Holden's utterances are also typical in his use of what we may term "Griceian"
slang. One can catalogue over a hundred slang terms used by Caulfield, and
every one of these is in widespread use. Although Holden's slang is rich and
colourful, it, of course, being slang, often fails at precise communication in
terms of explicature, and the addressee is left to calculate the implicature.
Thus, Holden's "crap" is used in seven different ways. “Crap” can mean
foolishness, as 'all that David Copperfield kind of crap’. Or it can mean a
messy matter, as 'I spilled some crap all over my gray flannel’. Or it can mean
a merely miscellaneous matter, as 'I was putting on my galoshes and crap.'
“Crap” can curiously also carry its basic meaning, to wit: animal excreta, as
“There didn't look like there was anything in the park except dog crap.” But
“crap” can be used as an adjective meaning anything generally UNfavorable, as
in, “The show was on the crappy side.”
Caulfield uses the phrases “to be a lot of crap” and “to shoot the crap” and
“to chuck the crap,” all to mean 'to be untrue, or phony’. But he can also use
“to shoot the crap” to mean simply 'to chat,' with no connotation of untruth,
as in: “I certainly wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe for
Holden's slang use of "crazy" is somewhat imprecise in its explicature – if its
implicature is rich. “That drives me crazy.” means that Caulfield violently
DISlikes something. Yet 'to be crazy about' something means just the opposite.
In the same way, to be 'killed' by something can mean that he was emotionally
affected either favourably ('That story just about killed me.') or unfavorably
('Then she turned her back on me again. It nearly killed me.'). This use of
"killed" is yet another of Caulfield’s favourite slang expressions. Holden
often uses “It killed me” with no connection to the necessarily absurd, as has
been claimed. Caulfield may use it for his beloved Phoebe. The expression
simply indicates a high degree of emotion-any kind.
It is hazardous to conclude that any of Caulfield's slang has a precise and
consistent meaning or function. It’s all left to the implicature of the
moment.Holden appends the adjective “old” to almost every character, real or
fictional, mentioned in “The Catcher in the Rye”, from the hated 'old Maurice'
to 'old Peter Lorre,' to 'old Phoebe,' and even 'old Jesus.' The only pattern
that can be discovered in Holden's use of the adjective “old” is that he
usually uses it only after he has previously mentioned the character. Only then
does he feel free to append “old.”
All we can conclude from Holden's slang is that it is typical slang: versatile,
expressive and imprecise (as Timothy Williamson has it in his “Vagueness”),
and often crude. Holden has many favourite slang expressions which he overuses.
In one place, he admits to his abuse: “'Boy!' I said. I also say 'Boy!' quite a
lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite
young for my age sometimes.”
But if Holden's slang shows the typically vocabulary of even the educated
person, this becomes more obvious when we narrow our view to Holden's choice of
adjectives and adverbs.
The choice of adjectives and adverbs is indeed narrow, with a constant
repetition of a few favourite words, “lousy,” “pretty,” “crumby,” “terrific,
“quite,” “old,” and “stupid” -- all used, as is the habit of the vernacular,
with little regard to any specific meaning. Thus, most of the nouns which are
qualified with 'stupid' could not in any logical framework be called
'ignorant,' and, as we have seen, “old” before a proper noun has nothing to do
Another respect in which Holden is correct in accusing himself of having a
'lousy vocabulary' is discovered in the ease with which he falls into what
Grice would have as a figure of speech. We have already seen that Holden's most
common simile is the worn and meaningless 'as hell' (as in “cold as hell”). But
Caulfield’s often-repeated 'like a madman' and 'like a bastard' are also
unrelated to their literal meaning. Even Holden's non-habitual figures of
speech are obvious at the explicature level, if not the implicature level.
Consider a few: “sharp as a tack;” “hot as a firecracker;” “laughed like a
hyena;” “I know old Jane like a book;” “drove off like a bat out of hell;” “I
began to feel like a horse's ass;” “blind as a bat;” “I know Central Park like
the back of my hand.”
Repetitious as Holden's vocabulary may be, it is nevertheless, highly effective
in terms of Grice’s account (“the purpose of conversation is to influence
others.”). For example, when Holden piles one adjective upon another, a strong
power of invective is often the result. Some examples:
“He was a goddam stupid moron.”
“Get your dirty stinking moron knees off my chest.”
“You are a dirty stupid sonuvab*tch of a moron.”
And his limited vocabulary can also be used for good comic effect via
implicature. Holden's constant repetition of identical expressions in countless
widely different situations is often hilariously funny. But all of the humour
in Holden's procedures does not come from its alleged un-imaginative quality.
Quite the contrary, some of his figures of speech and implicatures are entirely
original. And these are inspired, dramatically effective, and terribly funny.
As always, Salinger's Caulfield is basically typical, with a strong overlay of
the individual. Some examples:
“He started handling my exam paper like it was a turd or something.”
“He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he'd just beaten the
hell out of me in ping-pong or something.”
“That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat.”
“Old Marty was like dragging the Statue of Liberty around the floor.”
Another aspect in which Holden's language is typical is that it shows the
general characteristic of adaptability, apparently strengthened by his teen-age
lack of restraint. It is very easy for Caulfield to turn a noun into an
adjective, with the simple addition of a “-y”: “perverty,” “Christmasy,”
“vomity-looking,” “whory-looking,” “hoodlumy-looking,” “show-offy,”
“flitty-looking,” “dumpy-looking,” pimpy,” “snobby,” and “fisty.”
Caulfield’s language shows a versatile combining ability. Some examples:
“They gave Sally this little blue butt-twitcher of a dress to wear.”
“That magazine was some little cheerer upper.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the adaptability of Holden's
idiosyncratic procedures is his ability to use a noun as an adverb:
“She sings it very Dixieland and whorehouse, and it doesn't sound at all mushy.”
Holden shares, in general, the repetitive vocabulary which is typical. But as
there are exceptions in his figures of speech. So are there exceptions in his
vocabulary itself, in his stock of expressions (Cfr. Searle, “Meaning and
An intelligent, well-read (“I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot”), and
educated person, Holden possesses, and can use when he wants to, many words
which are many a cut above Basic English, including 'ostracized,'
'exhibitionist,' 'unscrupulous, 'conversationalist,' 'psychic,' and
'bourgeois.' Often Caulfield seems to choose his words consciously, in an
effort to communicate to his addressee clearly and properly, as in such terms
as 'lose my virginity,' 'relieve himself,' 'an alcoholic'.
Upon occasion, he also uses the more vulgar terms 'to give someone the time,'
'to take a leak,' or 'booze hound.' Much of Caulfield’s humour arises, in
fact, from his habit of expressing himself on more than one level at the same
time. Thus, we have such phrases as:
“They give guys the ax quite frequently at Pency.”
“It has a very good academic rating, Pency.”
Both utterances show a colloquial idiom, but with an overlay of consciously
selected words. Such a conscious choice of expression seems to indicate that
Salinger, in his attempt to create a realistic character in Caulfield, wants to
make Caulfield aware of his idiosyncratic utterances.
Another piece of evidence that Holden is conscious of his idiosyncratic
procedures and, more, realizes a difficulty in communication, is found in his
habit of direct repetition – an apparent flout to Grice’s “Do not be more
informative than required”. Consider:
“She likes me a lot. I mean she's quite fond of me.”
"She can be very snotty sometimes. She can be quite snotty."
Sometimes the repetition is exact:
“He was a very nervous guy -- I MEAN he *was* a very nervous guy.”
“I sort of missed them. I MEAN I sort of missed them.”
Sometimes, Caulfield stops specifically to interpret slang terms, as when he
wants to communicate the fact that Allie liked Phoebe:
“She killed Allie, too. I MEAN: he liked her, too.”
There is still more direct evidence that Holden is conscious of his
idiosyncratic procedures. Many of his comments to his addressee are concerned
with what Grice would have as “manner of expression.” Caulfield is aware, for
example, of the 'phony' quality of many expressions, such as 'grand,' 'prince,'
'traveling incognito,' 'little girls' room,' 'licorice stick,' or 'angels.'
Holden is also conscious, of course, of the existence of 'taboo words.'
Caulfield makes a point of mentioning that the girl from Seattle repeatedly
asked him to 'watch your language, if you don't mind', and that his mother told
Phoebe not to say 'lousy'. When the prostitute says 'Like fun you are,'
“It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You would think a
prostitute AND ALL would say 'Like hell you are' or 'Cut the crap' instead of
'LIKE FUN YOU ARE.’”
In what Grice calls “grammar,” too, as in vocabulary – or ‘expression
repertoire’, as Grice would have it, Caulfield possesses certain
self-consciousness. Caulfield is, in fact, not only aware of the existence of
'grammatical errors,' but knows the social taboos that accompany them.
For example, Caulfield is disturbed by a friend who is ashamed of his parents'
grammar, and he reports that his teacher, Antolini, warned him about picking up
“just enough education to hate people who say, ‘It's a secret between he and
I’.” Caulfield is typical enough to violate (or as Grice would prefer, flout)
the grammar rules, even though he knows of their social importance.
Caulfield’s most common rule violation is the misuse of “lie” and “lay.” But
Caulfield is also somewhat careless about:
relative pronouns: “about a traffic cop that falls in love”
the double negative: “I hardly didn't even know I was doing it”
the perfect tenses: “I'd woke him up”
extra words: “like as if all you ever did at Pency was play polo all the time”
pronoun number: “it's pretty disgusting to watch somebody picking their nose”
pronoun position: “I and this friend of mine, Mal Brossard.”
More remarkable, however, than the instances of grammar rule violations is
Caulfield's relative 'correctness.' Caulfield is always, as Grice would say,
“intelligible,” and is even 'correct' in many usually difficult utterances.
Grammatically speaking, Caulfield’s language seems to point up the fact that
language is the only subject in which he was not failing. It is interesting to
note how much more 'correct' Holden's speech is than that of Huck Finn. But
then Holden is educated, and since the time of Huck there had been sixty-seven
years of authoritarian schoolmarms working on the likes of Caulfield. Caulfield
has, in fact, been over-taught, so that he uses many 'hyper-correct' forms.
“I used to play tennis with he and Mrs. Antolini quite frequently.”
“She would give Allie or I a pussy.”
“I and Allie used to take her to the park with us.”
“I think I probably woke he and his wife up.”
Now that we have examined several aspects of Holden's expression-repertoire and
syntax, it would be well to look at a few examples of how he puts these
elements together into fuller utterances, with an effect for implicature. The
_structure_ of Caulfield’s sentences indicates that Salinger thinks of “The
Catcher in the Rye” in terms of spoken speech. Holden's faulty structure is
quite common and typical in vocal expression. E.g.: the afterthought in:
“It has a very good academic rating, Pency.”
Or the repetition in:
“Where I lived at Pency, I lived in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new
There are other indications that Caulfield’s speech is vocal. In many places,
Salinger mildly imitates spoken speech. Sentences such as
“You could tell old Spencer'd got a big bang out of buying it.” or
“I'd've killed him.”
are repeated throughout “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Sometimes, too, emphasized expressions, or even parts of expressions, are
italicised, as in “Now shut up, Holden. God damn it -- I'm *warning* ya'. This
is often done with good effect, imitating quite perfectly the rhythms of
speech, as in the typical:
“I practically sat down on her lap, as a matter of fact.” “Then she really
started to cry, and the next thing I knew, I was kissing her all
over-anywhere-her eyes, her nose, her forehead, her eyebrows and all, her
ears-her whole face except her mouth AND ALL.”
The range of implicatures in “The Catcher in the Rye” is, as we have seen, an
authentic artistic rendering of a type of informal, colloquial, register.
It is strongly typical, yet often somewhat individual; it is crude and slangy
and imprecise, imitative yet imaginative, and affected toward standardization.
Authentic and interesting as this language may be, it must be remembered that
it exists, in The Catcher in the Rye, as only one part of an artistic
achievement. The language was not written for itself, but as a part of a
greater whole – or Grice’s “meaning.” Like the great Twain work with which it
is often compared, a Griceian study of the implicatures in “The Catcher min the
Rye” repays. In both “Finn” and “Catcher”, 1884 and 1951 speak to us in the
idiom and accent of two travelers who have earned their passports to
immortality – or something!