uptight redux (was Re: ADS-L Digest - 2 Apr 2006 to 3 Apr 2006 (#2006-94))

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Apr 4 17:11:49 UTC 2006

James Landau wrote:
> In Basic Training (1969) I frequently heard the Drill Instructors use
> the phrase "your shit is uptight", used as a compliment to a trainee who
> did something right.
> I have never heard this expression elsewhere.

Jonathan LIghter wrote:
> "Uptight" frequently means/ meant "terrific" in AAVE.  Like when James Brown
> sang, "Uptight and outta sight!"

Close. In "Out of Sight" (1964) James Brown sang:

  You got a shapely figure, mama,
  That's keepin' me uptight.
  You got a shapely figure, mama,
  A-keep me uptight.
  You're too much!
  You know you're out of sight.

I'd be interested in Wilson's take on this, but to me this sounds like
the sense of "uptight" meaning 'in a state of nervousness or anxiety,
worked up'. It's not clearly approbative as in Stevie Wonder's
"Uptight" from 1966 ("Everything is alright, uptight, out of sight"),
which perhaps Jonathan was thinking of (we've discussed that song on a
few occasions).

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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