[Ads-l] Antedating of "humdinger"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 24 22:11:37 UTC 2015

On Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 8:21 AM, Hugo wrote:
> "humdinger" (OED: 1905)
> The Butte Inter Mountain, January 27, 1902:
> We have analyzed it from all sides -- full face, three-quarters and
> profile, and we can find no laws in it from the stand-point of the
> debating society. It is rhetorical humdinger that will doubtless be
> accepted as standard, and that will figure in many a country
> schoolhouse debate.
> Also, the OED entry says "Etymology:  Origin unknown".
> I think it's likely, as suggested by Wentworth & Flexner, Dictionary
> of American Slang (1961), that "humdinger" comes from the earlier 1809
> "dinger". The OED "dinger" entry even includes "humdinger" in the
> definition.

Revisiting this old thread... In HDAS, Jon surmises that the 1809
"dinger" cite (first given in Mathews' Dictionary of Americanisms) is
misdated, since it's such an outlier. Turns out it's actually from

"A Crank's Thanksgiving," Walt Mason
American Magazine, Nov. 1909, p. 1
She'll ne'er backward linger, this land of our dads, for she is a
dinger at nailing the scads.

That makes OED's "dinger" cite from 1892 the earliest legitimate one
for the relevant sense. It's from the UK, though, which doesn't help
the theory that "humdinger" derives from it.

Later in the thread, Stephen Goranson posted this 1896 "humdinger"
from Rockford, Illinois:

> In an ad for new cabs, of five levels of quality, the best
> being "A humdinger, only… [$]15.00"
> Paper: Daily Register Gazette, published as The Rockford Daily Register-Gazette.;
> Date: 04-07-1896; Page: 2; col. 7 Location: Rockford, Illinois. [Amer. Hist. News.]

I found other cites for "humdinger" in Rockford papers in 1896-97, so
it was active slang there. And I also found "dinger" cites from
Rockford predating the Apr. 1896 "humdinger":

_Daily Register-Gazette_ (Rockford, Ill.), Dec. 26, 1895, p. 3, col. 4
W.A. Airis -- My trade during the holidays will exceed last year's
business by several hundred dollars. I am satisfied with the business,
but if the rain had only left off it would have been a dinger this
year, for people seemed to have more money, but couldn't get a chance
to get out and spend it on account of the disagreeable weather.
_Daily Register-Gazette_ (Rockford, Ill.), Jan. 14, 1896, p. 7, col. 3
Ira Chase will handle the Belvidere wheel next season and he says it
is going to be a "dinger" in every stage of the game.
_Morning Star_ (Rockford, Ill.), Feb. 6, 1896, p. 4 col. 2
Keep your eye on "The Merry World." In the language of Walt Airis, it
is a dinger.
_Daily Register-Gazette_ (Rockford, Ill.), Feb. 22, 1896, p. 2, col. 2
One of the nobbiest delivery wagons on Seventh street or anywhere in
Rockford is the one Tholin Bros. sent out for the first time this
morning. It is a dinger.
_Daily Register-Gazette_ (Rockford, Ill.), Mar. 3, 1896, p. 3, col. 2
Of course there is just as much interest manifested among the male
riders, and, in fact, it is going to be a "dinger" of a season.

So based on the Rockford evidence, "dinger" > "humdinger" seems quite plausible.


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

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