Dirty old man
Posted: 02 October 2011 10:46 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  413
Joined  2007-02-17

The ill-advised pronouncement of an idiot I know to the effect that this phrase was first used by a female British novelist in the 1920s prompted me to look into it. Obviously there are many earlier examples of the phrase where it merely refers to soapdodgers; the earliest examples I can find in the extended sense are from Painted Veils, a novel by the American James Huneker, in 1920:  Yes, he quoted Stendhal to her, and after he had related a certain anecdote of Stendhal’s life in Milan, she put fingers in her ears; “Don’t tell me another thing about the dirty old man, or I’ll hate you. and in what appears to be a short story in the literary magazine The Smart Set, also American, from 1923: When he was with Jane he knew his Uncle Rufus to be a dirty old man and often wished to break with him. . . . But somehow he didn’t. . . .

I haven’t looked all that hard, though, and I have the feeling there are better ways to do it than via the rather frustrating Google Books search.

Posted: 03 October 2011 02:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  5751
Joined  2007-01-03

You’ve already got the OED beat, which has 1932, as well as Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which has 1940.

For all-round coverage, nothing beats Google Books. It’s problems aside, it’s sheer size is just stunning.

There are other databases out there. American Memory is particularly useful.

Newspaper Archive can be useful too, especially for food and product/technology words, although sometimes slang usages will creep into newspapers. (Dirty old man is not a phrase I’d expect to find in newspapers.) Proquest Historical Newspapers, which is too expensive for individuals, is a better interface, but it only includes a handful of major newspapers (NYT, Wash Post, etc.). Newspaper Archive has hundreds of small town papers, mostly U. S., but some international coverage.

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