"See You Later" (1869, 1875); C U L8er (1990)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Jan 28 06:36:13 UTC 2005

Barry Popik wrote:
>Wright American Fiction has one cite from 1869 and several from 1875. I
>wouldn't date "see you later" later than 1875.
>* was able; but he pleaded great haste to be gone, and said I might
>tell you that he would be sure to see you later in the evening at your
>own house." / "Did he? Did he promise that?" / "Yes,
>* You have heard of me -- I am the Prince Di Venturini. For you,
>madame," with a low bow, "I shall see you later." / Before either
>could speak he turned, made his way through the throng, and qui
>* "Nothing, madame; but that he would see you later at the reception.

Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>These two are not formulaic enough for me. So many Civil War diaries have
>been published that you'd think that such a simple formula would have
>appeared inthem many times, if it was current. As a formula.

I checked Alexander Street's "Civil War: Letters and Diaries" database,
and the only example of the collocation "see you later" was in a letter
after the war, in 1869-- also lacking formulaicity like Barry's examples:

     Letter from John Milton Hay to Edmund Clarence Stedman
     February 11, 1869
     I hope to see you later in the Spring.

"See you soon" has numerous attestations in the CWLD database but only in
phrases like "hoping to see you soon".  But I think the standalone phrase
"see you soon" may have become idiomatic some time after "see you later"--
I don't find anything on N-archive predating OED2's 1891 cite.

(And then there's "see you real soon", c. 1955.  Proquest and N-archive
actually show that catchphrase appearing in ads for Safeway in 1954, a
year before "The Mickey Mouse Club" premiered.)

--Ben Zimmer

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