[Ads-l] gearhead (1967, 1973)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 29 09:20:10 EST 2017

This Jalopnik article looks at the early use of "gearhead":


It cites HDAS, which includes examples from students quoted by JL from 1974
using "gearhead" to refer to an engineering or math student. OED3 has the
"car enthusiast" sense from 1975.

In this example from 1967, "gearhead" seems to refer to an overly studious
person, particularly in the sciences (quoting Rick Carpenter, junior
linebacker and chemistry major at Central State University in Wilberforce,

Xenia (Ohio) Daily Gazette, Nov. 3, 1967, p. 6
He has a 3.7 average but insists, "I'm not a gearhead. I never get buried
in my books. That's what was wrong at the University of Cincinnati when I
was there. I got in with a bunch of guys who just studied all the time.
Here at Central State I get a chance to study and play football."

Here's the earliest example I've found of "gearhead" meaning "car
enthusiast," though the writer suggests that it was used earlier, when he
was in high school:

Waukesha (Wisc.) Daily Freeman, Oct. 10, 1973, p. 8
Back in high school we called them gearheads. They were the guys who were
wrapped up in their cars. Most of them had oil in their veins instead of
blood... This reporter thought that gearheads were an extinct breed until a
recent encounter with one of them on Main St.


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

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