Movie anachronisms: gold-digger [Was: WYSIWYG]

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jul 30 04:25:12 UTC 2007

On 7/29/07, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> The time one can waste!  A 2000 TV dramatization of "Lady Audley's
> Secret" (? 1862, but there seem to be plays based on it as early as
> 1850) had one character refer to her as a "gold
> digger"  (OED2:  1920).  I actually bought and tried to read the book.
> Now that I have been educated, I consult Gutenberg.  Gold (from
> Australia) is an element of the plot, and the material and color are
> recurrent images and metaphors, particularly for Lady Audley with her
> "golden" hair and alleged marriage for money.  But I do not find
> "gold-digger" -- only "gold-diggings"  (OED2:  1852, 1869).  I can
> imagine the TV script writer extending the theme to "gold-digger".

I'd wager "gold-digger" in the relevant sense doesn't go back much
further than 1920. It seems to have been popularized by Avery
Hopwood's 1919 Broadway play "The Gold Diggers" starring Ina Claire.
>From Alexander Woolcott's review in the New York Times:

The gold-diggers, according to Mr. Hopwood's early 1884 philosophy,
are women in general and chorus girls in particular. His new comedy is
all about chorus girls, and how a rich and monastic uncle who hurries
up to the Fascinating Fifties (or whatever that part of town is called
now) to rescue his nephew from the clutches of one, falls into those
clutches himself. (NYT, Oct. 1, 1919, p. 20)

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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