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Q: Nelson Algren short stories & poems ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: twobob-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 04 Mar 2003 17:08 PST
Expires: 03 Apr 2003 17:08 PST
Question ID: 170717
Nelson Algren titled a short story "Moon of the Arfy Darfy" and, in a
about horse racing wrote the line "among bookies gone broke or with
money to burn, gone on the arfy-darfy, never to return".  What is arfy

Request for Question Clarification by tutuzdad-ga on 11 Mar 2003 13:25 PST
I have been in contact with someone who will be meeting with an expert
in this field on March 29th. I expect to have an answer then, if not
before. I hope this unavoidable delay is acceptable to you.


Request for Question Clarification by markj-ga on 11 Mar 2003 14:27 PST
twobob --

As my e-mail correspondent noted (see my March 7 Comment), he intends
to follow up his expert (but inconclusive) opinion with consultations
with colleagues at the University of Chicago and with "some of the
people who still live the kind of life Algren wrote about."  As I said
in my comment, I will post any further insights he provides.


Clarification of Question by twobob-ga on 11 Mar 2003 15:21 PST
tutuzdad--yes I will gladly wait for your expert's response.  Thank
you for the effort.   twobob

markj--I appreciate any and all input you can provide.  Thank you   
Subject: Re: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 13 Mar 2003 07:15 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear twobob-ga;

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interesting

As promised, I contacted Warren Leming, Chairman of THE NELSON ALGREN
COMMITTEE, who in turn put your question directly to his friend, noted
Algren biographer, Bettina Drew. Drew, as examples, referred to these
published quotes containing the phrase “Arfy-Darfy” taken directly
from Algren’s work, writings, and/or interviews:

1964 Sat. Eve. Post (Sept. 26) 44: “A moon on the arfy-darfy.  That
will never return.”

1965 Algren Boots (Intro.) 5: “Fired, dead, absconded or gone on the

1968.  Algren Chicago 134: “Then each man knows where his life has
gone...Gone on the arfy-darfy / Never to return.”

Drew explains that the phrase, as Algren intended it, is clearly
defined in Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang:

n. [fanciful rhyme; ult. orig. unkn.]  In phrase: on the arfy-darfy on
the roam; tramping, hoboing.

I hope you find that that my research exceeds your expectations. If
you have any questions about my research please post a clarification
request prior to rating the answer. I welcome your rating and your
final comments and I look forward to working with you again in the
near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.

Best regards;



“Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang”



Google ://






Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 13 Mar 2003 11:55 PST
Further, after reading some of the well researched comments below, I
became curious, so I recontacted Warren Leming to get his thoughts
about the ORIGIN of the word/phrase "arfy-darfy". The modern text book
definition of the phrase clearly indicates the origin is unknown, but
Leming conceded that "All the evidence points to Algren perhaps as
having invented the word." I hope this adds something of interest to
the matter.

twobob-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Thank you very much for your extra effort in finding the answer.

Subject: Re: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
From: sldreamer-ga on 06 Mar 2003 18:57 PST
Hi twobob,

You have asked a very challenging question!  I have searched all over
the Internet, and the only times the phrase "arfy darfy" comes up is
as part of the short story's name.  I cannot find anything that offers
a definition for this phrase.  Even checking several slang
dictionaries turned up nothing.

However, when I searched for "arfie darfie," I did find something.  It
appears in the slang section of the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian
English.  According to, the
phrase "arfie-darfie" is a noun, and is defined as:

"a secret language used by schoolchildren in which normal words are
modified by adding into each syllable the sound `arp'; thus hug
becomes harpug; You are a pig becomes Yarpu arpar arpa parpig."

Arfie-darfie is also known as arpie-darpie, arple-darple, arp
language, and kerosene language.

I do not know if the phrase "arfy-darfy" is the same as
"arfie-darfie."  I found two decent biographies on Nelson Algren
(listed below), and none of them have any mention of him ever visiting
Australia (although he did travel abroad to places such as Europe,
Latin America, and the Mediterranean).

Perhaps the definition of "arfie-darfie" that I provided above is
somehow connected or relevant to the content in the short story and/or

I hope this helps you in finding out what the phrase "arfy-darfy"

Nelson Algren biography links:

Search strategy:
"arfy darfy"
"arfie darfie"
"nelson algren"

Subject: Re: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
From: markj-ga on 07 Mar 2003 08:12 PST
twobob --

I too was fascinated by your question and frustrated by the lack of
helpful online information.  As a result of my online searching, I did
find an expert on Algren who has written an award-winning dissertation
entitled "The Secret Faces of Inscrutable Poets in Nelson Algren's
"Chicago: City on the Make."  An abstract of that dissertation can be
found here, along with a link to its text:
University of Chicago: Jeff McMahon

I have had an e-mail exchange with the author of that dissertation. 
Because his tentative conclusion on your question is that "a
definitive answer may never be found" to the meaning of "arfy-darfy,"
I am not posting this as an answer.  However, his thoughts on the
matter are very interesting, and, with his permission, I am posting
his e-mail here (with personal information removed):

"I'm afraid I don't have a definitive answer for you, and a definitive
answer may never be found. Nelson Algren lived among the working-class
immigrant Chicagoans that he wrote about — hung out in their bars, 
gambled in their basements, visited them in the Cook County Jail and 
sometimes in the morgue. His work contains a lot of slang that doesn't
appear in the dictionaries, as well as features of dialect that have 
never been documented by linguists. It's likely that Algren knew the 
specialized slang of these people better than any linguist or 
dictionary writer, so I believe we can most safely assume that "arfy 
darfy" is a legitimate piece of gambling slang that may have been well
known in only a small, specialized community. Algren often used such 
slang to give his dialogue and narration the ring of the streets, and
often without too much regard for a term's familiarity to the reader.

"When we do find some of Algren's slang in a slang dictionary, we
discover we've gone on a circular journey. Usually the dictionary 
writer also found the slang in one of Algren's books and derived its 
meaning from the context.

"Both of your examples of "arfy darfy" come from the gambling world
suggest, to me, someone who's gone over the edge in a risky business,
someone who's "blown out." Algren frequently wrote nostalgically about
characters who've lost their bearings in society, as in this passage 
from "Chicago: City on the Make":

'As evening comes taxiing in and the jungle hiders come softly forth:
geeks and gargoyles, old blown winoes, sour stewbums and grinning 
ginsoaks, young dingbats who went ashore on D Plus One or D Plus Two 
and have been trying to find some arc-lit shore ever since. Strolling
with ancient boxcar perverts who fought all their wars on the Santa
Deserters' faces, wearing the very latest G.I. issue: the plastic
of an icy-cold despair. Where the sick of heart and the lost in spirit
stray. From the forgotten battlegrounds on the other side of the 
billboards, on the other side of the TV commercials, the other side of
the headlines. Fresh from the gathering of snipes behind the nearest 
KEEP OFF warnings come the forward patrols of tomorrow. Every day is 
D-day under the El.'

"Going on the arfy darfy is likely something just like this. Someone 
who's lost, never to return, but not necessarily dead, is gone on the
arfy darfy.

"That having been said, I'll continue to snoop around for a more
definition, query some colleagues, and ask some of the people who
live the kind of life Algren wrote about. Some remnants of Algren's 
community still linger in Chicago's shadows.

"You do have my permission to post this if you wish."

If you consider this information to be a completely satisfactory
response to your  question, I would be happy to compose an answer
based on it and describe my research.

Subject: Re: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
From: nellie_bly-ga on 09 Mar 2003 11:27 PST
Nice work, markj.

I too spent some time on this and had some interesting conversations
about Chicago slang but got no "answer."

Nellie Bly
Google Answers Researcher
Subject: Re: Nelson Algren short stories & poems
From: markj-ga on 13 Mar 2003 09:47 PST
twobob --

My source at the University of Chicago has now informed me that he has
been unable to come up with a definitive answer as to what Algren
meant by the term "arfy-darfy."

Tutuzdad-ga is correct that the term does appear in the Random House
Historical Dictionary of American Slang, along with the three cited
examples of Algren's use of the phrase "on the arfy-darfy."   The term
also appears in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, by Jonathon Green
(1998), as meaning "wandering the roads as a hobo."  That entry
specifically suggests that the term may be a "nonce-coinage by Nelson
Algren... ."

From the context of the Algren passages, and from the lack of other
citable examples, it seems reasonable to conclude that the meaning of
the term is that cited in the slang dictionaries. It was interesting
to discover, however, that Algren very possibly invented the term,
leaving the reader (and slang dictionary editors) to define it.


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