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Sample Minnesota's rich history, courtesy of a microfilm archive

Jan. 5, 1933: It's time to expand our rotten vocabularies

The newspaper career of Wisconsin native Winifred Bonfils spanned five decades, beginning in 1890 at the San Francisco Examiner. Her syndicated pieces for Hearst ran under the byline “Winifred Black,” but Examiner readers knew her as Annie Laurie.

Critics denigrated her features work as “sob sister” stuff, but she also exhibited hard-news chops. In her first year at the Examiner, she investigated an emergency ward from the inside and wrote an expose that resulted in the creation of San Francisco’s first ambulance service. In 1900, she disguised herself as a boy to get access to hurricane-ravaged Galveston and was purported to be the first reporter on the scene.

The Minneapolis Star carried her syndicated column in the early 1930s, including this swell musing published a few years before her death.

Owners of Good Vocabularies Are
Urged to Dig Up Some New Words

It Would Be a Great Relief to Hear an Expression Other Than ‘Dumb’ or ‘Swell,’ Winifred Black Opines


   Bonfils’ exposés apparently did not include the fur industry.

Forty-thousand words – that’s the average vocabulary in America today. So declares Dr. William D. Boutwell of the United States office of education. And the average doctor, lawyer and newspaper man has a vocabulary of 45,000 words.

Ah indeed, Dr. Boutwell. Now ain’t that jes’ grand.

I wish they’d use some of the words sometimes, don’t you?

I'm getting a little tired of elegant and grand and swell and rotten and oh, if I could stop hearing about “guys” and “birds” for just one fleeting hour.

So nice and so soothing, don’t you think?

‘Rotten’ or ‘swell’

Ask the average young man how he liked the play he has just seen and before he opens his youthful lips to speak you know that he has just two words with which to characterize the burning effort of some hopeful brain.

The play to him is simply either “swell” or “rotten.”

It is never “dull” or “brilliant.” It is never “dramatic” or “startling.”

It is never “witty” or “stupid.”

It is just “rotten” or it is “swell” – and out of these two cryptic words you must make the best you can.

I’m sort of tired of the “boy friend” and the “girl friend,” too, aren’t you? Of course the police forces have put the word “lover” out of print, and nobody wants to rouse the loud guffaw by speaking innocently of a sweetheart; but oh, why do not some of these owners of the amazing vocabularies think of something besides “boy friend”?

‘Dumbbells’ and ‘Duds’

People who do not know the latest dance step and who are not quick at the game of wise-cracking – oh they’re “just dumbbells, or duds” – no mater how wise or competent or clear-headed they may be otherwise.

What’s the difference between a boob and a slob and a mutt?

I once heard a two-hour discussion along this line.

The mutt, it was decided, was usually thin and a little shabby. The boob, on the other hand, was round-faced and moon-eyed and wore goodish clothes.

The slob – oh, he must be fat and slovenly and his hat is always either too large or too small.

The days of such distinction have vanished down the echoing corridors of time.

Boobs, slobs, guys and birds throng our streets and we don’t know one from the other.

Polish up your vocabularies, gentlemen and brothers of the press, medicine and bar. We’re all aching for a little desperately needed variety.

Nov. 28, 1956: Frank Lloyd Wright at Southdale

Frank Lloyd Wright, “the 87-year-old champion of American modernist architecture,” visited the Twin Cities to address the annual meeting of the Citizens League of Minneapolis and Hennepin County in November 1956. He picked up ammunition for his speech during a tour earlier in the day, visiting the new Southdale shopping center in Edina, the Prudential building in Minneapolis and other landmarks. He didn’t have many kind things to say about anything, including our climate. “Minneapolis is just too far north,” he said.

But he did praise the Twin Cities’ lakes and parks as a “beautiful gift from nature.” And he managed to recall “with a chuckle” his 1926 visit to Minneapolis during which he landed in jail in a dispute with his estranged wife. “Nothing came of it,” he said, somewhat cryptically.

Here is the Minneapolis Star’s account of his speech at the Leamington Hotel:


Wright Asks City to Seek
‘Truth, Not Just Facts’

Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
Minneapolis was urged to “look for the truth and not just the facts” in planning for its future, by Frank Lloyd Wright Tuesday night.
The 87-year-old stormy petrel of American architecture blamed members of his profession for “the mess we’re in” and kept an audience of nearly 2,500 persons on the edge of their chairs for an hour at the annual meeting of the Citizens League of Minneapolis and Hennepin county.
He told his listeners it “may take 10 years” to get their “thinking straightened out”; but that it would be worth it.
And he added that he thought Minneapolis was “close to understanding the difference between culture and education” – which he said was the key to the whole approach.
Wright pulled no punches and patted no backs as he described what he felt were the shortcomings in the architecture he had seen in a tour around the city.
But he tempered the acid criticism that the crowd ate up with the remark that it was “heartless to stand here and beat people over the head, when they did their best to do something good.”
The blame, he insisted, should rest upon the architects who don’t know that their profession is the foundation stone of culture and who “learn by comparison instead of by analysis.”
He referred to the Southdale development as “a flight from Egypt” and to the Prudential building as a “desecration of a park area.”
He suggested that most of the loop buildings “be blown up, and only a few tall buildings left standing with room enough to cast a shadow.”
But his comments on the rest of the American scene were equally caustic, and he made it plain that Minneapolis was no worse off, in this respect, than other major cities.
The only answer, he said, is to seek out the truth as disclosed in nature.
“It is the knowledge of the verities that make a man a man, and beauty, with a capital B, is the only thing that will ever pay off in your life,” he said.
At the end of his formal lecture he devoted 10 minutes to discussion of plans for his mile-high super-skyscraper and left no doubt in the minds of his audience that he was serious.
He said such a structure was not only architecturally possible, but highly feasible and added that it would not only survive the winds and storms but be “better able to resist an atomic bomb than any thing we have now.”
He said his idea had attracted world-wide attention and made it plain that the structures need not be a mile high – that what he was getting at was to direct thought at building up, instead of out and along the ground.
Earlier, during the dinner session, Wright chuckled appreciatively, while Wilhelmus Bryan, director of the Minneapolis School of Art, quoted extensively from his early writings and glowed while Gov. Freeman presented him with a scroll attesting to his “unparalleled contributions” that have ennobled man’s living.
Charles Silverson, retiring president of the Citizens league, presided and urged listeners to join with the league in planning for the future of the city.
Otto Silha, vice president, traced the accomplishments of the year and outlined plans for the future.

“Who wants to sit in that desolate-looking spot?” Wright said of Southdale, the world’s first enclosed shopping mall. “You’ve got a garden court that has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm.” It’s not clear which evils the stormy petrel of American architecture was referring to. But thanks to a towering cage that kept the mall’s colorful songbirds in check, at least Southdale shoppers didn’t have to worry about white gunk falling on their heads. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Paul Siegel)