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 has remained mostly in military jargon but it is widely used in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force. 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, it is still capitalized. Commonization (changing it to mae-west) is only a matter of time.
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 literal uses 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! Now that's sarcasm. It might 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 motivator for the Motion Picture Censorship Board (or Hayes Office; ancestor of today's Classification and Rating Administration). 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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