Negative Nancies and other related musings

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Mar 20 16:31:55 UTC 2010

At 10:56 AM -0400 3/20/10, Alice Faber wrote:
>On 3/20/10 3:03 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>>Negative Nancies made the WaPo today--it has already been in The New
>>Republic ( ) since January.
>>>Various Negative Nancys spent Thursday puzzling over what ABC News was
>>>thinking by hiring someone outside the box, with little knowledge of
>>>domestic politics, to anchor "This Week." Amanpour, who grew up in
>>>Iran and Britain, the daughter of an Iranian father and a British
>>>mother, will be the first broadcast TV Sunday Beltway show anchor with
>>>a distinctly non-American accent, they said. Some suggested the
>>>decision was foisted upon the news division by its Disneyland bosses
>>>(ABC is owned by Disney).
>>[I included the whole graf for other language-related bits.]
>>UD has "Negative Nancies" going back to 2003. Wiktionary has it back to
>>2001. UD also has Nosy Nancy, but neither has Nosy Nellie or Negative
>>Nellie. I tried several searches, but the most realistic result I got
>>was {Negative-Nancies | Negative-Nancy}, which gave me about 43000 raw
>>ghits. Doing the two separately gave over a million for one and over
>>half a million for the other--which is just unrealistic. [I just re-ran
>>the paired search and got 44500, then put in quotation marks for each
>>and got 45700] There are 16 current news hits, including Salon, Daily
>>Newarker (NJ) and a bunch of blogs, but neither WaPo nor The New
>>Republic show up.
>>GNA is another matter. The earliest legitimate hit is from the Richmond
>>Times - Dispatch (Jul 29, 1994--in PQ)
>>>But before you decide to be a positive person or what she calls a
>>>Negative Nancy, you should know that other people can feel your energy.
>>The earliest readable copy of the phrase turns out to be the name of a
>>goth band, which signifies something about the distribution of the
>>phrase, but does not attest to it directly.
>>Of course, it also shows up on South Park (apparently, Season 6 Episode
>>8, June 26, 2002).
>>>Cartman: Okay Kyle, you're being a Negative Nancy. Stop it. Okay
>>>unless you wan't everyone to call you Negative Nancy from now on.
>>The earliest GB hits are from 2001:
>>I've never heard "Negative Nellie" but it's widely attested. On the
>>other hand "Nos(e)y Nellie" is quite common.
>"Nervous Nellie" is the phrase that comes to mind. Google reveals
>citations as early as the 1920s but I can't figure out how to sort the
>list to find the oldest.
Back in the Nixon era the administration was given to dismissing
"nervous nellies" and "nattering nabobs of negativism" (the latter a
phrase put into Spiro Agnew's mouth by Safire, who afterwards never
let us forget it, and indeed it is a classic of its kind).

I can't remember any Nancies from the period, but I wonder whether
I'm not stretching too much to see in "negative Nancy" and "nervous
Nancy" a possible allusion to the older use of "Nancy" (HDAS: 'a
weak-willed, priggish, or effeminate fellow; sissy; specif. an
effeminate male homosexual [as opposed to all those effiminate female
homosexuals?}--usu. used derisively--usu. considered offensive', with
cites back to the 19th c.


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