"Up tight"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Aug 1 20:01:03 UTC 2005

Nothing to add to Wilson's colorful derivation, though it's a bit
reminiscent of W.R. Higginbotham's hidden history of "nitty-gritty"
recently mentioned here.

On Mon, 1 Aug 2005 13:10:28 -0400, Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:

>I'm sure that the more mature of us remember the positive use in the
>line from "Fingertips part deux," by Little Stevie Wonder: "Everything
>is all right! Up tight and out of sight!"

That line is the chorus from "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", which
charted in early 1966. "Fingertips, Pt. 2", Little Stevie's first hit, was
released in 1963 and doesn't have "uptight" in the lyrics, AFAIK.


> The oldest searchable example
>of the purely negative use that I can recall is from the movie, "The
>IIRC, the pawnbroker is closing shop for the day, when a black robber
>with a pistol comes in. Needless to say, the pawnbroker tenses. When
>the robber sees/intuits this response, he attempts to reassure the
>pawnbroker with the words, "Cool it, baby. Don't get up tight."

OED has a cite from thirty years earlier in _The Postman Always Rings
Twice_, though it notes that it's "an isolated early example."

1934 J. M. CAIN Postman always rings Twice xvi. 190 I'm getting up tight
now, and I've been thinking about Cora. Do you think she knows I didn't do

--Ben Zimmer

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