further looking for "biggie" = 'something impressive'

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Fri Aug 29 14:22:51 UTC 2008

My attempts at finding “biggie/no biggie” in the idiomatic sense ‘big deal’ 
before 1970 have been fruitless. Unless someone else has looked in a database 
that I have not accessed, no online textual evidence exists that the use of “
no biggie” in a script intended to represent the speech of New York 
advertising executives in 1961 was not an “anachronism,” as Larry Horn asserted here a 
few days ago: it may well be technically correct that no one in 1961 would 
have been likely to utter “no biggie” to mean ‘unimportant, trivial’. Of 
course, it is a truism of lexicography that terms often are used in speech several 
years before they find their way into print. If a purported 1961 use of “no 
biggie” is an anachronism, it is at worst off by only seven years (according to 
the present data). Thus the “anachronism” is at best temporally minor.

The putative anachronism is also minor in another respect: “(neg +) biggie” 
and its apparent forerunner, “(neg +) big deal,” can be found in the 1950s 
and 1960s in such very closely related senses that “no biggie” well COULD have 
been uttered--if only in a burst of very minor creativity--by the speakers to 
whom it is ascribed. After all, someone had to make the first utterance of the 
expanded sense of “biggie,” and who more likely than advertising executives 
in 1961, who were already speaking of “biggies” in the sense of ‘important 
persons’, ‘important business deals’, and ‘things larger than normal’, and in 
the anaphoric sense of ‘big something’—and who were also saying “big deal/no 
big deal” in the relevant sense that “biggie/no biggie” came to represent.

I’m grateful to Larry for raising this question. The development of “no 
biggie” is an interesting study in slang etymology and native linguistic 
creativity at work.


1. The earliest that I am certain that I have found “biggie” in reference to 
an abstraction is 1962:

Pittsburgh Courier, May 19, 1962, p23: "Bernard Sewell of Wilmington, Del., 
joined the Elite Club of 700 series bowlers ... on Feb. 21. Sewell, a veteran 
of some 15 years on the lanes, turned in his biggie while rolling in the Monday 
Club League. ..." [This is more in the sense of 'big one' (here, ‘big game’) 
than metaphoric 'big deal'; this, by the way somewhat complicates the 
etymological sequence: “biggie” descends both from the meaning ‘big deal, nontrivial 
situation’ AND ‘big something’.]

2. The earliest (if Google Books has dated it correctly) instance that I have 
found for “no biggie” in a sense that could be ‘no big deal’ (though it 
could also mean ‘no big something’): “By current standards this was no ‘biggie.’
 The canyon is only 200 feet across and the plug was to be 120 feet high, 
containing a mere 29000 yards of. …” Neil Compton Wilson, The Earth Changers, 
1957, p230. [“biggie” = ‘big dam’? ‘big job’? ‘big deal’?]

2. Google Books gives some (supposedly) very early uses of “biggie” that 
appear to be from before 1970 and are very close to the ‘big deal’ sense, though 
they can still be interpreted as ‘big one’; however, I have been unable to 
check the (skimpy) referencing information that they give, so the dates MAY be 

a. The Western Humanities Review, by Utah Humanities Research Foundation, 
University of Utah Dept. of English (Utah, 1949), "It was like looking at a 
movie, there in the dark of his first tunnel, in Ba Don Province, a biggie. He 
imagined the wide shaft sloping sharper, wider, ... " [“biggie” = ‘big tunnel’ ~ 
‘big deal’?]
b. The William and Mary Review, 1965, p46: "The first yearly layoff is due in 
a week; it's a biggie. It's up to you to draw up a list of who's naughty and 
nice. Get me? And I'm counting on you to ..." [“biggie” = ‘big layoff’ ~ ‘
big deal’?]

3. Two 1970 cites (also from Google Books, however), clearly have the ‘big 
deal’ meaning, one of which is in the negative:

a. Car and Driver, "Sports Cars" (1970, p24): " ‘That's a biggie,’ says 
Andretti. ‘It's something I've been toying with for a long time. From a business 
standpoint the answer has to be 'no. ...”
b. The President, by Drew Pearson (Doubleday, 1970, p100): " 'That's sort of 
a B. But it isn't really a biggie. It's the party's ill-gotten gain. No one 
can kick about that.' But there was kicking elsewhere in ... " [note negation]

4. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2005) 
lists “biggie” in the sense of ‘big deal’ from 1970. The book also comments, “
Often in the negative: ‘no biggie’.”

5. The use of “big deal” in the relevant sense dates from the 1960s and 
probably the 1950s:

a. “I took a short course in how to run an adding machine and wound up on 
Washington's New York Avenue at $1440 a year--a big deal, and it took 'em a whole 
three months to find out I wasn't an accountant.” The Albuquerque Tribune, 
May 23, 1955, p18. [perhaps this could also be taken literally as ‘a big 
[business] deal’, though that is clearly not exactly what the writer intends.]

b. “I had taken an apron that was very pretty and hand made for Martha. ... 
She thought it was lovely and asked me if I'd made it. ... Before I could 
straighten my thinking our I'd told her I'd made it . ... [¶] Sober thinking people 
would undoubtedly ask, ‘Why did she [the author] make such a big deal out of 
the apron business?’ ” AA Grapevine, May 1959 [digital archive]

c. “However, regardless of the relative insignificance of the job as far as 
Joe Citizen is concerned, the selection of the man to fill the post--and this 
pertains to both parties--is a very big deal as far as the big wheel politicos 
are concerned.” Las Cruces Star-News, September 13, 1968, p4.

d. IN THE NEGATIVE: “ ‘Big deal,’ his partner said, handing him the phone. ‘
It's Mrs. Arthur Whiting. Maybe we could unload the marble top on her.’ ‘No 
big deal,’ said Andy John O'Hara, The Hat on the Bed, 1963, p303. [From Google 

It's only a deal if it's where you want to go. Find your travel 
deal here.

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

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