Short note on scuzzy

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 6 01:57:41 UTC 2011

I'm not on a crusade, but I do like finding items where the definitions
may be off-target. Some antedating information is below.

"Scuzzy" is a typical college-speak word. I used to hear it from
students all the time--but was never under illusion that it was a
generational neologism. At best, its usage has its ebb and flow. And
it's not limited to teenagers and college students (at least, not since
the sixties).

OED has it to 1969.

> N. Amer. colloq.
>   Dirty, grimy; murky.
> 1969 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. li. 16   Scuzzy, groady, skoady, and
> grungy should probably be listed also under 'Blends'. ... Scuzzy, for
> example, seems to imply fuzzy and scummy: 'Your teeth are scuzzy.'
> 1974    A. Fowles Pastime vii. 63   The scuzzy, grey, February days,
> neither cold nor clear.
> 1976 Daily Colonist (Victoria, Brit. Columbia) 14 Apr. 5/4   Perhaps
> Mr. Vander Kalm has good intentions about evicting scuzzy malingerers
> from the dole.

The first one clearly fits--scuzzy==dirty, grimy. No problem. The second
one--maybe. scuzzy==dreary? murky? Close enough, I suppose. The third
one is "scuzzy malingerers"--dirty? grimy? murky? fuzzy? The only one
that fits is perhaps the non-literal "scummy". Yes, those malingerers
are /scum/! Sorry--IMO that's a stretch. The lemma does not even cover
all the chosen examples--is there any hope of stretching it to current
usage (or even then-current usage in the 1960s, as it turns out)? (the
reason I got here--I usually have a hook to get to these things)
> This "great guy" forces his students to buy a $200 textbook that he
> authored, and from which he pockets the royalties. Used copied of the
> 2007 edition can be purchased online for under $5, including shipping.
> I mean, I suppose there's a chance that his gouging in this fashion is
> intended to teach the students about monopolies, but it's still pretty
> *scuzzy*, especially the part where he personally benefits.

Again, nothing but the figurative "scummy" fits here, but, again, it's a
stretch. Looking under scuzz n. (which, for some reason, is not linked
to scuzzy at all, but I "found" it by searching for scuzzbucket), the
etymology seems to offer more options--"Probably abbrev. of disgusting
adj., though perhaps a blend of scum n. and fuzz n.1".

Yes, disgusting sounds more like it--or, even more accurately,
"despicable". So scuzzy==despicable? It seems better than "dirty" or
"murky". Some in-the-wild sitings suggest also "ashamed", "shameful"
(variant of "dirty", I suppose), plus "grimy", "grungy",
"greasy"--"disgusting" seems to cover most of these pretty well.

I generally prefer the "disgusting" etymology--the scum+fuzzy sounds
absolutely ridiculous, but there is a potential phonological connection
in "disgusting". And I know someone at ADS came up with that one
originally (note the 1969 citation), so OED is blameless (sort of--they
did copy it, didn't they?). Is there a lot of evidence that such blends
are productive? Something like bam!+slam==BLAM!--yeah, whatever... why
can't "blam" be just as imitative as "bam"? What's the list there?
Groady, skoady, grungy? Grungy is the big winner here, even getting its
own musical style with "grunge". You still hear grody, on occasion, but
probably even less frequently than scuzzy". And what on Earth is skoady?
And OED gives grody < grotesque, which is similar to skuzzy < disgusting
and boojie/bourgie < bourgeois.

Even if they can be productive, both scuzz and scuzzy should have
similar etymology--there is no reason why one covers two options and the
other only one. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that scuzz might be
backformed from scuzzy rather than a direct formation--especially if the
"disgusting" theory holds water. Whatever the case, the two entries
should be linked and cross-referenced and have similar or derived etymology.

An interesting citation from 1970 (better than an ADS publication, at
The New Centurions. By Joseph Wambaugh. 1970 [Wiki gives January 1971 as
the release date, but all copies floating in the libraries and used book
markets are copyrighted 1970]
p. 48
> "We actually do have a place that bounces for everything. It's called
> El Soberano, that means the sovereign. We call it El Sobaco. You know
> what that means, don't you"
> "No," Serge lied.
> "That means the armpit. It's a real scuzzy joint. A beer joint that
> serves food. Real ptomaine tavern."
> "Serves greasy tacos, I bet." Serge smiled wryly, knowing what the
> place would look like. "Everybody drinking and dancing I bet, and
> every night some guy gets jealous of his girl friend and you get a
> call there to break up a fight."

The New Centurions was rather popular and came out in movie form in 1972.

OED has scuzz from Nov. 3, 1968. Here's another from the same month.
The New Yorker. November 25, 1968
p. 43/2
> "My biggest pitfall would be to grab fat movie contracts, go on the
> Carson show, do the commercials, become the pompous ass and know
> everything about sex, religion and philosophy. That's why after /The
> Graduate/ I waited seven months before picking Ratso Rizzo in
> /Midnight Cowboy/ to destroy Benjamin. Ratso Rizzo is a scuzz. But
> that's not out 'til April.

I had to do a double-take when I saw this one because here's the OED quote:

> 1968 /Sunday Sun (Baltimore) / 3 Nov. d1/5,   I ... did 'Midnight
> Cowboy' where I'm /Ratso Rizzo/, a complete scuzz.

Luckily, someone rescues Dustin Hoffman from being THE vector on scuzz.
Time. 1966 [year confirmed, issue unknown--GB lists as Part 1.]
> The language of personal insult flourishes. A /zilch/ is a total loss,
> and so is a /wimp, dimp, dipley nerdly, lizard, sink, barf, scuzz,
> skag, Jane, lunchbucket/, or anyone whose mind is in the /soil bank/.
> At the University of North Carolina, last year's /fink/ is this year's
> /squid, cull, troll/ or /nerd/.

OED has zilch from 1966, with earlier cites giving a proper name
(nickname?) that hopefully means the same thing. But no mention is made
of it being a personal insult, calling someone a nothing, a nobody.
Esquire. Volume 64. 1965 [year confirmed, no issue info]
p. 45/2
> The splitting off of language, with its fine edge of sadness and
> self-pity exists all over the country. The language of the teen-ager
> is partly reverie, partly real: it disappears quickly, six or seven
> months they say, and before you know it you're twenty-three and
> looking at old snapshots, wondering where all the kids are now, and
> yeah, what was that crazy word we had? Was it scuzz or barf? You try
> to remember, then finally you see what's happening.
Foreign service journal: Volume 42. 1965 [year confirmed]
p. 145
> This follow-up aims to keep you informed on the kind of vocabulary
> favored by youths between 12 and perhaps 17. Typical samples:
> square, zero-cool = old fashioned
> fink, scuzz, nerd = an erratic foolish person
> hip = chic

Finally, antedating of scuzzy. (apparently ==dirty, ashamed)
Mademoiselle. Volume 65[?]. p. 323/2[?]. 1967 [year confirmed]
> Next morning you're sorry you tied one on: you really feel scuzzy.
> Next time better turn on with grass.
The Making of a Coast Guard Officer: A Covenant with Honor. By Joseph
Henry Hughes. 1966
p. 166
> Even after working on my shoes for an hour, they were pretty scuzzy
> after the beating they took in Europe, but they passed.

(==dirty, grimy)
Chilton's motorcycle troubleshooting guide. By OCee Ritch[?]. 1966 [?]
[nothing confirmed, although the title appears to fit the content]
[Photo caption.] p. 23
> Scuzzy-looking plug like this is obvious clue to no-start or
> hard-start problem

The odd one is British. But, again, it's a compiled list.
British Journal of Sociology. Volume 19(2). September 1968
p. 145
> My own research has revealed a variety of colourful terms for this
> lower class, including the 'hard guys', 'hoods', 'skaggs', 'skuzzy
> girls', 'spiders', 'mondos', 'greasers', 'cats', 'punks', 'screw-offs'
> and 'SAs'.

But the earliest is a publication that I've never heard of. [Scanned at
UC libraries.]
Ole. Issues 1-8. 1964 [date seems ok, no page, no issue]
> ... Jack the Ripper, Sad Poison Nice Guy, The Inferential Kid--blood,
> junk, scuzzy hotels & fuzz--a collage of words, enuf on any pg to
> initiate illimitable ┬▒magination imbroglios 5c proselytize you into a
> vampire of Jungle Hotspur Sap FOREVER!

I have not checked newspapers.


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