"nerd" etymythology

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jul 18 18:31:16 UTC 2011

On Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 2:00 PM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> I have extracted some more text from the Collier's in GB. Apparently,
> the word "nerd" appeared in an earlier issue of Collier's in a
> "cartoon of a bald-headed announcer reading a satirical radio
> commercial on Hoffman's Teen-Age Clothes."
> The matching instance in GB for "nerd" appears in an issue of
> Collier's after the issue with the cartoon. This later article is a
> letter providing commentary concerning the reaction to the cartoon. A
> disk jockey read text from the cartoon and the accounting department
> of the radio station became confused. They wanted to bill the
> non-existent company selling "Hoffman's Teen-Age Clothes".
> Here is the extracted raw OCR text which is certain to contain
> multiple errors [date is still unknown]:
> Backfired Gag "You'll get a large charge from Hoffman's Tcen.Age
> Clothes. 9o get on the stick with these real fat, real eool, really
> craay elothes. Don't be a Party-Pooper or a nerd. Yes, everybody is
> bashing ears about Hoffman's Teen-Age Clothes. They're Frampton.
> They're pash-ple. They're MOST! Everybody from Jelly-tots to Cool
> Jonahs gets a big tickle from Hoffman's threads. These suits are
> really made in the shade, and when your Dolly, or double bubble, sees
> you wearing a Hoffman she'll give you an approving Mother Higby and
> say. That has It!'. So don't get squishy and be a schnookle. The
> gectafrate Is reasonable and we'll make it Chill for you. Remember,
> don't ball. The name Is Hoffman's Teen.

This is still chiefly relying on that Oct. 28, 1951 Newsweek article
on regional teen slang picked up by Reader's Digest and other
publications. Newsweek said that "frampton" was "Salt Lake's highest
accolade," while "nerd" was identified as Detroit slang. And
"pash-pie" is "a dream man or girl who is probably Most (sexy)" (in
Boston), so the Hoffman ad-writers seem to have misunderstood that

Newsweek had "fat" too: "Discussing cool and the degrees of coolness,
one boy reported: 'If you like a guy or gal, they're cool. If they are
real fat, real crazy, naturally they're real cool.'" I don't have my
slang dictionaries at hand, but I see Kipfer and Chapman cited this in
the entry for "fat" in their Dictionary of American Slang, and it also
shows up in OED's "cool" entry.


Ben Zimmer

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

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