Friday, August 31, 2007

Vaughn DeLeath - Banana Oil (1925)

In this week's 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' post I made reference to 1920's 'screwball' cartoonist and writer Milt Gross, and included an example of one of his 'Banana Oil' comic strips.

It got me to thinking more about the phrase and that perhaps it bore further exploration.

Gross' 'Banana Oil' strips all had the same pay-off following the first few panels of set-up:
The pay-off reveals the antithesis of the set-up, and a character disputes the statement we now know to be false by exclaiming 'Banana Oil!'

It was 1920's slang for 'B.S.' or 'Baloney'.

A definition of the idiom listed at Answers.Com says - -
"Nonsense, exaggerated flattery, as in 'I should be on television? Cut out the banana oil!' The precise analogy in this idiom is not clear, unless it is to the fact that banana oil, a paint solvent and artificial flavoring agent, has no relation to the fruit other than that it smells like it. Possibly it is a variation on snake oil, a term for quack medicine that was extended to mean nonsense."

(See also listing at the Urban Dictionary of Slang. -click for link-)

As to the 'actual' substance in question, an entry at the Mental Floss Fact Library lists Amyl Acetate as - - "a colorless liquid ester derived from amyl alcohol, and although its scent strongly resembles that of bananas (hence the name) it is not found naturally in the fruit of the banana tree.

"It’s used in various products, from perfume (for its odor) to chewing gum (for its flavor) to nail polish remover (for its solvent capability)."

Which brings us to singer Vaughn DeLeath, 'The First Lady of Radio' in the Twenties.

I dug through some old cassette tapes of mine until I found her song from 1925 that pretty well lays to rest any lingering confusion that might exist as to the phrase's meaning and usage.

Read more about Vaughn DeLeath at the AllMusic listing. (click for link)

Listen to: Vaughn DeLeath - Banana Oil (1925)

(click for audio)


Dame Edith Divine (Valerie Elson) said...

Very interesting. I've been looking for information about the song, "Banana Oil" for days without success until now. Thank you so much.

Rodia said...

Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

My first exposure to the phrase came through 60s underground cartoonist R. Crumb, who did a nice piece called "The Rough Tough Creampuff" in which a hapless fool is pounded into hamburger for saying to the protagonist, "Banana oil to you, ya fat turd!" My friends and I were paralyzed with laughter--or maybe it was what we were smoking.

The In Crowd said...

Hey Anon - -

I may have also first encountered it via Crumb, but I think around that same time I was just discovering Milt Gross, too. So I guess it was a 'tie'...

Peter Bernard said...

So funny that the store is named after the Fleischer Brothers-- was that an insult or tribute??

The In Crowd said...

Hi Peter - -

An insult or tribute to Max & Dave Fleischer?

My guess is a bit of both. A gentle ribbing - - ?

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