by George A McNamara (Esquire, 1940)
Spring is here. The girls have emerged from their winter cocoons of cloth and fur and the jiggle is once more abroad in the land. All winter long the jiggle, that gayest decoration of the public scene, that champagne of movement which can be accomplished only by the human female, has been obscured from the public gaze by heavy fabrics and voluminous draperies. With the coming of spring, it has blossomed forth once more, lightly clothed in gay prints, to charm and adorn a drab and care-worn world. It gets more delighted attention than all of Mother Earth’s new-born and colorful horticultural display. It inspires more of the bubbly, electric feeling of well-being than all of the conventional, publicized harbingers of spring together.
Everybody sees the jiggling and each one is charmed by it. But no one has a kind word to say for it.
It is treated as an infirmity, partly physical and partly moral and better not spoken of at all. Even the poets ignore it. They twang their lyres to the birds and the bees, the sunshine and the trees, they make grateful mention of the maiden herself, her eyes and her sighs, her dresses and her tresses but they say nothing at all about her pleasingly complicated mode of locomotion. They, like everyone else, avoid jiggling, in words, if not in the flesh.
This graceless convention has penetrated even the irresponsible and carefree as I learned one day when I made, to a very young lady, a light and passing allusion to the girls’ jiggling. She looked concerned for a moment. Then she leaned closer to me and in a confidential voice she implied a mild reproof. “They can’t help it,” she whispered. She sat back with such a pleased air of having been helpful and informative upon a delicate subject that only a brute could have said he thanked God they couldn’t help.
This hypocritical shushing of something everyone sees and enjoys is a vestige of Puritanism still successfully murdering the esthetic and charming. A lovely girl makes pleasant and cheerful any scene at all and she confers a favor upon each person who sees her. People look at her and after her because the sight of her pleases them. And she pleases them with no cold and static beauty.
The museums are full of classic marble compositions but their aisles are empty except for a few nearsighted grinds hunting for culture. She offers living beauty, youth in motion, cheerful and hopeful and gay. However serious her errand she proceeds to its discharge by a series of complicated evolutions which make everybody who sees her feel better. She jiggles. And in spite of all the shushing, in spite of her own earnest endeavors to proceed in only one direction at one time, various portions of her persist in swinging along on their own harmonic lines of motion. And the faster she hurries, the faster she jiggles.
Even the Board of Education which has ruined more young women than any other force or agency is helpless before the jiggle and its young teachers are as entertaining as they are instructive. Advancing years, of course, take away their entertaining qualities and their cheerfulness but advancing years would do that almost as quickly without any help from the Board.
The essential point is that all the girls, however admonished or instructed, continue to jiggle for the delight of the common people without any sanction from society or any intention of their own. Everybody sees it and enjoys it but only God approves of it.
In view of the conspiracy of silence on the subject, it is remarkable that we have such a word as jiggle. The meaning of the word is definite and widely understood – jiggling is what happens when a young woman walks. Or turns or bends or reaches or stamps her foot. And she approaches the absolutely ultimate in jiggling when she runs. Hers is a purely human achievement in this machine age. Machines may shake, they may vibrate or oscillate but they can never, never jiggle.
Although the meaning of the word is clear and definite, it is difficult to describe the jiggle because it is an integral part of the intricate succession of exercises by which women propel themselves from one spot to another. Of course women wiggle and the wiggling causes the jiggling but the wiggling is beside the point. Wiggling is neither here nor there, we will confine ourselves to jiggling.
A jiggle occurs when some portion of the body, having been left behind when the major portion was in motion and wishing to catch up, gives a sprightly bounce. In its anxiety not to be left alone, it overleaps its proper position and finding itself without support from the main body it quickly retires too far, whereupon a secondary jiggle ensues. It is all liveliness and eagerness and gaiety. And as some parts are sliding back while others are catching up, each in its own tempo and arc, yet all somehow holding to the central movement, the effect is indescribably spirited and jolly.
It is a symphony of motion allegretto, a symphony of joy and hope, a symphony with a message. It says in the language of the emotions, which is the proper language of a symphony, that it is not good for man to use all his energies in the grubby business of acquiring goods or to give all his thought to the injustices of society or to the dour contemplation of the future of his race. It presents, most appealingly, the lovely and the lively. And it makes plain that these things, with the good nature inherent in them, can give more happiness than all the efficiency and forethought in the world. Everybody sees the girls walking along and everybody is pleased and cheered up.
And the remarkable part of it is that the girls themselves have little to do with the cheer and good feeling they disseminate. Young ladies are essentially serious creatures. They lay deep plans for the most trifling adventures and they worry enormously over the most trivial eventualities. It is only their bodies which are lively and irresponsible and which, by their antics, keep them smiling and gay. And all the attractiveness they bring to the public scene is due to their brightness and eagerness and their general effect of uncontrollable but charming activity.
Consider Lois as she hurries to the office at a canter. She is all anxiety at what the boss will have to say if she is late. She is possessed of one idea. She is feverish with haste and concern. But does she present a picture of harassed distraction? Not at all, not at all. Her garments have been chosen in a more leisurely moment for their brightness and appeal. Her face and hair and hat have been pleasingly tended. But more than all this, she moves so brightly and eagerly in a fascinating blend of so many small, epicycloidal lines of motion that the effect is entrancing – she jiggles.
Who shall say how many work householders have brightened at the sight and having felt the blue devils within them weaken for a moment, gritted their teeth and resolved to hold onto the ancestral home in Teaneck? Or how many fat industrialists, gloomily contemplating the state of business and tempted to dump a line on the market, have held their hands at the vague memory of a vast and promising busyness recently beheld? The industrialists may not remember but the vast busyness was just Lois and her sisters trotting, very seriously, about their inconsequential affairs. And these are no special instances for there are girls like Lois jiggling up and down every street and avenue, every lane and highway in the country, broadcasting a message of joy and hope. Spring is here.
It is a melancholy thought that each one of them will, some day, lose her jiggle. With advancing years the jiggle becomes a menace. A woman is in grave danger of flying to pieces. To prevent any such unpleasantness, she binds herself into one solid, inelastic lump and thereafter jiggles no more.
With her person in close and continual restraint, she carries on under difficulties particularly in war weather. No longer does she scatter good cheer all about but saves her smiles until the favor she wishes is most immediate. And then, on one awful day, comes the realization that nobody looks at her any more. Nobody even listens to her. This soul-shaking irreparable loss of her audience so deranges her psyche that she develops the disposition and facial expression of a spitting cobra.
In her confusion of spirit, she falls into futile vindictiveness and she treats each member of the calloused and inattentive human race with the screeching animosity she formerly showed only to mice, snakes and things that crawled out from under flat stones. Animosity and vindictiveness are catching and as she composes twenty-five per cent of our population, her unsettling effect on the body politic is enormous. We are able to maintain a stable form of government only because all males engaged in her service have adopted a universal incantation which, muttered to themselves immediately upon her departure, exorcises the residue of her visit and leaves them free to be bland and conciliatory to the next customer.
A world from which the jiggle had been removed and all women were like that is impossibility. Nobody would ever have any children. The will to live would be irritated right out of the human race and no one would wait for his physical envelope to wear out before having a look at the next world.
It is sufficiently distressing to remember that is the state to which all happy, smiling girls about us must some day come. But let us be glad we have them with us, to brighten and animate the daily scene for a short time, before they settle down to being a helpmate for some one man and a nest of scorpions to everyone else in the world. Let us be glad their lively mode of locomotion is largely outside their control and not to be modified by any silly notions which staid elders may put on their heads. And lastly let us be glad for the gay, lively, hopeful air which they disseminate through a medium which so successfully attracts the eye. For though you may never have noticed the great social significance of the jiggle, you do notice the jiggle itself. And so does your old man. Spring is here.
From 'The Bedside Esquire', 1940