“Fashionably late”
Posted: 17 January 2008 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Does anyone know where that phrase originates from? I have tried looking all over, from books in the library to google searches and other etymology sites and I haven’t been able to find anything. So does anyone know where I should look? A book that actually does have that origin documented? Or better yet, does anyone know themselves and would pleeaase tell me?

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Posted: 17 January 2008 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The earliest citation in Newspaper Archive is from the Lorain Republic (Ohio), 11 Oct 1843:

Jack Flagstaff thus strangely accoutered, proceeded to the theatre at an hour fashionably late, it being between 11 and 12[?] o’clock P.M.

It’s not a term that will yield a specific coinage. It’s just a reference to the idea that those high in demand on the social scene tend to arrive late--presumably because they’re so busy with other engagements and also to make “an entrance.” Undoubtedly others will find earlier uses than this.

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Posted: 17 January 2008 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I quick search through Google Books suggests that the expression goes back at least to the early 19th century.  Most uses are straightforward and unironic:  a “fashionably late dinner”, meaning a dinner held at a late hour, which was the fashion.  But the ironic sense of “later than appointed” appears quite early.  In “Tales of Fashionable Life” by Maria Edgeworth, published as early as 1811, there is an account of a lady invited to a family dinner.  She assumed that it was going to be a magnificent affair, when it actually was intended as a family dinner.  She was surprised when she arrived by how few people she found in the drawing room, “especially as she came fashionably late”.  This looks to me like an extension of the unironic sense of the phrase.  This is the earliest such use I found, but the search was not exhaustive.

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Posted: 17 January 2008 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The fashionable hour for dinner consistently slid later and later between 1200 and 1900, to the extent that in Britain it is now a well-known class marker in speech (working-class people have their dinner at midday, as mediaeval people did, while the middle and upper classes dine in the evening). Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, not only did gentlefolk dine later than the hoi polloi, but city gentlefolk dined later than country ones. So the equation “late = fashionable” for evening functions existed from much earlier than 1843

And of course, whatever the start time of a function, it has never been Cool to turn up too promptly. Cf. the well-known painting Too Early, painted by Tissot in 1873.

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Posted: 18 January 2008 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The problem here (and I’m sorry if I’m misunderstanding robberfly) may not be so much “first citation”, or “coinage”, which as Dave W says, probably can’t be determined with a phrase like this, but “when did the phrase start to become popular”, which is a different sort of investigation.

Using the rather crude investigative probe of Amazon.com’s “search inside” facility turns up one 19th century reference, from The physiology of New York boarding-houses by Thomas Butler Gunn, published 1857: “… its dinner-hour fashionably late.” Then there is a huge gap until 1971, and Hunter S Thompson, of all sources, who apparently wrote in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (p108, 1995 edition - I can’t confirm it’s in the original because, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t have it on my shelves, though I read it in Rolling Stone way back then): “those of us who signed up fashionably late were assigned to the Flamingo”.

This is followed by a six-year gap until 1977 and Slow Fade to Black by Thomas Cripps (p364): “… She pulled it off in the Hollywood style, fashionably late, wrapped in ermine, gardenias in her hair, seated at Selznick’s ...” Then there is another gap of 10 years, until 1987, and Wife of...: An Irreverent Account of Life In Washington by Sondra Gotlieb, page 94: “… The next night we come fashionably late. The outside guests have arrived, wearing silk dresses.”

A two-year hole then follows to 1989, after which there is a constant stream of references - more than a thousand - through to the present day, including Olivia Goldsmith, author of the novel The First Wives Club, who called her second novel, published 1993, Fashionably Late, which suggests that the expression was well-known enough in the early 1990s to be chosen by a popular author as a title (there have been a couple more novels called Fashionably Late since then). and the great Linda Thompson, who was able to call her album released in 2002 Fashionably Late as a jokey reference to the fact that it was her first release for 17 years – that’s not really relevant, I just wanted to mention Linda Thompson …

Now, those dates, and gaps, may be an artefact of the inadequacies of Amazon.com and “search inside”. However, they suggest a phrase that was “in the air” in the 1970s but never became mainstream until the very end of the 1980s, and which which has hung around ever since … is that any help, robberfly?

[ Edited: 18 January 2008 03:18 PM by Zythophile ]
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Posted: 18 January 2008 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I would suspect that the pool of books available, and available to “search inside,” at Amazon is strongly biased towards recent publications.  The overwhelming majority of books published in the 50s, 60s and 70s are probably not in print; all the more so for those published in the first half of the century or earlier.  I wouldn’t attach any significance to the comparative lack of citations from before the late 80s without normalizing for this bias.  I think it was “mainstream” much earlier than that.

[ Edited: 18 January 2008 03:48 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 19 January 2008 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Yes. Note the Thompson usage in Fear and Loathing is facetious, indicating that it was already a cliché by this point.

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Posted: 19 January 2008 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I just did a pre-1900 search on Google Books and got over a hundred hits (yes, I know about the deficiencies of GB dating).  From an 1852 Godey’s Magazine: “we shall be even more than fashionably late if we do not hasten.” From an 1839 Ladies’ Garland: “it is late, fashionably late.” From the 1838 volume of The Metropolitan: “here the hours were fashionably late.” (I have verified the dates.) Those are three of the first four hits.  The earliest example I’ve found is from Maria Edgeworth’s 1809 Tales of Fashionable Life: “She was somewhat surprised, especially as she came fashionably late, to find in the drawing-room only old Mrs. Wynne...” I think it’s safe to say it was common in the early 19th century.

Edit: Oops, I inadvertently mantled Richard.  Ah well, at least I contributed more examples (and found an earlier edition of the Maria Edgeworth book, the third, from 1909—I can’t find any evidence for an edition from an earlier year, so I presume the first edition was also from 1809.)

[ Edited: 19 January 2008 10:59 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 20 January 2008 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree with Dr T that the chances of severe sample bias make “search inside” not that useful a tool: on the other hand, the extremely sparse showing for pre-1980 20th century examples of the phrase, the fact that, for example, it does not seem to appear at all in searches of The Times (of London) database pre-1985 and the fact that it could be used by a “bonkbuster” writer such Olivia Goldsmith as the title of a book in 1993 hints - I’ll go no stronger than that - to me of a phrase that suddenly became more popular, or widely known, in the 1980s.

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Posted: 20 January 2008 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I just did a search of “fashionably late” in various decades of Newspaper Archive and got the following:

1901-10: 17
1911-20: 5
1921-30: 12
1931-40: 17
1941-50: 14
1951-60: 71
1961-70: 122
1971-80: 54
1981-90: 101
1991-00: 194

Since Newspaper Archive doesn’t give you stats about what’s in the archive (at least that I could find), I can’t tell if the increase in the 1950s and 60s is due to increased usage or simply more items in the database. Still frequent usage predates the 1980s, at least in Leftpondia.

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Posted: 22 January 2008 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Wow, I absolutely love all of you. Thank you so much for taking your time to look this up for me. I wasn’t even expecting nearly so many responses as this, especially such well thought-out ones. You guys = amazing.

<3

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Posted: 22 January 2008 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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robberfly - 22 January 2008 10:32 AM

You guys = amazing.

The trick is to ask a question which is both interesting, and not unduly hard to research.  You hit the sweet spot.

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