Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Jan 6 14:16:26 UTC 2005

     "I don't have to down-talk Oklahoma," said Reggie Bush, USC's
     sophomore general yard-gainer. "Everyone saw the way we played,
     saw the way Oklahoma played. It's really pretty self-explanatory."

"Down-talk" is an apparent inversion of "talk down (to)" on the model of
"play down > downplay".  (The sports usage may also be influenced by "talk
trash > trash-talk".)  Nothing in OED, HDAS, MWCD, etc., though HDAS does
have "downmouth" (supposedly a blend of "downgrade" and "badmouth").

Here are some cites (beginning with "down-talking", ppl. a./vbl. n.):

PMLA, Vol. 53, Supplement, 1938, p. 1316 (JSTOR)
I am not sure that preference for such down-talking books is creditable to

New York Times, Jan 8, 1961, Book Review, p. 38 (Proquest)
Mr. Flesch, I am sure, is aware of the perils of down-talking and
down-writing; a person of limited vocabulary ... not only does not mind
the unfamiliar word, but is likely to be flattered by having it addressed
to him.

New York Times, Dec 12, 1965, p. F13 (Proquest)
"If any characteristics are shared by a broad majority of this
generation," he declared, "they are literacy, widened interest, faith in
the future ... and an uncanny ability to spot phony, insincere, pompous,
down-talking, fuzzy-minded approaches."

New York Times, Feb 9, 1969, Magazine p. 44 (Proquest)
More often it has that styleless, pyramidal dullness of the journalism
school, and at times it is downright down-talking Daily Newsy ("Powell
Appeal 'Goofed'").

Newark Advocate (OH), Jan 8, 1971, p. 2 (N-archive)
We know they want to downtalk the bad and talk up the good to sell peace
instead of the true meaning of communism.

Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), Feb 8, 1973, p. 20 (N-archive)
Anderson himself doesn't exactly "downtalk" his class of women, but he
does try to explain things in housewife terms.

Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), Sep 11, 1976, Supp. p. 7 (N-archive)
After downtalking his backfield, Hellman calls his team an eager bunch who
are improving every week.

Daily Herald (Chicago, IL), Jun 1, 1982, Sec. 4, p. 1 (N-archive)
"I wouldn't downtalk the Dodgers because they've been great to me."

Los Angeles Times, Oct 21, 1990, p. 9 (Proquest)
"Just giving my respect," White explained. "I'm not really gonna downtalk
(UCLA). They are a good team, but we were better today.", Mar 31, 1992 (Usenet)
I wonder if these folks down-talking the plastic case and mushy keys of
the K2000 have actually seen one., May 3, 1993 (Usenet)
I don't know if it was just downtalking the competition or what.

USA Today, Sep 9, 1993, p. 10C (Nexis)
"I think he ought to keep his comments to himself," Givins said. "I see
where he's down-talking the offense. I mean, you're not supposed to do
that, because we're in the boat together. The boat has to float with
everybody working, not just one side."

Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), Oct 21, 1995, p. 1GD (Nexis)
"I don't ever down-talk a team," King said, "but if we go out and play
this week like were capable of doing, we have a chance to get back on
track. The main thing is to get our confidence back."

Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia), Apr 27, 1996, p. 21 (Nexis)
No one, it seems, wants to downtalk the cattle industry -- or any other
industry, for that matter.

Houston Chronicle, June 23, 1996, SPORTS 2; p. 17 (Nexis)
"I think there are going to be critics my entire career," Iverson said.
"There's always going to be somebody who downtalks to me."

Denver Post, Aug 27, 1997, p. D1 (Nexis)
"Neil's an all-pro. Trezelle's learning the position, learning how to play
in the NFL. So it wouldn't be fair to Trezelle. Not trying to down-talk
him or anything, but he's still adjusting. I don't think he's ready for

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI), Aug 13, 1999, Sports p. 7 (Nexis)
"They're not having the greatest time. But Wisconsin's been great
recruiting out of D.C Everest. I'm not going to down-talk the program
because two guys had trouble there."

New Zealand Business, Sep 2000, p. 10 (Nexis)
Most New Zealanders have now been totally turned-off by the sad-dog whine
of businessmen down-talking the economy and green-grassing Australia.

NZ Infotech Weekly (Wellington), Oct 24, 2000, p. 9 (Nexis)
"There is always a risk that if enough people down-talk something, it can
be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Electronic News, Feb 11, 2002, p. 8 (Nexis)
This was happening while investors were stacking up their chips on the new
B2B ventures that were down-talking traditional distributors as

Columbus Dispatch (OH), May 12, 2002, p. 3D (Nexis)
"I think me and Brandon are a little more agile," said Joe, a third-year
sophomore-to-be from Westerville South. "We kind of get out of the
backfield a little faster than Jamar. And we both have extremely good
hands. That's not saying Jamar didn't have good hands, but ... hey, it's
hard to downtalk Jamar."

Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, May 6, 2003, p. 1 (Proquest)
"I don't want to down talk companies," Millar said. "They have a tough
enough time in the world market today and a slim profit margin."

Paperboard Packaging, Apr 2004, p. 39 (Proquest)
"Not to downtalk packaging printers, but they're rather down and dirty guys."

Vanity Fair, Dec 2004, p. 370 (Nexis)
"No, not necessarily, but because we share parenthood, we have this mutual
respect for each other where we don't downtalk each other to Hailie to
confuse her."

--Ben Zimmer

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