Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016


So ... this morning ... in the coffee shop ... I'm reading along in a book and come across the word highfalutin'.

Now, I know what it means, as does Dictionary.com: pompous; bombastic; haughty; pretentious. But instead of reading on, I began to wonder: Where does that term come from? And what's "falutin'"? (Blogspot's spell-checker just wondered, too--as, oddly it just now did when I typed "Blogspot's.")

Well, Dictionary.com suggests this for the origin: 1830-40; high + falutin (perhaps orig. flutin, variant of fluting, present participle of flute)

I found that ... less than satisfactory, so I checked some other sources I have (am I starting to sound high falutin'?), and I found a few things.

My Dictionary of American Slang (2nd ed., Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975) says this: pompous; high class; ideal and sets the date ca. 1850. No speculation about the source.

My Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper & Row, 1977) offers a bit more: originally an American slang word, first recorded in print about 1850. It was part of our frontier language and was used to disparage high-flown, bombastic orators. As a matter of fact, some language students think highfalutin is simply another form of "high-flown" or "high-floating"--to refer to the puffed-up phrases used by old-time Fourth of July orators.

But my ultimate source for such things is The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, a publishing project which seems to have ended after the 1st two volumes (2: H-O). Not sure why. This reference book also says it probably came from high-flown--but traces it a bit earlier, to 1839. It then lists all sorts of quotations from writers who used it, including a New Yorker writer in 1990.

Okay, let's check the Oxford English Dictionary while we're at it. That venerable publication also places the expression in 1839 (1839   Spirit of Times 18 May 123/3   Them high-faluting chaps) and also finds some interesting users--including James Russell Lowell (1870). The OED also suggests it comes from the sources the other reference books had identified.

Well, I read the expression this morning in the 3rd volume of Mark Twain's Autobiography, which I am slowly reading. And, I now realize, this morning--like a dope--I neglected to write down the page number or the sentence. Oh well. Sometime in 1907 he dictated it for these volumes (3) that he had expressly forbidden to be published until 100 years after his death. (He died in 1910). And it's easy to see why. He fires all of his considerable weapons of bitterness. How about this one i read today?

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above a monkey's (3: 133).

1 comment:

  1. A quick question about the word "highfalutin:" could it be that rarely used words change meaning less often than commonly used words? I am thinking of words of my generation... Wicked, sick, nice, and savage. These words, undergoing semantic change, now remind us of how great something is rather than how negative it is.