to "course-correct"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Oct 4 14:11:44 UTC 2011

On Oct 3, 2011, at 10:17 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> On Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 7:00 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
>> I'd have thought it was "re-" + (sign) "up."
>> The oath-taking reference seems fanciful to me. The swearing-in itself
>> seems hardly ever to be alluded to.
> Yes.

i was suspicious of this etymology when i read it, but thought the OED folks had some evidence for it.  in fact, i entertained the idea that the oath-taking explanation was the original one, but that people had quickly reinterpreted the expression in terms of "sign up".  so i went back and looked at the cites.

for the intransitive verb in its military sense -- there are also extended uses, both intrans. and trans., from 1921 on -- the first three cites are:

1906    Soldier Slang in C. M'Govern Sarjint Larry an' Frinds App.,   Re-up, to re-enlist.
1913    Army & Navy Jrnl. Philippines 4 Oct. 15/1,   I had to go or else re-up For seven long years hitch.
1942    E. Colby Army Talk 174   When enlisting and being sworn in, a man is said to ‘hold up his right hand’ for three years. So when he does it after being discharged, he ‘re-ups’.

ah.  the first two are not informative, but the third looks like a post-hoc rationalization of the expression in terms of the swearing-in ceremony -- a nice story, but no more than that (especially 36 years after the first appearance in print).


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list