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"george" in Dict. of Amer. Slang

Posted by R. Berg on August 14, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Gary, I hope you'll find out which episode... posted by TheFallen on August 14, 2002

: : : : : : : : : : : : I've been asked about this phrase, which I've not come across before:

: : : : : : : : : : : : "There are two kind of guys, stiffs and Georges."

: : : : : : : : : : : : Question is, who or what are the Georges?

: : : : : : : : : : : I think you'll find that Georges are "George IIIs". At which point the phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

: : : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : : That sounds plausible. Is that just a guess or have you come across the phrase before?

: : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : I've come across it a few times here in West London - not the natural home of the cockney - and dismissed it as another example of instant rhyming slang invented to impress and destined for a early death.

: : : : : : : : This phrase confuses me. I've heard both a "george" and also a "richard" occasionally used as rhyming slang in the way that Barney highlights. However, the expression "There are two kind of guys, stiffs and Georges" to me sounds American, with its usage of both "guy" and "stiff", and if it is of US origin, then the rhyming slang explanation doesn't stand up. I'm also not even sure what is meant by "stiff" in this case, and would welcome any clarifications. Where did you come across it, Gary?

: : : : : : : A researcher for the US TV programme CSI asked me about it.

: : : : : : On the basis that it was a presumed British phrase?

: : : : : No.

: : : : I wonder if it's too obvious to presume that, since CSI is, I believe, about forensic science, the word "stiff" means corpse in this case. If it does, isn't that usage of American origins? And if it is, then I'm still wary of the rhyming slang suggestion for George.

: : : I am away from my library right now. From memory, a "stiff" is a person who is square, out of it. Not (in modern terms) a "player." My trusty assistant (otherwise known as my daughter) looked up "George." The Historical Dictionary of American Slang by J.E. Lighter says "George" was an adjective for "in the know, wise" from 1917-27 and "OK, excellent" from the 30s to the 70s. I will research further.

: : So we can watch and see how it comes up. I think ESC is on the right track.

: Sounds eminently plausible to me too - the sort of phrase used by hustlers or carnies, Raymond Chandler or Edward G. Robinson. Dere's only 2 types of guys in dis woild - marks and sharks.

My Dictionary of American Slang (1960 ed.) gives this meaning for "george" as an exclamation: "An expression denoting the speaker's awareness or appreciation of any extraordinary, remarkable, or attractive thing or person. Orig. pop. by comedian Jerry Lester on his network television program, 'Broadway Open House,' c1950" --though DAS gives examples as early as 1900. "Most common c1950 . . . Prob. from 'By George.'"

For "george" as a noun:
"1. An automatic pilot in an airplane. Some commercial and Air Force use. Prob. from the expression 'Let George do it' = let someone else assume the responsibility. 2. Anyone or anything remarkable or satisfying; anyone or anything that is 'George' (adj.). . . ."

As an adjective:
"1. Wise; mentally alert; shrewd. . . . 2. Fine, good, wonderful, excellent, pleasant, enjoyable . . . ."

I'll throw another hypothesis into the pot: If stiffs are the dead, who do nothing, Georges might be the living, the responsible people who act when needed--fly the plane, call the ambulance, put up the tent, drain the swamp, go get the groceries, pay the bills.