Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 3 03:13:27 UTC 2008

My impression is that it originated in the physiology of the scrotum,
whence its application to emotion both good and bad. When a man is
sexually aroused, his scrotum contracts and pulls his testes up tight
against the  base of his penis. Fear causes the same physiological
reaction. A friend of mine in Los Angeles explained it to me this way
in 1962 and I have believed it since that time, since it's simple, has
explanatory power, and can easily be disproved. But I don't believe it
to the point that I would stake my reputation on it, to coin a phrase,
if someone else can come up with a more fully explanatory theory
that's equally simple and easy to internalize..

That it had something to do with dress is news to me and, frankly, I
don't believe it, since it has no explanation for the relating of the
word to emotional responses nor to its application to mirror-image
emotional responses. It reads like the "definition" of a man
bullshitting a lame in an effort to maintain his rep as an authority
on black slang, fully aware that there's little possibility that some
(other? I don't think that I've ever heard of this guy. Of course, I'm
strictly an amateur when it comes to slang) black person will read the
article and contradict him. I personally didn't start reading the NYT
till I was in my forties. (Iwas till in my twenties in 1961. What he
has to say sounds like a version of the definition of "laid" as used
in the Saint Louis-BE slang of my youth.

Of course, the way it be in Los Angeles is different from the way it
be in New York. Like, you never know.



On 2/2/08, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Feb 2, 2008 5:39 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> >
> > "Up Tight!"[sic]
> >
> > The title of an LP by the jazz saxophonist, Gene Ammons, son of the
> > boogie-woogie pianist, Albert Ammons, published by Fantasy Records in
> > 1961.
> That's the first cite given by OED2 for approbative "uptight" (though
> they use a 1962 mention of the album title in _Down Beat_).
> What do you suppose "up( )tight" meant to Ammons et al. in 1961? In a
> jazz lexicon published in the June 25, 1961 New York Times Sunday
> Magazine ("The Words for the Music", p. 39), Elliot Horne defined "up
> tight" as "the Brooks Brothers manner of dressing." So did the
> approbation originally apply to clothing before being extended to
> other excellent things (as in Stevie Wonder's 1966 usage)?
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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