Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Feb 3 18:53:27 UTC 2008

Ben, I just ordered Hiptionary on ILL and will let you know what I find.

  I don't believe I used it in HDAS: seemed too marginal and hard to get.


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

On Feb 2, 2008 10:13 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> On 2/2/08, Benjamin Zimmer 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)?
> 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.

Unless wearing a tightly tailored suit approximated the physiological
circumstances you describe? :->

> 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.

Here's what I've gathered... Elliot(t) Horne worked in the music
industry, as a press agent for Columbia in the '50s and then for RCA
until his death in 1987. Along the way he worked with a lot of jazz
and R&B artists and started collecting hipster lingo. The NYT Magazine
ran a similar feature from Horne on Aug. 18, 1957 ("For Cool Cats and
Far-Out Chicks; Here is a lexicon for do-it-yourself hipsters of the
newest in jazz slang. Don't be an oofus, man. Just dig it!"), where
his bio line reads, "Elliot Horne is a cat who has been making the
jazz scene since the mid-Thirties when he fell into the Benny Goodman
cult." He would go on to publish _The Hiptionary: A Hipster's View of
the World Scene_ in 1963.

Whether this makes him a reliable source on varieties of uptightness,
I cannot say. From a quick look I don't see anything particularly
amiss in his two NYT pieces. In fact, he seems to catch some good
nuances. For "lame" he's got:

"Lame--Square, but not beyond redemption. If you're lame, man, you can learn."

And here's one we previously discussed:

"Good lookin' out (Pause one beat between "good" and "lookin'")--If a
cat tips you to both ends of a daily double or sets up a blind date
that dazzles you, that's good lookin' out."

So if he was a lame, he was a relatively knowledgeable one. But I'll
leave it to the real slangologists around here to pass judgment.

--Ben Zimmer

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