Antedating of "Right Stuff"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sat Sep 29 02:19:48 UTC 2012

The OED's first use of "right stuff" in the sense "the necessary qualities for a given job or task" is 1864.  Paul Dickson's A Dictionary of the Space Age states the following:

"The earliest use of the term in the modern sense appears in a biographical sketch of Edward Preble by James Fenimore Cooper ('Sketches of Naval Men: Edward Preble,' Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art and Fashion, May 1845, p. 205).  In attesting to Preble's 'courage, determination and high temper,' Cooper relates an anecdote in which Preble throws stones at a boating party that included his father, General Jedediah Preble, who had promised to board him but then later refused.  'It seems the old general decided that the boy had the '"Right Stuff" in him, and overlooked the gross impropriety of the assault, on account of its justice and spirit.'"

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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