Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Feb 3 04:39:21 UTC 2008

On Feb 2, 2008 10:38 PM, Mark Mandel <thnidu at> wrote:
> On Feb 2, 2008 6:19 PM, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> >
> > 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
> evidence.

So then "the Brooks Brothers manner of dressing" would, from the
hipster's perspective, be more along the lines of OED sense 1b,
"characteristically formal in manner or style; correct, strait-laced."
It's interesting that these various senses of "uptight"
('excellent'/'tense'/'strait-laced') were apparently all in the mix
early on. (That is, if 1961 counts as "early on" -- I continue to
discount the _Postman Always Rings Twice_ cite as an irrelevant

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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