USA movie, 1936.

General Hospital. Night shitf. Nurse Keats is on duty. She enters the room of one of her patients. She is surprised to see that Dr. Coates is in there. The dialogue is:

Nurse: Oh, you not stepping, Dr. Coates?
Doctor: Well, if you call being at the dinner of the International Obstetrical Association stepping, then I have. Oh, by the way, I want 302 to have cold compresses every half-hour tonight.

Does "stepping" here mean "to take a walk", maybe "have a day off", maybe "go dancing" or is it something else?


I think you misheard what was said.

I initially wondered if the word was 'schlepping', used as slang tor having sex, but now I'm not so sure.

Is there some way you can record what is said, for us to listen to?


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This is 1936 and many expressions that were used then have gone out of fashion today. "Stepping" back then apparently was readily understood to mean, "stepping out," that is, go out and have fun, as on a Friday night. I'll bet this takes place on Friday night.

Thanks, Clive, but I think that in 1936 a nurse won't use the slang word "schlepping" meaning "having sex" in a professional conversation with a very old doctor. Unluckily, we don't know if the action takes place on a Friday night, as anonymous indicated. Furthermore, I hear the word "stepping" clearly when Dr. Coates says it (the second time). As you asked for a record to listen to, I enclose it.


There is a very famous 1926 song by Fred Astaire called "Steppin' out with my baby" and its meaning is clear. What puzzles me is that in this movie neither the nurse nor the doctor add "out" to "stepping" if they want to mean "go out and have fun".

I hadn't known that "schlepping" could mean "having sex" in the UK. Onomatopoeia? It has no such connotations in the US, meaning simply trudging laboriously, as if carrying something heavy or indeed actually carrying it.

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In 1936 going out dancing was much more popular than it is today. If someone was going out, it could be safely assumed he'd be going dancing, "stepping," which is apparently how the idiom "stepping out" originated. In the movie scene, the doctor apparently should be off work - and it's apparently a weekend night; he sounds like an older doctor, which would give him the weekend off, with the younger doctors handling things - yet he's at the hospital, which prompts the nurse to say "not stepping [not out dancing] doctor?" This is apparently 1930's slang, unknown today: "stepping," for "going out (dancing)."

Also, the nurse's line is:

"Oh, you're not stepping, Dr. Cole?" I hear Cole rather than Coates. The sentence: "Oh, you not stepping, Dr. Cole?" has entirely different connotations.

Thanks, anonymous. Sure, it's as you said "you're not stepping", but the name of the doctor isn't Coles although it sounds like that. I checked it on imdb and it says it's "Dr. Coate", neither "Dr. Cole" nor "Dr. Coates". I suppose you still think that here they say "stepping" in the sense of "stepping out", don't you?

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The nurse pronounces "stepping" a little playfully, as though kidding the old doctor, who's past the age where he'd be out dancing on a weekend night. Then the doctor pronounces it rather emphatically, as though indicating his annoyance with the ribbing. In the 1930's this was apparently a standard expression: "You're stepping (going out dancing) tonight?" "You're not stepping (tonight)?"