"gay old time" and gender

James Smith jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jun 19 14:22:58 UTC 2000

--- Pat Pflieger <feste at KEYSTONENET.COM> wrote:
> I'm annotating some 19th-century letters and have
> come upon an etymology
> problem I hope someone can help me solve.
> Many of the letter-writers were American teenagers,
> subscribers to a
> magazine which printed their letters.  In 1861, a
> girl living in Albany,
> New York, wrote about what "a gay old time" she and
> her friends had,
> skating on the local pond.  This was immediately
> challenged by a boy, who
> accused her of being a male subscriber writing under
> a female pseudonym.
> (It's a long story.  Trust me.)  His evidence was
> the phrase "gay old
> time":  she had, he pointed out, "[let] fall an
> expression which no
> cultivated and traveled young lady, in fact, no
> woman at all, would ever
> use, but one common in the mouths of boys and young
> men--'a gay old time.'"
> I haven't been able to track the history of the
> phrase "gay old time", let
> alone its gender-specific uses.  I've checked the
> OED, Mathews' _Dictionary
> of Americanisms_, Cassidy's _Dictionary of American
> English_, & Lighter's
> _Dictionary of American Slang_.  I've also run it
> through Internet search
> engines, but you can imagine the results.
> Can anyone point me toward a source that might help
> me discuss the phrase?
> Pat Pflieger
> feste at keystonenet.com

Considering the source, a teen-age boy, I don't know
how much weight should be given to his possibly
quite-heavily prejudiced opinion - prejudiced to his
own ideas or those of his close associates rather than
reflecting broader usage or opinion.

James D. SMITH                 |If history teaches anything
SLC, UT                        |it is that we will be sued
jsmithjamessmith at yahoo.com     |whether we act quickly and decisively
                               |or slowly and cautiously.

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