How'd you like a poke in the snot locker?

How’d you like a knuckle sandwich?
How’d you like a punch in the nose?
I oughta knock your block off!
Watch it, Buster, or you’ll wake up with a crowd around ya!

We watch a lot of old movies that were made in the 1930s to 1950s. Frequently disputes are solved with fists, often with some sort of warning as above. Of course, astronaut ‘Buzz’ Aldrin famously punched a guy who called him a coward, a liar, and a thief to his face.

Nowadays punching someone would be assault, and you’re likely to be arrested. Or someone will pull a knife or a gun and someone gets dead. How prevalent was giving someone a poke in the snot locker, without escalation to the use of deadly force or the involvement of law enforcement, back in the olden days?

I think the question boils down to, “Does film and fiction of the 1930s and 1940s represent real life of the day any more than film and fiction of any other era?”

To a degree. Aldrin felt it appropriate for his fist and the moron’s face to have their temporal-spatial loci intersect. He was provoked, but I think people today would not resort to violence. (Of course, I’m a non-violent person so that is undoubtedly colouring my perception.) Aldrin is from the time when these films were made. So ISTM that it might be reasonable that someone in the '30s-'50s who gets hit ‘gets what’s coming to him’.

Whaddya, some kinda wiseguy? I oughta box yer ears for yez.

Pretty sure that was all just movie tough-guy talk, although in underworld circles it may have been more common.

From watching a certain film on TCM, we decided that movie shorthand for a tough guy requires him to speak with a Brooklyn accent and say ‘See?’ a lot.

This may surprise the OP, but even today, in certain segments of society, people still do get into fistfights, often without getting arrested for it.

Yeah? You wanna step outside and say that?

Not saying it doesn’t happen. Just that it seems to happen a lot in older movies.

When my dad was in military school in LA in the '40s, kids caught fighting were punished…by being put into the ring as that Friday night’s entertainment.

In the military itself it was a common form of minor discipline. Not coincidentally, it’s casual use died out as the forces all became integrated. Racial tensions in many commands could be already at danger level in the 1970’s military, and a NCO of one race hitting a private of another could spark a riot.

Keep it up, Bub, you’ll be spittin’ teeth!

You and what army!? Why, I oughta. . . .

How’d you like a toilet water shampoo?

Fist fights were very common in the neighborhood where I grew up in the late fifties/early sixties. They sometimes escalated into something more serious. I sill own an Italian switchblade that someone tried to stick into me. I was faster with a half brick, and ended up with it as just spoils.

No authorities were ever contacted by anyone in these altercations. It just was not done…

I always liked “How’d you like a mouthful of bloody chicklets?” but it never seemed to gain much traction.


One could turn it around and ask, do they represent real life any less? Movies may not strictly represent reality, but they do represent prevailing cultural attitudes. If one assumes that movies of the 30s and 40s are offset from reality by a similar degree that modern movies are offset from today, one would conclude that physical altercations were more accepted and more common than they are today, even if they were not everyday events.

In Mr Smith Goes to Washington, after the press humiliates him Smith goes around town popping various reporters in the snoot. This is treated as a minor eccentricity, on a par with Smith’s expertise in bird calls. Today of course Smith would be either jailed or more likely locked up in a psychiatric unit. This doesn’t argue that snoot-punching was very common, only that it was probably more common than it is today, since it wasn’t such a taboo.