History of "cool" -- another data point.

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Joe Manfre

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Oct 28, 2001, 5:04:35 PM10/28/01
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I watched part of an episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" today. Arnold was
taking part in a protest against his school's dress code, and he
carried a picket sign that said "UNFAIR - UNJUST - UNCOOL". The
episode was from 1984. I did not get the impression that the sign was
intended as African-American slang, but rather that it was intended as
kiddie slang.

Submitted for your analysis, Drs. Fontana and Richoux.


JM

--
Joe Manfre, Hyattsville, Maryland.
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is
the dismemberment plan." -- MegaHAL

Michael J Hardy

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Oct 28, 2001, 6:04:36 PM10/28/01
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Joe Manfre (man...@flash.net) wrote:

> I watched part of an episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" today. Arnold was
> taking part in a protest against his school's dress code, and he
> carried a picket sign that said "UNFAIR - UNJUST - UNCOOL". The
> episode was from 1984. I did not get the impression that the sign was
> intended as African-American slang, but rather that it was intended as
> kiddie slang.


WHAT???? *WHY* would anyone think it was specically African-A
merican slang??? I'm completely Caucasian and I remember my fellow
persons of whiteness using the word colloquially in that sense in the
'60's, '70's, and '80,s, as well as the '90's and today.

Mike Hardy

Richard Fontana

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Oct 28, 2001, 6:22:35 PM10/28/01
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On 28 Oct 2001, Joe Manfre wrote:

> I watched part of an episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" today. Arnold was
> taking part in a protest against his school's dress code, and he
> carried a picket sign that said "UNFAIR - UNJUST - UNCOOL". The
> episode was from 1984. I did not get the impression that the sign was
> intended as African-American slang, but rather that it was intended as
> kiddie slang.
>
> Submitted for your analysis, Drs. Fontana and Richoux.

Whatchutalkinbout Joe?!

_Diff'rent Strokes_ is useful. But you really have to focus on
Kimberly. How often did she say "cool"? Now I guess what you're
suggesting is that if Kimberly had any tendency not to say "cool" it may
have been because "cool" was seen as too juvenile. In that case, you'd
want to look at Willis and see how often, if at all, he said "cool".

Since Willis and Kimberly were fairly close in age, though I think Willis
was supposed to be younger, any difference in slang usage between them
might be seen as a reflection of the dialectal implications of their
racial and class-background differences (as determined by the writers for
the show, who, chances are, were white Baby Boomers). Anyway, this
confirms some of my earlier reports about _Diff'rent Strokes_, but I got
the impression that "cool" was presented as a form of "jive talk".

It might also be useful to go back to _Silver Spoons_, a
less-well-remembered early '80s sitcom about a white kid (played by _NYPD
Blue_'s Ricky Schroeder) with a millionaire white father, not altogether
unlike _Diff'rent Strokes_ in setup. (Was Ricky's character of
working-class background, or am I mixing this up with _Little Lord
Fauntleroy_, a TV version of which starred Schroeder?)

Richard Fontana

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Oct 28, 2001, 6:56:49 PM10/28/01
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But can you deny that the popularity waxed and waned significantly, and
was not constant? Can you deny that the word seems to be extraordinarily
popular in present-day depictions of young person speech, and seems to be
genuinely popular, more so than in the recent past, among actual instances
of present-day speech among young and middle-aged speakers?

I didn't think so. The history of the popularity of "cool" seems to look
something like this (you'll need a fixed-width font):

POPULARITY OF "COOL"
Copyright (c) 2001 by Richard Fontana. All rights reserved.

The y-axis should be thought of as some appropriate measure of strength of
popularity.


x x x x
x x
x
x x x x
x x x x
x x x x
x x x x x
x x x x
x x x x
x x
1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

(That final dip down in 2001 is wishful thinking on my part.)

Some relevant dates during this period:

1941 US entry into World War II
1945 End of World War II
1949-50 Miles Davis's _Birth of the Cool_ produced
1951-53 Korean War
1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
1974 Premiere of ABC's _Happy Days_
1993 "Mosaic" graphical web browser made available to a mass user base

My original theory goes something like
this: "Cool" originates (long ago, like in the '30s and '40s) in
African-American slang; by the 1950s it had been passing into white
slang and was associated with beatniks and other '50s white hipster types
and such. It grew in popularity among mainstream young people, but then
the popularity diminished greatly for reasons that remain
mysterious. Then, during the 1980s, it slowly grew in popularity again
among young speakers until, in the 1990s, it seemed to permeate popular
culture and "cool" more than any other word became a symbol of 1990s youth
culture. But what's also mysterious is why and how "cool" got
revived. Originally I hypothesized that it was due to the popularity of
the character "Fonzie" on the hit '70s show _Happy Days_, and I still
believe this is an important part of the story.

Now there seems to be some other evidence that during the late '70s and
early '80s "cool" was mainly, and in a sort of renewed way, associated
with portrayals of African-American urban slang. And I now
accept the possibility that it was Fonzie *and* a revival of "cool" in
black urban slang (or some sort of transmission of "cool" from that world
to the world of general youth slang) that led to the steadily growing
popularity of "cool" in general youth and child speech during the 1980s
leading into the 1990s. This assumes, however, that there was such
contemporary popularity of "cool" in urban black slang, which I think may
be doubtful, given my recollections about the words "chilly" and "chill
out" from around the relevant time period.


Gary Williams

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Oct 28, 2001, 9:30:27 PM10/28/01
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Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote in message news:<Pine.GSO.4.21.01102...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu>...

> ... a reflection of the dialectal implications of their


> racial and class-background differences (as determined by the writers for

> the show, who, chances are, were white Baby Boomers). ...

I thought I partially agreed with Richard, but on reflection think
that I substantially agree with him. I was going to say that I was
pleased that young people had picked up _something_ of use from my
generation, because I do use "cool" now as a term of non-specific
approbation. But, on reflection,
I don't believe "cool" was in much use among my white companions (and
I had precious few non-white companions) when I was in high school and
college in the late sixties-early seventies, a period which
corresponds with the nadir on Richard's graph. The conclusion to be
drawn is, apparently, not that my children got it from me, but that I
got it from them, or from their near- contemporaries with whom I was
in contact at work.

A hypothesis regarding the "chill" opposition to "cool". Is it
possible that "cool" would not have followed the same pattern of
waxing and waning popularity among urban blacks that seems to have
prevailed among suburban honkies? It gets reintroduced into white
culture at about the same time that "cool it" is evolving to "chill
out" among urban blacks.

Gary Williams

R J Valentine

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Oct 28, 2001, 9:49:11 PM10/28/01
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On Sun, 28 Oct 2001 18:56:49 -0500 Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote:
...

} I didn't think so. The history of the popularity of "cool" seems to look
} something like this (you'll need a fixed-width font):
}
} POPULARITY OF "COOL"
} Copyright (c) 2001 by Richard Fontana. All rights reserved.
}
} The y-axis should be thought of as some appropriate measure of strength of
} popularity.
}
}
} x x x x
} x x
} x
} x x x x
} x x x x
} x x x x
} x x x x x
} x x x x
} x x x x
} x x
} 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
}
} (That final dip down in 2001 is wishful thinking on my part.)
...

The theory has all the charm of a Volkswagen Beetle puttering through
the snow, but may be an eclipsing of reality by your own awakening
awareness. Your dip in the seventies is particularly telling, because
that was the heyday of Snoopy's metacharacter "Joe Cool" on various
_Peanuts_ media, including for example "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown"
in 1972. It's been there (and popular) the whole time.

Now I know it's established technique for you professorial types to use
big words, make pretty charts and graphs, and act all confident-like. We
can explain until we're blue in the face that for instance the ones who
don't think words are adjectives can look in any of the dictionaries
listed in the excellent FAQ file and supplements and see how the rest of
the world is using the language (which I toss in only so you don't think
I'm picking only on you). But word usage is more like waves on a
beach. Sure, you can pick up a pattern here and there that certain words
have a periodicity or something, but while it's low over here it's high
over there. You need the perspective of the ancients to get the big
picture. Ask Bob Cunningham.

--
R. J. Valentine <mailto:r...@smart.net>

Richard Fontana

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Oct 28, 2001, 11:00:16 PM10/28/01
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On Mon, 29 Oct 2001, R J Valentine wrote:

> On Sun, 28 Oct 2001 18:56:49 -0500 Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote:
> ...

> } POPULARITY OF "COOL"


> }
> } x x x x
> } x x
> } x
> } x x x x
> } x x x x
> } x x x x
> } x x x x x
> } x x x x
> } x x x x
> } x x
> } 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

[...]

> The theory has all the charm of a Volkswagen Beetle puttering through
> the snow, but may be an eclipsing of reality by your own awakening
> awareness.

Possibly. But I also have the nagging sense that I've exaggerated the
popularity of "cool" before 1970. More research is needed.

> Your dip in the seventies is particularly telling, because
> that was the heyday of Snoopy's metacharacter "Joe Cool" on various
> _Peanuts_ media, including for example "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown"
> in 1972. It's been there (and popular) the whole time.

But okay, take _Peanuts_. No _Peanuts_ character ever *used* the word
"cool". Linus never said "That's cool". Lucy never told anyone she
thought Schroeder was "a cool guy". But a few years after 1972 there were
items of pop cultural paraphernalia featuring pictures of '50s
nostalgia icon Henry Winkler in a leather jacket and the written
exclamation "Cool!". I think there's something interesting there.

James MacLeod

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Oct 29, 2001, 2:50:34 AM10/29/01
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mjh...@mit.edu (Michael J Hardy) wrote in message news:<3bdc8f04$0$1916$b45e...@senator-bedfellow.mit.edu>...
(snip)

> WHAT???? *WHY* would anyone think it was specically African-A
> merican slang??? I'm completely Caucasian and I remember my fellow
> persons of whiteness using the word colloquially in that sense in the
> '60's, '70's, and '80,s, as well as the '90's and today.
>
> Mike Hardy

Yes, as a fifty-something Australian I easily remember this expression
being used in this country in the 1950s. Then of course, it was
associated with the Beat movement and the 'beatniks' (if that is the
correct spelling). However, being a very 'proper' little boy, and
later a rather reactionary teenager, I never used the word in this way
myself. So, I am slightly amused to note its remarkable capacity for
survival: it was still extant in the Sixties, although a don't recall
it much in the Seventies and Eighties; and now, amazingly, everyone,
at least at my university (Monash), seems to be using it again.
Somewhere in the the intervening years it seems also to have acquired
an antithesis that I do not recall it having in more innocent times:
'UN-cool'.

JAMES MACLEOD.

Ben Zimmer

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Oct 29, 2001, 3:34:21 AM10/29/01
to

Actually, "uncool" is almost as old as "cool". OED2's earliest
citations are from William S. Burrough's first book, _Junkie_ (1953): "I
learned the new hipster vocabulary...'cool', an all-purpose word
indicating anything you like or any situation that is not hot with the
law. Conversely, anything you don't like is 'uncool'."

--Ben

Harvey V

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Oct 29, 2001, 4:44:32 AM10/29/01
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On 29 Oct 2001, I take it that Ben Zimmer
<bgzi...@midway.uchicago.edu> wrote:

-snip-


>
> Actually, "uncool" is almost as old as "cool". OED2's earliest
> citations are from William S. Burrough's first book, _Junkie_
> (1953): "I learned the new hipster vocabulary...'cool', an
> all-purpose word indicating anything you like or any situation that
> is not hot with the law. Conversely, anything you don't like is
> 'uncool'."

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of that quote is how quickly
the word "hipster" became extremely uncool.

Harvey

Rob Bannister

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Oct 29, 2001, 8:01:24 PM10/29/01
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Richard Fontana wrote:

Winkler also repopularised 'nerd' which I had only heard previously on the "Goon Show"
in the 50's. The 'computer nerd' meaning seems to be more recent.


-- Rob Bannister

Rob Bannister

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Oct 29, 2001, 8:04:29 PM10/29/01
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Gary Williams wrote:

I always assumed 'cool' came from (presumably black) jazz musicians as 'hot' went out of favour. So that might put its origins as
early as the 20's.

-- Rob Bannister

Richard Fontana

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Oct 29, 2001, 8:13:50 PM10/29/01
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On Tue, 30 Oct 2001, Rob Bannister wrote:

> Richard Fontana wrote:
>
> > But okay, take _Peanuts_. No _Peanuts_ character ever *used* the word
> > "cool". Linus never said "That's cool". Lucy never told anyone she
> > thought Schroeder was "a cool guy". But a few years after 1972 there were
> > items of pop cultural paraphernalia featuring pictures of '50s
> > nostalgia icon Henry Winkler in a leather jacket and the written
> > exclamation "Cool!". I think there's something interesting there.
>
> Winkler also repopularised 'nerd' which I had only heard previously on the "Goon Show"
> in the 50's. The 'computer nerd' meaning seems to be more recent.

You are absolutely correct sir. This is something that is often forgotten
today, but "nerd" was, along with "cool", a "Fifties word" that was used
on _Happy Days_ for nostalgia purposes.

It is interesting that the well-known _The Jargon File_ says this in its
entry on "nerd":

===============================
nerd n.

1. [mainstream slang] Pejorative applied to anyone with an above-average
IQ and few gifts at small talk and ordinary social rituals.

2. [jargon] Term of praise applied (in conscious ironic reference to sense
1) to someone who knows what's really important and
interesting and doesn't care to be distracted by trivial chatter and silly
status games. Compare geek.

The word itself appears to derive from the lines "And then, just to show
them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo / And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a
Preep and a Proo, / A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!" in the
Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Zoo" (1950). (The spellings `nurd'
and `gnurd' also used to be current at MIT, where `nurd' is reported from
as far back as 1957.) How it developed its mainstream
meaning is unclear, but sense 1 seems to have entered mass culture in the
early 1970s (there are reports that in the mid-1960s it
meant roughly "annoying misfit" without the connotation of intelligence).
[...]
==================================

"Nerd" entered mass culture in the early 1970s, *eh*? Guess what TV show
premiered in the early 1970s and quickly became an extraordinarily popular
show?

It should be noted, though, that _Happy Days_ doesn't provide the full
story. On _Happy Days_ a "nerd" wasn't someone particularly
intelligent; the focus of the term was on unpopularity and social
awkwardness (lack of coolness). Potsy Webber was the classic "nerd".

Donna Richoux

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Oct 30, 2001, 7:55:55 AM10/30/01
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Rob Bannister <rob...@it.net.au> wrote:


> I always assumed 'cool' came from (presumably black) jazz musicians as
> 'hot' went out of favour. So that might put its origins as early as the
> 20's.

Actually, the *origin* is not the issue. We've traced it back (with
RHHDAS) through a varying series of approval-good meanings to the
mid-19th century. Richard just has this bee in his bonnet that nobody he
knew said cool for ten years or so and then it was mysteriously
popularized again by Henry Winkler. Of course, Richard is not old enough
to remember anything from the Fifties, Sixties, or even all of the
Seventies. Also, he was only located in one part of the country (most of
us are located in only one place at a time) and is reluctant to take
anyone's word about what went on in other places.

So you're stepping in the middle of an old discussion. Richard and I
actually got on a productive roll for a while, documenting exactly when
"cool" shows up in various song lyrics, etc, until Charles Riggs shouted
loudly that the whole discussion was completely boring and we called a
halt.

There it stands.

--
Best --- Donna Richoux

Richard Fontana

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Oct 30, 2001, 8:17:53 AM10/30/01
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On Tue, 30 Oct 2001, Donna Richoux wrote:

> Rob Bannister <rob...@it.net.au> wrote:
>
>
> > I always assumed 'cool' came from (presumably black) jazz musicians as
> > 'hot' went out of favour. So that might put its origins as early as the
> > 20's.
>
> Actually, the *origin* is not the issue. We've traced it back (with
> RHHDAS) through a varying series of approval-good meanings to the
> mid-19th century. Richard just has this bee in his bonnet that nobody he
> knew said cool for ten years or so and then it was mysteriously
> popularized again by Henry Winkler. Of course, Richard is not old enough
> to remember anything from the Fifties, Sixties, or even all of the
> Seventies.

Whoa! That's crazy talk! My earliest retrievable
memories are from 1971. And as everyone knows, the Seventies didn't begin
until well after 1970 (and didn't end till after 1980).


Donna Richoux

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Oct 30, 2001, 9:41:16 AM10/30/01
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Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote:

> On Tue, 30 Oct 2001, Donna Richoux wrote:
>
> > Rob Bannister <rob...@it.net.au> wrote:
> >
> >
> > > I always assumed 'cool' came from (presumably black) jazz musicians as
> > > 'hot' went out of favour. So that might put its origins as early as the
> > > 20's.
> >
> > Actually, the *origin* is not the issue. We've traced it back (with
> > RHHDAS) through a varying series of approval-good meanings to the
> > mid-19th century. Richard just has this bee in his bonnet that nobody he
> > knew said cool for ten years or so and then it was mysteriously
> > popularized again by Henry Winkler. Of course, Richard is not old enough
> > to remember anything from the Fifties, Sixties, or even all of the
> > Seventies.
>
> Whoa! That's crazy talk! My earliest retrievable
> memories are from 1971.

I suppose it is ambiguous to say that a person does not remember all of
the Seventies, but I meant it in the sense of "not all of those years,"
not "not any of those years."

My earliest datable memory is 1959*, but that does not mean I am a good
source of data on social trends of the early 1960s.

(*I can remember, at age four, swinging around a pole (streetlight?
sign?) in front of our house and thinking about the news I'd been told,
that Alaska had become the newest state.)

>And as everyone knows, the Seventies didn't begin
> until well after 1970 (and didn't end till after 1980).

You just love elastic categories, don't you? You bend 'em and stretch
'em.

Richard Fontana

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Oct 30, 2001, 10:11:15 AM10/30/01
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On Tue, 30 Oct 2001, Donna Richoux wrote:

> Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote:
>
> > On Tue, 30 Oct 2001, Donna Richoux wrote:
> >
> > > Rob Bannister <rob...@it.net.au> wrote:
> > >
> > >
> > > > I always assumed 'cool' came from (presumably black) jazz musicians as
> > > > 'hot' went out of favour. So that might put its origins as early as the
> > > > 20's.
> > >
> > > Actually, the *origin* is not the issue. We've traced it back (with
> > > RHHDAS) through a varying series of approval-good meanings to the
> > > mid-19th century. Richard just has this bee in his bonnet that nobody he
> > > knew said cool for ten years or so and then it was mysteriously
> > > popularized again by Henry Winkler. Of course, Richard is not old enough
> > > to remember anything from the Fifties, Sixties, or even all of the
> > > Seventies.
> >
> > Whoa! That's crazy talk! My earliest retrievable
> > memories are from 1971.
>
> I suppose it is ambiguous to say that a person does not remember all of
> the Seventies, but I meant it in the sense of "not all of those years,"
> not "not any of those years."
>
> My earliest datable memory is 1959*, but that does not mean I am a good
> source of data on social trends of the early 1960s.
>
> (*I can remember, at age four, swinging around a pole (streetlight?
> sign?) in front of our house and thinking about the news I'd been told,
> that Alaska had become the newest state.)

In my case, what helps is that my younger brother was born in mid-January
1972, and I have memories of my family talking about how I would have a
baby brother soon, and I also remember liking a Sesame Street song called
"We're a Family of Five" or something very similar to that because it was
personally relevant (my brother was the fourth child). This means my
earliest memories were, at the very latest, right around the time I turned
three.

Gary Williams

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Oct 30, 2001, 12:12:29 PM10/30/01
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R J Valentine <r...@smart.net> wrote in message news:<ttpgt7n...@corp.supernews.com>...

> ... Your dip in the seventies is particularly telling, because


> that was the heyday of Snoopy's metacharacter "Joe Cool" on various
> _Peanuts_ media, including for example "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown"
> in 1972. It's been there (and popular) the whole time.

Yeah, but, you know, I was in college at exactly that time, and I
never really thought of Joe Cool as my contemporary. I took Joe Cool
as a BMOC right out of the 40's-50's.

And just maybe part of the reason I took him that way was because his
very name was, for me, from a bygone era.

Gary Williams

a1a5...@sprint.ca

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Oct 30, 2001, 2:00:12 PM10/30/01
to
On Tue, 30 Oct 2001 10:11:15 -0500, Richard Fontana
<rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote:

> This means my
>earliest memories were, at the very latest, right around the time I turned
>three.
>

It is almost certain, then, that you are left-handed, or at least
ambidextrous.

Joe Fineman

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Oct 30, 2001, 6:32:26 PM10/30/01
to
Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> writes:

> nerd n.
>
> 1. [mainstream slang] Pejorative applied to anyone with an
> above-average IQ and few gifts at small talk and ordinary social
> rituals.
>
> 2. [jargon] Term of praise applied (in conscious ironic reference to
> sense 1) to someone who knows what's really important and
> interesting and doesn't care to be distracted by trivial chatter and
> silly status games. Compare geek.
>
> The word itself appears to derive from the lines "And then, just to
> show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo / And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a
> Preep and a Proo, / A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!" in the
> Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Zoo" (1950). (The spellings `nurd' and
> `gnurd' also used to be current at MIT, where `nurd' is reported
> from as far back as 1957.) How it developed its mainstream meaning
> is unclear, but sense 1 seems to have entered mass culture in the
> early 1970s (there are reports that in the mid-1960s it meant
> roughly "annoying misfit" without the connotation of intelligence).
> [...]

"Nurd" appears in Glendon Swarthout's satirical novel about college
students, _Where the Boys Are_ (1960).
--
--- Joe Fineman j...@TheWorld.com

||: If you jump off the train before it crashes and don't break :||
||: your neck, you'll probably be bitten by a snake. :||

Gary Williams

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Oct 30, 2001, 6:45:47 PM10/30/01
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Richard Fontana <rf...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu> wrote in message news:<Pine.GSO.4.21.01103...@sparky.cs.nyu.edu>...

> ... my younger brother was born in mid-January


> 1972, and I have memories of my family talking about how I would have a

> baby brother soon ...

I presume, then, that you did not greet this news with a response of "Oh, cool!"

Gary Williams

Gary Williams

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Oct 30, 2001, 6:47:24 PM10/30/01
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tr...@euronet.nl (Donna Richoux) wrote in message news:<1f23da9.1udrj4ip79t6oN%tr...@euronet.nl>...
> Rob Bannister <rob...@it.net.au> wrote:

> So you're stepping in the middle of an old discussion. Richard and I
> actually got on a productive roll for a while, documenting exactly when
> "cool" shows up in various song lyrics, etc, until Charles Riggs shouted
> loudly that the whole discussion was completely boring and we called a
> halt.

Well, of course, your mistake was in documenting songs rather than the
use of the word in discussions of and commercial announcements for
food.

Gary Williams

Charles Riggs

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Oct 31, 2001, 5:12:45 AM10/31/01
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On Tue, 30 Oct 2001 13:55:55 +0100, tr...@euronet.nl (Donna Richoux)
wrote:


>So you're stepping in the middle of an old discussion. Richard and I
>actually got on a productive roll for a while, documenting exactly when
>"cool" shows up in various song lyrics, etc, until Charles Riggs shouted
>loudly that the whole discussion was completely boring and we called a
>halt.

I've been warned by Fran and others that I shouldn't do such things.
Hence, my silence on the Avogadro number question, over and over and
over.

Charles Riggs

j...@radidelmex.net

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Oct 31, 2001, 10:59:40 AM10/31/01
to

Donna Richoux

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Oct 31, 2001, 5:09:23 PM10/31/01
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<j...@radiDELMEx.net> wrote:

> http://www2.pcom.net/sminer/cool_notes.html

Did you notice that it says the album was titled "The Birth of The
Coot"?

--
Catchy -- Donna Richoux

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