Cross-posting a query

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jul 13 04:01:10 UTC 2008

At 8:35 PM -0400 7/12/08, Baker, John wrote:
>It seems to come from the performing arts; I suspect the origin was
>theatre, although for some years I believe it's been more associated
>with music.  As for what it means, I've never been quite sure,
>although my first example may provide a hint.
>New York Times (7/12/1981) (Westlaw):  Jack Lemmon has been showing
>directors and audiences for more than 30 years, and they have
>usually believed him. "He has that very fortunate Mr. Everyman face
>and it's very difficult not to believe him," said Stuart Rosenberg,
>who directed Lemmon in "The April Fools." "He can keep it real, as
>opposed to theatrical."
>Sacramento Bee (2/2/1986) (Westlaw):  'It's the last waterfront
>community on the bay where you can fish, and it's nice to walk your
>dog on the beach,' Arneson said. 'We're trying to preserve it. We
>don't want to turn it into glitz or a little Jack London Square or
>Fisherman's Wharf. But how do you keep it real?'
>Orlando Sentinel (4/28/1986) (Westlaw):  JAY LENO:  'KEEP IT REAL' .
>. . ''Nothing can be funny if you don't have a basic normality to
>come away from. If they don't buy the premise, they don't buy the
>joke.''  [discussion of the "rules" for comedy]
>Philadelphia Inquirer (2/6/1987) (Westlaw):  Before the populist
>[Joan Jett] swoops off to her next campaign stop, she utters a
>phrase that could be her slogan, pointing her finger in emphasis:
>"It's important to keep it real."
>Joan Jett's 1987 usage is the kind we now think of.  I'm not certain
>if we should think of the 2/2/1986 example from the Sacramento Bee
>as the same usage, or just the literal meaning of "real."
>John Baker

Thanks, John.  That should be just what the poster wanted; I'll
cross-post your findings to her and the GALA-L list.


>From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Laurence Horn
>Sent: Sat 7/12/2008 11:53 AM
>Subject: Cross-posting a query
>I'm sure someone here can antedate "keep it real" beyond the Seinfeld
>death by licking-poisoned- cut-rate-wedding-invitation-envelope
>episode.  I can post the appropriate antedate on GALA-L, with credit,
>for Prof. Colvin.
>>Date:         Sat, 12 Jul 2008 15:53:13 +0900
>>Sender: International Gender and Language Association
>>From: "Robert O'Mochain" <omochain at LANG.OSAKA-U.AC.JP>
>>Subject: Re: [GALA-L] "keep it real"
>>Dear Sarah Colvin,
>>I first heard that expression on an episode of "Seinfeld" (probably 1997).
>>In the context of the storyline it seems funny on the lips of the character,
>>Costanza, because he uses it to say goodbye to the parents of his former
>>finance. They seem too old and high class for that phrase; it seems too
>>casual in the context because of the serious tone involved with the parents
>>(he was partly responsible for the death of their daughter); and finally,
>>because the character in the show often lies to this couple (and often lies
>>in general) so the implication of authenticity in "Keep it real," seems
>>incongruous coming from "Costanza".
>>Hope this helps (if only a little!)
>>Robert O'Mochain.
>>-----Original Message-----
>>From: International Gender and Language Association
>>[mailto:GALA-L at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On Behalf Of Sarah Colvin
>>Sent: Friday, July 11, 2008 10:24 PM
>>Subject: [GALA-L] "keep it real"
>>Can anybody give me a reference or advise me re. the history, use, and
>>meaning of the phrase "keep it real"?
>>Sarah Colvin
>>Professor Sarah Colvin
>>University of Edinburgh
>>David Hume Tower
>>George Square
>>Edinburgh EH8 9JX
>>Tel. ++ 131 650 3630
>>email: sarah.colvin at
>>The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
>>Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
>The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

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