Posted by R. Berg on January 25, 2001
In Reply to: You're the man posted by ESC on January 24, 2001
: : : would someone please help me??!!! I need to know who said "you are the man"!!!
: : David Letterman has said it incessantly on his talk show-actually, what he says sounds more like "You da man"-but that doesn't mean he was the first to say it.
: I am guessing that "you're the man" or "you da man" comes directly from the black expression "the man," meaning "1. the police. Crossover term.2. Male of distinction 'Michael Jordan is the man.' 3. The white man." From "Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner" by Geneva Smitherman (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1994)
Sense 1, the police, was entrenched enough in the (multiracial) U.S. counterculture by the 1960s that it turned up in Buffalo Springfield's protest song "For What It's Worth": "Get out of line, the man come / And take you a-way." Letterman pretty clearly uses it in sense 2, meaning the boss-man, an important person, somebody admired.