Tue Jan 21 19:25:48 UTC 2014

I think Jon may be right to look to _Variety_.  A search of the Variety archives provides several early examples, of which the earliest is from 6/16/1931:  Neither John Mack Brown or John Wayne, announced for Universal's serial, "Battling with Buffalo Bill" will be in the cliff hanger.

Not confirmed in hard copy or with full-text PDF.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:04 PM
Subject: Re: "cliff-hanger"

The earliest I have found. The word seems not to have been widely used until the late '40s:

1935 _San Antonio Light_ (Apr. 19) 3-B: On the same program is the current cliff hanger, "The Red Rider."

1935 _Trenton Evening Times_ (Oct. 21)  11: Even with the boom in horse opera and cliff-hanger drama.

1937 _Los Angeles Times_ (Mar. 31) A1: Pearl White, star of the celebrated serial film, or "cliff hanger" ... "The Perils of Pauline."

But then there's:

1908 _Staunton [Va.] Spectator and Vindicator_ (Jan. 17) 3: Mr. Cliff Hanger is spending a few days with his aunt.

Word to wise: just because Pearl White dangled from a cliff around 1915 doesn't mean the phrase was coined at that time. Now if she'd dangled frequently, that might suggest a new idiom: but if she only did it in one episode, among other perils, why should anyone care? If the term existed in publicity-hungry Hollywood way back when, why are the earliest discovered cites so late and so slow to catch on?

Apparently the term arose (perhaps in the offices of _Variety_) about 1934 (Note 1935 mention of a recent "boom" in cliff-hangers.)


On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 12:33 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "cliff-hanger"
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> At 1/20/2014 04:34 PM, W Brewer wrote:
> ><<The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval
> >Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and
> literature>>
> >
> >Arabic 9th c; . . . Antoine Galland, first European translator, Les
> >mille et une nuits) 1704-1717; first English edition, anonymous 1706;
> >Edward Lane 1840, 1859; John Payne 1882; Richard Burton 1885; Lyons &
> >Lyons 2008.
> >http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Thousand_and_One_Nights
> The earliest English-language edition that WorldCat or Harvard holds
> is 1712.  There were at least 11 editions by 1736 (the date of my
> newspaper article), and perhaps more: Harvard lists 17, with some
> having identical years.  Many are in ECCO -- the 1712 and most of the
> others.
> Thus I would guess the tales were popular in England in the 1710s and
> 1720s.  :-)  So, restricting myself to English publications --
> 1)  One has to decide whether or not the Arabian Nights qualify as
> "cliff-hangers", since a reader can continue immediately.  I'll also
> look at a couple of these early English editions to see how they
> present the tales, and whether the break points qualify as
> "tenterhooks";  and
> 2)  The claim for 1736 may have to be diminished to "earliest known
> 'cliff-hanger' in an English-language *periodical*".
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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