the right stuff - 1882
Posted: 25 May 2016 06:17 PM   [ Ignore ]
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William Safire http://www.nytimes.com/1983/02/27/magazine/on-language-right-stuff-in-the-bully-pulpit.html?pagewanted=all traces “the right stuff” to 1927 in a Somerset Maughn novel.  I offer here for your consideration:

Much inquiry has been made as tot he merits of Burns, the change pitcher engaged for the Detroit team of 1883.  A Massachusetts correspondent, who has personal knowledge whereof he speaks, informs the Free Press that Burns is a young man of excellent habits and gentlemanly deportment; is a strong, swift pitcher, who is well posted in the tricks of the “box,” fields his position sharply and well,a nd is a fair batter.  Bancroft wrights:  “Eastern players who have faced your new pitcher, Burns, say he is made of the right stuff, and bids fair to prove a puzzler to visiting clubs.” Cincinnati Enquirer November 19, 1882

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Posted: 25 May 2016 08:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The Safire column is long out of date. There’s a much earlier cite in OED for the specific American sense of the term:

1845 J. F. Cooper in Graham’s Mag. May 206/2 It seems the old general decided that the boy had the ‘right stuff’ in him, and overlooked the gross impropriety of the assault, on account of its justice and spirit.

[ Edited: 25 May 2016 08:49 PM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 26 May 2016 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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seems probable that the phrase goes back a long, long way—to a time before the metaphor, when “stuff” meant “woollen cloth”.

For me, the phrase invariably conjures up Tom Wolfe’s book about the US space program --- in particular, the incredible Chuck Yeager and his fellow-pilots.

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Posted: 26 May 2016 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Indeed it does, lionello. The phrase itself has an OED cite from 1748 and I’m sure earlier will turn up, but this is in a different sense. Here’s OED with early cites given. It’s the Fennimore Cooper cite which I considered the first showing sense b.

P2. the right stuff:  (a) slang something that is just what is required; spec. alcoholic drink; money; (b) colloq. (chiefly U.S.) the necessary qualities for a given job or task.

1748 J. Walcot New Pilgrim’s Progr. 209 Come, there is a little Hut hard by, where I will shew you a Cup of your right Stuff.
1775 S. Foote Trip to Calais i. 25 Yes, yes, they look of that cut; not of the right stuff, as the French say, to make bucks desprits on.
1825 J. Neal Brother Jonathan 159, I ins with my hand arter that; and I outs with a handfull o’ the right stuff.
1845 J. F. Cooper in Graham’s Mag. May 206/2 It seems the old general decided that the boy had the ‘right stuff’ in him, and overlooked the gross impropriety of the assault, on account of its justice and spirit.

[ Edited: 26 May 2016 02:36 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 26 May 2016 05:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’ve made a Big List entry for the phrase.

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Posted: 26 May 2016 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Like Lionello, the phrase has a military aviation connection for me.  In my squadron there was a journal called “The Wrong Stuff Log”, wherein the pilots humorously busted each other out for their mistakes.  It was pretty entertaining reading.

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Posted: 26 May 2016 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It seems to me that the 1775 quote from the OED that Aldi posted might also be sense b (Chuck Yeager sense).

That passage from Trip to Calais is about the relative qualities of city(presumably London) tailors as compared to country tailors. The They in they look of that cut seems to refer to tailors of less than stellar quality.

But, since I can’t figure out what is meant by desprits on, this idea might be completely off base.

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Posted: 26 May 2016 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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1775 S. Foote Trip to Calais i. 25 Yes, yes, they look of that cut; not of the right stuff, as the French say, to make bucks desprits on.

This OED cite caught my eye. the sentence “they look of that cut” suggests the possible original connection with cloth, which I mentioned in an earlier post; however, the rest of the citation is incomprehensible.  What does “the right stuff to make bucks desprits on” mean? Can anybody explain it (aldi, you’re my white hope)? A Trip to Calais is not available at Project Gutenberg, and I can’t find a (free) download elsewhere on the Internet. And in any case, I doubt if a fuller context would make the meaning of the phrase any clearer

Pipped by Bayaker.  Over to you, aldi

[ Edited: 26 May 2016 09:00 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 26 May 2016 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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My take on the Samuel Foote cite is that a couple of fellows are being described as not the sort to make spirited bucks, ie roistering lads, men of high spirits. I don’t think this is quite sense b, although it’s certainly arguable.

Here’s the full play.

Anoyingly I copied the link to the play but when pasted it links to the complete plays and you have to click on the cover and search for it in the book. Easier to google ‘samuel foote trip to calais’ and click on the 4th link down. That gets you to the right play.

Found the passage on p.25 and the line before describes them as “mere cits, quite ignorant of what is going on in the world!”

[ Edited: 26 May 2016 09:41 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 26 May 2016 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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in the play (not in the citation), the words bucks desprits are italicized, implying that the person saying them is trying to show off in what he thinks is French. A lot of the play is about class disparities: English tradesmen who come to France, and are quite pleased to be mistaken for people of loftier station. aldi’s interpretation looks right to me, and it looks to me as though “the right stuff” is indeed intended here in sense b.. In modern English, the phrase would be “not the right stuff from which to make bucks d’esprit”. A nice juicy kudo to you, aldi.

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Posted: 27 May 2016 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Given the earlier, and perhaps more common in the day, sense meaning “alcoholic drink,” Foote’s line may be implying that that the men are not drunk enough. But I’ve amended the Big List entry to include it. Despite any alcoholic implication, it clearly is referring to human qualities, although not the ones captured in Wolfe’s sense of the word.

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