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Re: Be there or be square!

Posted by ESC on November 03, 2004

In Reply to: Be there or be square! posted by Smokey Stover on November 03, 2004

: : : Where did the following phrase come from?

: : : "Be there or be square"

: : A 'square' is a person who is ordinary or conservative in behavior or demeanor, not 'cool' or 'in.' The writer is saying that if you are not part of the scene or the action, then you are not cool. I think this is relatively new in usage, but I am unsure of the origin.

: Immediately after World War II the word "square," which had long meant honest, direct, solid, became the antonym of hip or hep or sphisticated, at least in the U.S.A. Someone who didn't like or pretend to understand jazz and swing was "square." The word came to have a somewhat broadened use as out of touch, conventional, old-fashioned, not "with it." The latter expression is as dated as "Be there or be square," which I think was big in the 1950s. But ESC will doubtless fill you in when she can. SS

From the archives:

SQUARE - "Colonists were calling city blocks laid out on the grid plan 'squares' by the 1790s ( the term is often associated with Philadelphia but did not originate there). By 1832 men used 'square' approvingly to refer to the natural, even gait of a good horse in such expressions as a 'square-gaited' horse or a 'square trotter.' Bu 1836 'square' meant full or complete, as a 'square meal,' though people didn't talk about 'three squares a day' until 1882. By the 1850s 'to square' meant to put a matter straight and later to pay a debt.

: As early as 1804, however, square had come to mean fair, honest, as in 'square fight,' with 'square talk' coming in 1860, 'square deal' appearing as a card player's term in the 1880s, and square shooter in 1920. However, it was Theodore Roosevelt who popularized the term 'square deal' in its generally sense.The term (square) was spread by bop and cool musicians in the late 1940s and early 50s, and then by beatniks and hippies, who used it pejoratively to refer to old-fashioned people and conformists." From "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).