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In Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises, Braddocks says of Georgette that:

"She was rather splendid, you know. Showed her yellow card and demanded the patronne's daughter's too."

But they weren't playing soccer, so what did he mean? My best guess is that it means that Georgette showed something immodest and demanded the patronne's daughter do likewise.

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    Its just a specific reference to a war-era thing; it has nothing to do with slang or metaphor.
    – Fattie
    Sep 12, 2017 at 11:28

2 Answers 2

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I found an explanation of yellow card in Peter Hays, The Critical Reception of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (2011):

But on the subject of Parisian whores, [the critic Michael] Reynolds makes an important correction. At the bal musette Georgette flashes her yellow card, her license as a prostitute, a license that necessitated regular examinations for venereal disease (SAR 36). When she tells Jake, "Everybody's sick. I'm sick, too" (SAR 23), it is not venereal disease to which she is referring, as many readers and critics have assumed. As Reynolds says, "it is not sickness of the flesh but of the spirit, and in that sense everybody in the novel is, indeed, sick" (76).

It is thus not a slang term. Instead, it refers to what is, literally, a yellow card issued by the government and affirming that the government's medical authorities have checked the bearer within the past year for venereal diseases and found that she did not (at that time) have any.

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    Very interesting! I wonder if it's the fate of literature to slowly decay because of little lost meanings like these.
    – Mark
    Sep 12, 2017 at 5:48
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    The answer to your comment is simply "yes, of course". Shakespeare is essentially unreadable now, although everyone pretends it still is.
    – Fattie
    Sep 12, 2017 at 11:29
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    @Mark You might say it's the fate of art in general - though decay might be the wrong word, as it's obviously still appreciated and considered timeless. But the original intent of the artist is almost always steeped in their contemporary perspective, reflecting the state of philosophy and society (as the artist sees them) at the time of a work's creation. Though as technology records more and more detail, I'd be interested to see how much of the intent behind today's art is remembered centuries from now compared to today's classics.
    – talrnu
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:28
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    @Mark Uh, no, we still have polysemy in 2017. Do you all really think that Shakespeare could understand our language today or that language can continue "decaying" indefinitely? Where do we bottom out? Grunts and squeaks? Where was the peak? Sep 12, 2017 at 23:40
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    This kind of decay is called bit rot in computer science. Sep 13, 2017 at 0:11
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There were a few versions of a movie called "The Yellow Ticket" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0009842/ (two in 1918 and one in 1931) about a Jewish girl who becomes a prostitute to save her family. The "yellow ticket" refers to the card given to single women that allowed them to travel beyond certain geographical limits, but implied that they were, um, "working girls".

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