• Mae West •
may-west • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An inflatable life jacket, originally one issued to servicemen in the Royal Air Force during World War II (1939-45).
Notes: Today's Good Word began its life in military jargon but almost immediately drifted into the general vocabulary. Because this particular type of life jacket puffs up in front, busty irreverent Mae West was almost an inevitable eponym for it. There are many types of life jackets, but a Mae West is usually an inflatable one. Because this term came into use only in the 1940s—perhaps because her name rhymes with vest—it is still capitalized.
In Play: The meaning of today's Good Word is so specific it is difficult to find uses for it other than literal ones. However, interesting figurative possibilities do pop up now and then: "Darling, have you put on a few pounds or are you wearing a Mae West under your coat?" (Meow!) It might also work as an extended metaphor like this: "Today's meeting will be troubled waters; don't go in without your Mae West."
Word History: Mae West's risqué innuendos were the primary motivators for the Motion Picture Censorship Board (or Hays Office; ancestor of today's Classification and Rating Administration) banning her. Her pictures include She Done Him Wrong (1933), I'm No Angel (1933), and Belle Of The Nineties (1934). She was banned from movies and TV from the mid 40s to the 60s, when she made a brief comeback. Why did censors hate (love?) her? In Night after Night, her response to the line, "Goodness, what lovely diamonds," made her an overnight sensation: "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." But she is also remembered for such lines as, "So many men, so little time," "Too much of a good thing is wonderful," and "When I'm good, I'm good. When I'm bad, I'm better."
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