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In the 1975 musical Chicago, the song Razzle Dazzle has the following lines:

Throw 'em a fake and a finagle

They'll never know you're just a bagel

What does it mean to be "just a bagel" in this case? In context, it seems like something negative and/or insignificant. However, I can't find any other instances of "bagel" being used this way.

I've searched google for "just a bagel" in quotes, but most are references to the food. There are also a few references to "bagel" as slang, such as this site or the tennis term, but none of them seem to fit the context of the musical itself.

An ideal answer would have some basis in American English during the 1920's, which is the era in which the play is set, or during the 1970's, which is when the play was written. Of course, I'd be willing to accept any valid answer too.

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  • Just a ring of dough (skin) with a big empty hole in the centre (no heart/soul/brain), perhaps? Good question (though I’d suggest editing the question to add in where specifically you’ve looked in vain for similar uses). May 27, 2018 at 18:56
  • Not knowing the musical, only very very vaguely, who is the person being called "bagel"? Is it a woman, a man, someone Jewish, someone from New York? Someone who is very plain and insipid? I mean bagels are just soft rolls of bread... hardly exciting stuff.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 27, 2018 at 19:17
  • UrbanDictionary’s definition #5 doesn’t seem like it’s relevant either… May 27, 2018 at 19:27
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    @Mari-LouA 'Just rolls of bread'? How dare you.
    – Mitch
    May 27, 2018 at 22:50
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    Ya know, these are just lyrics. Just getting bagel and finagle to fit in to rhyme is pretty clever. To have it actually mean anything is asking a lot.
    – Mitch
    May 27, 2018 at 22:54

2 Answers 2

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The word "doughnut" is occasionally used to mean "zero"; see this article for an example.

Obviously, this meaning originated in the similarity of shape.

A bagel, like a doughnut, has a hole in it, so I expect the songwriters intended the meaning to be the same. I also expect they thought this meaning would be clearer than it actually seems to be.

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  • If the reference were to the bagel as a symbol for zero then some phrasing such as "a big fat bagel" would have been used to prod forward that implication.
    – Hot Licks
    May 28, 2018 at 1:26
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Maybe the lyricist may know otherwise but it appears to be a rhyme and a juxtaposition: a common or ordinary person, who razzles and dazzles and convinces the audience he is a star! See this google book link: google book

More on the bagel the the ordinary: article

So as Yiddish declined, the bagel rose. In this round piece of boiled-and-baked dough, lies the story of how ordinary people fought to retain a grasp on their identity.

and TimesofIsrael

The bagel ... ended up epitomizing the modern Jewish ... the complex and often contradictory ways in which 'ordinary' people tried ...

The full lyrics here: genius.com

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    I'll add that you can "dress up" a bagel with various spreads, slices of cheese and meat, etc, but, under it all, it's still a (reasonably good but not remarkable) plain old bagel.
    – Hot Licks
    May 27, 2018 at 20:03
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    Please support your affirmation that a bagel refers to a common or an ordinary person. Can you find other instances where the metaphorical meaning is repeated?
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 27, 2018 at 20:08
  • @Mari-LouA i shall continue my research. You are welcome to help me ... lol.
    – lbf
    May 27, 2018 at 21:11
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    @Mari-LouA - You yourself made that claim in a comment an hour before lbf posted his answer -- "bagels are just soft rolls of bread... hardly exciting stuff."
    – Hot Licks
    May 27, 2018 at 22:20
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    @HotLicks The musical is called Chicago, and the lyrics are not in Polish.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 27, 2018 at 22:41

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