supposedly upper class Jewish girl from a pretty conventional family. In those days, hanging out with such a woman would cause a big scandal or at least a lot of gossip. Applying political correctness to the script really doesn't work. Things were VERY repressed in those days, yet they have her talking openly about her sexuality onstage as if that was normal at the time. It would have been considered probably far more outrageous for her as a woman to do that kind of material than Lenny doing what he did. Yet it only happens toward the very end of the second season that a club manager tells her the word "pregnant" is too filthy for his club. The writers knowledge of morals/mores or whatever of the 50s and early 60s is nearly non-existent, except. as you say in this article, the visuals. I notice the language, the events and behaviors shown much more than if the fashions or colors weren't true to the time. Also, here being so pretty and sweet doesn't work. Joan Rivers was insecure and unconventional looking and actually FUNNY! Lenny actually did write her a note once, when she was criticized: "You're right, they're wrong." Well, my chain has been yanked: AND ANOTHER thing: Lenny Bruce was not that mild and inoffensive. He was not that WASPy either. I watched the thing but it drove me crazy. I grew up with actually funny Jewish comedians and I studied (enjoyably) nearly everything Lenny Bruce recorded AND read "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People." So... end of rant.

Alex Wright said...

I noticed the anachronism "onesie" in S2 E2 today when Miriam is slags off the male comics.

That word has only been in popular use here in Britain during the 2010s as far as I'm aware, so I guess that was especially noticeable. Apparently the word comes from the 1980s.

Maybe they should give up and say the show is using Translation Convention? ;)

Alex Wright said...

Pretty sure I first heard the word "rapey" in the Noughties at the absolute earliest if not the 2010s, so yeah that seemed especially out of place.

Anonymous said...

The Jerry Lewis telethon, referenced in the finale, did not begin until 1966.

KrunkYou said...

When Midge and Susie are on the road toward the end of season 2 Midge worries that if they are stopped by a cop he’ll “run our plates” and figure out the car was stolen. Not only is the dialogue wrong but pretty sure computer technology wasn’t yet available to local law enforcement in 1959. And the plate was out of state!

Unknown said...

The most glaring is "give it up for...". No one was introduced like that until the 1990s. I just watched the first episode of the new season and although I enjoyed the stylized switchboard in B. Altman's (it's like watching a musical), when the girls asked Mrs. Maisel about working at the makeup counter by asking "you were in the show??". I almost barfed. The term "the show" was invented in the movie Bull Durham as used by minor leaguers to refer to the major leagues. That was never a real life ballplayers term. It was made up by the writers of the movie.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

About the comment above on the Jerry Lewis telethon...the poster is incorrect. It only went national in 1966...the telethon was a local NYC thing for years before that.

Cary said...

Someone can confirm but I don't think that there were any PA announcements in the subway system or on the trains in the late 50s/early 60s.

Adrian said...

Font! And repeated so often as a laugh line! That had to be deliberate.

Anonymous said...

My wife & I have now watched both seasons of Mrs. M and I too noticed many of these "mistakes" in language, clothing, automobiles, etc. etc. that so many have pointed out here because I'm old enough to know. I'm also old enough not to take notes & enjoy the show for what it is, despite the producers either not being completely truthful or more like not being fully aware that they were not being so "accurate" as they claim.

That said, this isn't the first, and certainly won't be the last TV show or movie that gets real life wrong - it's been going on forever.

One of my favorites was the old Kojak TV show that had Telly Salavas "driving" from the fictional "11th Precinct" of Manhattan South to Queens & his car would be seen going south on the FDR Drive in the East 20s, then crossing the 59th Street Bridge FROM Queens, then on the Brooklyn Bridge TO Brooklyn, then pulling up at a suburban house that was more like Long Island or NJ in the 1960s. Later seasons Savalas had the show filmed in LA, so they would splice in some NY exteriors and he often got out of his car on a street with palm trees in the background!

I enjoyed the show anyway.

Jay Livingston said...

I can’t help noticing “mistakes”; they just sound jarring to my ear. But in a cop show like Kojak or a comedy like The Goldbergs (set in the 80s) they don’t bother me. They’re just amusing – like palm trees in Brooklyn. But Mad Men and TMMM want to be taken serioiusly, and they take themselves seriously. They are saying, “This is how it was sixty years ago.”

It’s not just a matter of gotcha. These language anachronisms raise interesting questions (as I tried to explore in the follow-up post I linked to at the end of this post): Why don’t the writers or producers or checkers catch these mistakes? Why is language different from costumes or set decor?

BillABC said...

Jay, I don't think TMMM or even Mad Men was designed to be taken "seriously." They are just entertainment - upscale compared most of the crapola on the old "tube" - but not documentaries either. So if they're a little loose with the language or the color & bumpers of 1950s Checker cabs...well, I'll give them a pass. The producers' biggest mistake was claiming in interviews to be spot on with the language as well as the costumes & sets. They ain't Ken Burns

Unknown said...

Thank you for verifying that. “Pantyhose” sounded very wrong when I heard it. I thought it was a fluke oversight but after reading this article I understand that “fluke” may not describe it at all. Despite the inaccuracies I remain captivated by the story.

Cary said...

Something so simple...the Beauty Pageant in the Catskills...The Chicken Fat song was written in 1962...so how is he exercising to the song in 1959 or is it 1960.

AND...i had been to those Catskill hotels...I guess this is one of the cheapie bungalow ones...by the lake and rather rustic. The actual hotels were HUGE!....The Browns, Grossingers, The Pines, The Concord, The Windsor, etc.

This show is so 21st century with dress up and props from the late 1950s.

Cary said...

Lastly, rarely did the men stay all summer at these resorts...the wives often did.

Cary said...
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Cary said...

Ah...the man in the rowboat loves "the new font". A term in those days that would have only be known to a typesetter.

Jay Livingston said...

Cary, I haven’t gotten to the Catskills episode yet, but I guess TMMM goes to the less expensive bungalow resorts. (For more on all types of Catskill resorts, see here.) There’s a 1985 indie, “The Gig” that gives a flavor for this tier of the Catskills. The Concord it ain’t. You can see the entire movie on YouTube.

John Tan said...
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John Tan said...

I picked up on the word "micromanage" being used on one of the episodes - I'm a younger one, but I have a feeling this word wasn't in the lexicon in those days.

I wonder if running the script by someone who lived through this era firsthand would have been helpful. I'm sure they would have been able to catch so many of these anachronisms!

Watching the old shows (I'm thinking "What's My Line?"), it feels like they're speaking a different language during that era. If the writers preserved that vernacular, I don't know if the show would be as relatable and fresh to modern-day audiences.

I love this show to death, in large part because it magically transports me to an era I am so fascinated about but did not experience. The dialogue does seem more like something I'd hear on one of my lunch breaks, but I still love it! At the end of the day, it's a comedy...a 2018 comedy!

Warren Goldfarb said...

Jay's second column is certainly right, that if the characters were to speak authentic 1950s informal New York-ese they would be much less "relatable". But there's little excuse for many of the very modern locutions used. In addition to the examples given here already, I was struck by "Are you hitting on me?" (S1 E5), and "monkeys sensing a tsunami" (we would have said "tidal wave"). As for "gay", as a gay man who grew up in NY over fifty years ago I can attest that the only words used would be derogatory, "fag", "homo", "pansy", "queer".

There are a few mistakes visually as well. The NYC buses are wrong; back then they were cigar-shaped with tiny windows. The interiors of subway cars are also inaccurate, although that may be a joke (the #1 IRT train in aqua, like a 1950s bathroom).

One question I'd like to investigate: when did American non-Orthodox Jews take up the Eastern European wedding custom of lifting bride and groom up on chairs? It's universal now (and even imitated at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs), but I do not remember it at all from the 1950s and 60s. I actually think Rose and Abe Weissman would have found it somewhat offensive.

Jay Livingston said...

Warren, thanks for commenting. I was wondering about "gay." It sounded wrong to me. But I also wondered what term gay people themselves would have used in 1958. "Homosexual" is neutral but technical, almost medical/psychiatric. In "Boys in the Band," set in the 60s, the characters use both, as in the line “You show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse.”

Cary said...
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Cary said...

Using the term "waiting on" instead of "waiting for" would not have happened in 1960.

Cary said...

I can't believe the writers thought it was okay to use the term "playdate" when referring to kids getting together. Geez!!!!

Cary said...

True, using the term "gay" for a homosexual would never have happened in 1960.

Samuel L. Leiter said...

Soon after I began watching this otherwise wonderful show on Amazon Prime this week I began noticing the anachronisms everyone else has been commenting on. I was 18 in 1958 and sometimes hung out in the Village so the world of the show is very familiar. Anyway, I'd like to add that no one seems to have mentioned that early on in the very first episode, the sound track has Barbra Streisand singing. Streisand was still in high school in 1958 (my friend went to Erasmus at the same time) and it would be several years before she began her recording career. One would assume that the soundtrack is be true to the period, right? Also, as I recall, most New York Jews of that generation would have pronounced the name of the holiday as Yom
KIPPer, not Yom KiPPUR, which I only began hearing years later. Thanks for this blog entry, by the way. It was just what I was looking for. (It's also the first I've found that uses the same template as my own blog!).

Cary said...

All true Samuel. We older folk have fun with this. When I bring this up to anyone in the younger generations...they respond "who cares?". So, I just explain that it is a game we play but we still like the show.

Jay Livingston said...

Samuel Leiter, I’m kind of inclined to give them a pass on Streisand. The characters are not actually listening to that record. It’s for us, the audience today, who hear it as old enough to be from about the same period. (I hope your friend is familiar with “Lookin’ for an Echo” which begins:

In Erasmus Hall High School, we used to harmonize,
Me and Benny and Ira, and two Italian guys.


Agreed about Yom Kippur, which changed the placement of its accent around the time that SUKKos became SukkOT.

Cary, I can remember my grade school teacher correcting kids who said "wait on." Those kids must have gotten it from some place, so I assume that it was in the spoken language of the time.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

I gave up on the series. Profanity in excess. As in major movies and TV shows nowadays. Seems that the average American only understands a sentence if it contains a f* word.

Besides, the tobacco companies do not need the advertising for their cigarettes. The movies and TV stars do it for free. Jesus!

Warren Goldfarb said...

About Samuel Liter's comment: this is actually a systematic anachronism in the show. In the synagogue scenes, the Hebrew being chanted is pronounced in the modern (Israeli) way, whereas a Conservative shul in those years would almost certainly have used the Ashkenazic pronounciation, because that's what the adults would have grown up on. (In Reform synagogues, the transition to Israeli pronunciation came sooner — as in mine, where I started studying Hebrew in 1958 — no doubt because fewer of the adult congregants actually knew any Hebrew.) In Ashkenazic, words tend to have the stress on the penultimate syllable; in Israeli, on the last (e.g., mish-POCH-eh vs. mish-pe-CHAH).

cassandra lite said...

Found you by googling "Maisel anachronisms." It's not just the language, it's also historical inaccuracies. At least once an episode, something jumps out at me. For example, her talking about the snow scene at her wedding being right out of Zhivago...years before the novel was published, let alone the movie produced. Then a woman (first epi of season two) handing her the card of a psychiatrist who's "done wonders" for Sylvia Plath--years before anyone knew her name.

Oh, then there's the absolute impossibility of her appearing topless on stage and not being convicted of indecent exposure. Same with the f-bombs. Three years later, Lenny Bruce would be arrested for saying "cocksucker." And a decade later, Jim Morris would be arrested for allegedly exposing himself.

DavidB said...

Fascinating discussion! I'm a newcomer to the series who's just now seen all the episodes. I love the style, the directing, the camerawork, the writing, almost everything. A 1953 baby, I never would have caught the many anachronisms that those with eagle eyes or moth ears (look it up) have found. An occasional more modern phrase here or there to please the modern ear doesn't bother me in the least, or a car or other item appearing a couple years too soon. As someone said, this isn't exactly Ken Burns material, thank goodness. Or a science project.

But the more substantial, repeated social inaccuracies do bug me. I have a fairly advanced grasp of the use of profanity myself, but it almost always seems uncomfortably forced, inappropriate and out of place on this program. (Way later, in 1972 George Carlin was still getting arrested for his "Seven words you can never say on television.") And it's not just in Midge's stand up routines. I can't imagine her casually dropping F-bombs while home with her parents, and whatever she said at her friend's wedding, etc. etc. Street-wise Susie on the other hand appears right at home with it in casual conversation, though that seems blown out of proportion too.
The other problem area for me is the near neglect of the all-but-forgotten children. Why were they even created to be in this series in the first place? Would a woman of the era like Midge leave them day and night, or on a whim while away for days in Paris, or apparently, for 6 months on the road? It is one glaring character flaw in an otherwise very likeable and admirable woman.
Jeez, I hope I'm not sounding like Dan Quayle ripping into Murphy Brown!

Jay Livingston said...

David B. It's not the amount of profanity; it's the choice of words. Sixty years ago, those F-bombs would have been G-bombs. I have a much more recent post about this (here, complete with a tally of F-words and G-words.

You are right about the kids, but so far it seems more a problem of plot construction than of social history. The writers just ignore the kids and hope nobody will notice or remember. In the coming season, when she goes on the road with the Johnny Mathis character, the show may deal more directly with the kid-problem. I'm not sure what the real-world female comics did. Phyllis Diller had six kids, all born in the 1940s. Joan Rivers gave birth to a daughter in the 60s. Elaine May became a mom in 1949, but she worked mostly in NYC and didn't spend a lot of time on the road.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

Jay, you specific page about F-words and G-words does not exist. Please update the link.

Jay Livingston said...

Valdemir: try here.

Unknown said...

Just finished the first season. "Nerd alert" stood out to me as well. Didn't anyone else immediately hear it in Austin Powers' voice (Austin Powers came out in 1997)? It's not only an anachronism ... its a stolen joke from Mike Myers. You'd think a show that makes such a big point about not stealing the work of comedians would be a little more careful!

Unknown said...

People had just started calling their home a "pad" in 1959. The character who used this term was on the leading edge. People didn't regularly say something was "amazing" until the 2000s. In one of the last episodes, Midge wonders if something that happened is going to become "a thing." I notice what's wrong with the language, and now I wonder what's wrong with the clothes and decor. This blog is a lot of fun, because now instead of being annoyed by anachronisms, I can play this game along with you.

Chopdawg said...

Just watched the episode in which "On A Wonderful Day Like Today" played in the background; this song is from the play "...Roar of the Greaspaint..." which didn't premier until 1964.