...they just smell that way

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 22 01:56:46 UTC 2009

Elderly folk will recall Gen. MacArthur's 1951 allusion to a song he heard
sung at West Point around 1900: "Old soldiers never die: they just fade

In the early '60s I heard this varied to the sarcastic "...they just smell
that way."

According to NewspaperArchive.com and Google Books, the new words have been
attached to a number of other groups, notably _old fishermen_ (more recently
_fishers_ and _fisherpersons_).  Old politicians, cowboys, politicians,
hippies, anatomists, &c., have all come in for similar abuse.

A seemingly reliable fighter-pilot memoir attributes "Old majors never die,
they just smell that way" to the Korean War, just late enough to parody
MacArthur's remark.

The phrase seems to have gained notable currency by the mid '50s. Google
Books, however, comes up with the earliest alleged appearance:

*1947*  _Summarized report of proceedings 55th Annual
Convention National-American Wholesale Lumber Association_ 26: Some old
salesmen never die — they just smell that way. (Laughter) We have too many
people who have mental blackouts.

Refs. to Truman and 1946, plus the barely legible title page, sugg. that the
1947 date is correct.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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