cool cats of the '40s

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Dec 17 08:29:31 UTC 2005

When did "cool cat" collocate? OED has it from 1955 (NYT, "cool Brooks
Brothers cats"), and I don't see anything earlier in HDAS. The Chicago
Defender has some interesting cites from the '40s. There are a few
pre-WWII cites from gossip columns, with "cool" apparently used in
HDAS sense 2a ("urbane; suave; sophisticated, esp. in ways attractive
to the opposite sex"):

Chicago Defender, Apr 5, 1941, p. 8/7, Doc ID 740922572
Who is that cool looking cat that is taking Lucinda H---- around these days.
Chicago Defender, May 23, 1942, p. 10/6, Doc ID 746488542
Perry Givens played a cool cat at the May dance Friday.
Chicago Defender, Jun 6, 1942, p. 10/6, Doc ID 741157902
One of Gary's cool cats, Davage Minor, has just got back from New York.

(The 1942 cites are from "Kid Harris' Gossip Column" by Fred Harris,
Jr., who called everyone "cats" and "chicks".)

After the war there appeared a band called "Abbey Brown's Cool Cats"
(also shows up in online sources as "Abbey Brown & His Cool Cats",
mostly referring to the band's appearance on recordings by Anita O'Day
from the late '40s).

Chicago Defender, Mar 2, 1946. p. 16/8, Doc ID 741728092
[ad for Rainbow Music Shop, "Harlem's Greatest Record Store"]
Milkin' the Goat -- Abbey Brown's Cool Cats.
Chicago Defender, May 18, 1946, p. 9/7, Doc ID 741763112
[ad for University Studio, "The World's Largest Negro Record Mail
Order Company"]
Flamin' Mamie; Serenade To A Jitterbug -- Abbey Brown's Cool Cats.

--Ben Zimmer

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