Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon) is on the telephone with Chief of Detectives Hank Mulvaney (Paul Larsen). It’s serious business:
“Before we get to that, Mike, I’ve got a TL for you.”A what?
“A what?”My thoughts exactly.
“That’s what my kids call them, a TL. I don’t know what the letters stand for, but it means that I’ve got a compliment for you if you can dig up something nice to say about me.”But they turn to the more serious matter. This bit of dialogue, from the Naked City episode “Man without a Skin” (February 6, 1963), sent me off running. TL stands for trade-last. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word in this way:
n. U.S. a compliment offered in exchange for one that is directed towards the speaker; also, in weakened sense, a compliment, whether reciprocal or notOn these terms, a TL is might be something like “Oh, I like your hat too.” Webster’s Third gives a more limited and more interesting meaning:
n -s : a complimentary remark by a third person that a hearer offers to repeat to the person complimented if the latter will first report a compliment made about the hearerI like this definition, which suggests fabrication, hearsay, and the extortionist element in youthful apologizing: I’ll apologize to you if you’ll apologize to me first. Two of the six OED citations for trade-last suggest reciprocity, but none suggest the you-first element of the Webster’s definition. Does “offered in exchange” in the OED definition mean “given in exchange,” or “promised in exchange”? Did trade-last come to have a much more limited meaning in mid-century U.S. culture? Beats me. But kids — somebody’s kids — have been giving TLs for a long time. The OED dates the word to 1891.
There are forty-seven Naked City posts in Orange Crate Art. This has been one of them.
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