The Grammarphobia Blog

The daffydils of Broadway

Q: In the song “Lullaby of Broadway,” there’s a line about the “daffodils” at Angelo’s and Maxie’s. Maybe “daffodils” refers to chorus girls or such, but I suspect that it’s being used here to describe gays. Am I off base?

A: “Lullaby of Broadway” celebrates “The rumble of the subway trains / The rattle of the taxis, / The daffydils who entertain / At Angelo’s and Maxie’s.”

The song, with lyrics by Al Dubin and music by Harry Warren, was written for Busby Berkeley’s movie The Gold Diggers of 1935, and revived in the 1980 musical 42nd Street.

Who were the “daffydills”?

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang says that in 1935 “daffodil” was a slang term for an effeminate young man, similar to “pansy.”

In fact, one citation given is Dubin’s “daffydils” lyric. Also cited is a 1938 line from “You Play the Black 3,” an unidentified work by the pseudonymous R. Hallas: “He said it mocking, in a high voice, like a daffodil.”

The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English defines “daffodil” as “a homosexual man.” Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says “daffodil” was a slang term for an effeminate young man from the 1920s through the ’80s.

Cassell’s also has an entry for “daffy-down-dilly (also daffydill)” as meaning a dandy in the mid- to late-19th century. (The Oxford English Dictionary says “daffadowndilly” and “daffydowndilly” have been popular terms for “daffodil,” the flower, since the 1500s.)

Interestingly, it would appear that some Broadway old-timers are either unaware of the gay meaning of the term or are keeping it to themselves. Here’s an excerpt from an F.Y.I. column in the New York Times in 1995:

“Joe Franklin, the former television host and a living encyclopedia of show-business trivia, says that daffydill was a ‘pet word for chorus girls’ who often performed in the night clubs and restaurants with floor shows.”

Then again, the word might have had two slang meanings (though if so, slang experts seem unaware of the “chorus girl” angle).

We can’t tell what kind of entertainment was on hand at the Angelo’s and Maxie’s mentioned in Dubin’s lyric because Angelo’s and Maxie’s was (or were) fictitious.

But a family-style steakhouse named Angelo and Maxie’s opened at 19th Street and Park Avenue South in 1996, according to a Food Notes column that year in the New York Times. The writer, Florence Fabricant, noted that the partners took their name from the song.

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