"Use it or lose it" (was Re: "Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Aug 9 03:29:37 UTC 2005

At 9:51 PM -0400 8/8/05, Wilson Gray wrote:
>I first ran across this in an advice column by either Ann Landers or
>Dear Abbie. I don't remember which one or the year, but it was in the
>'50's(?). The subject was sexual activity between and among the
>ummature. Part of the advice was directed toward men, that they should
>"use it or lose it." I interpreted this to mean that, if men didn't
>continue sexual activity through the golden years, they would find
>themselves unnecessarily impotent, simply as a consequence of inaction.
>That was pretty naughty for its time. Some papers refused to print that
>particular column.
>I can't provide a even a WAG as to whether this was the origin of the
>phrase. I doubt it. But one never knows, do one?

That's the context I was assuming Safire had in mind, with or without
either of the sisters to help him come up with it.  Of course, a
literal reading--I can't remember whether I entertained this in the
50's when I first heard the expression--could have involved not just
impotence or "atrophy" (a word I suspect I first encountered in the
same context) but actually, well, losing it.  (Where'd it go?  It was
here just a minute ago!)  Of course, at that stage of my life I was
in no immediate danger of either using it or losing it.


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