Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Mar 8 15:15:28 UTC 2008

 _The Hiptionary_ has just arrived and I regret to report that the word "up(-)tight" does not appear.

  As to its precise meaning, however, _Mad_ magazine's Jack Davis provides numerous caricatures of a Brooks Bros. clad character, presumably Horne himself or a stand-in, as emcee of the book, which consists mainly of Davis's satirical cartoons of statesmen and celebrities. The emcee, presumably, is triple hip..

  A sample of the text:

  "To blow flicks that cop bread, you need...[s]teamers like Lady Poundcake, Little Miss Lint or one of those Helen Heavy Creams."  (p.8)

  "Shriver's Jivers: The Peace Corps...In the beginning, one chick jiver scratched an uncool blip. Her solo got bad reviews and almost cacked the whole tune. Some High Groovers wanted her hair. "Stiff her!" they cried. But the Sargent says she sticks.." (p. 56)

  "Mr. Bad Face, hip that his cut-buddy pleaded a five, jumps so sour he borks his bowl, and the Ghost Kicker mails in his Eastern Union Boy to cool what won't stay cool." (p. 72)


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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