Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 3 03:38:29 UTC 2008

On Feb 2, 2008 6:19 PM, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at>
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)?


I don't think that's approbative. Brooks Brothers was the very emblem and
summit of straight (= unhip) / corporate / office style. Look at the song
"I'll Know" from Guys and Dolls [opened November 24, 1950 -- Wikipedia].
True, that was 1940s gamblers, per Damon Runyon and Frank Loesser, not 1960s
jazz, but that Horne cite can't be taken as approbative without further

I'll Know

I've imagined every bit of him
>From his strong moral fibre
To the wisdom in his head
To the homely aroma of his pipe

You have wished yourself a Scarsdale Galahad
The breakfast eating Brooks Brothers type

Yes, and I shall meet him when the time is ripe
I'll know when my love comes along
I won't take a chance
I'll know he'll be just what I need
Not some fly-by-night Broadway romance

And you'll know at a glance
By the two pair of pants

I'll know by his calm steady voice
His feet on the ground
I'll know, as I run to his arms, that at last
I've come home, safe and sound
And 'til then, I shall wait
And 'til then, I'll be strong!
For I'll know, when my love comes along

Mark Mandel

The American Dialect Society -

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