End of ADS-L Digest - 15 Apr 1998 to 16 Apr 1998
From: Automatic digest processor (4/16/98)
To: Recipients of ADS-L digests
ADS-L Digest - 14 Apr 1998 to 15 Apr 1998 98-04-16 00:01:14
There are 4 messages totalling 260 lines in this issue.
Topics of the day:
1. raunchy [long]
2. IAWE for Creolist and ADS
3. Swallows & Amazons (for ever) (2)
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998 09:53:01 +0000
From: Jim Rader
Subject: Re: raunchy [long]
The theories on the source of _raunchy_ that you have collected are,
as I'm sure you can see, somewhat contradictory. Below I give an
account of the data available to me on the word.
The earliest attestations of _raunchy_ associate it with the U.S.
Army Air Force. You mention the cite from _Forum & Century_, July,
1939, 45/1 (an article by one R.B. Hubler): "Depending on how good
or how 'raunchy' we [Air Force cadets at Randolph Field, Texas] were,
we drilled fron one to three hours in the torrid heat." This is in
Wentworth/Flexner and Chapman, and is also the earliest cite in the
OED (I haven't seen the original text). The next evidence is
glossarial, from a "Glossary of Army Slang" issued by the Public
Relations Division of the U.S. Army: _raunchy_ "a name applied to
anything that is in bad shape or dirty (Air Corps)" (reproduced in
_American Speech_, v. 16, no. 2, Oct., 1941). This definition
reappears in glossaries and dictionaries of U.S. armed forces slang
into the '50's. _AAF: The Official Guide to the Army Air Forces_
(N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1944) defined _raunchy_ as "sloppy flying
technique--AAF vernacular" (p. 369/1) (presumably the editors didn't
realize an adjective should be defined with an adjective).
The next textual cites we have for _raunchy_ are from 1944: "The
boys all liked him, said he was a 'raunchy guy'" (John McCrary & D.
Sherman, _First of the Many: A Journal of Action with Men of the
Eighth Air Force_, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1944, p. 103) [interpret
this as you will]; "You could hear instructors muttering to those
raunchy draftees: 'Look at them cadets; why can't you march like
that?'" (Michael Straight in _The New Republic_, Apr. 24, 1944, p.
Some later cites with military associations: "These elegant
appointments contrasted with the shirt, and with his garrison cap,
'raunchy' as it was then called, to a degree hardly exceeded by any
new air cadet's carefully soiled and broken headgear" (James Gould
Cozzens, _Guard of Honor_, Harcourt, Brace, 1948); "This was a good
gutty U.S. Army Eighth Air Force Field in World War II. Its young
men, or at least those who survived their tour of duty, were mainly
gay guys [sic!], lived life to the full, were less 'military' than
any other branch of the service, wore 'raunchy' caps and sometimes
silk scarves and, between missions, were in the oat-sowing business
in London" (article with byline of Bob Considine, International News
Service, printed in the _Springfield [Mass.] Union_, July 16, 1951,
p. 6); "...--one of the bitter, washed-out pilot type, or the raunchy
go-to-hell type..." (Hugh Fosburgh, _View from the Air_, Scribner,
1953, p. 50).
Our non-military cites begin with _Time_, Sept. 26, 1955, p. 98:
"Father Lion does not indulge in such violent exertions. The king of
beasts reclines in raunchy grandeur, and hardly ever does anything
more than raise his head to peer weakly through a cloud of flies at
the antelope who pass disdainfully a few feet from where he lies...";
and _Time_, Apr. 9, 1956, p. 53: "Her dubious distinction: she gave
up fancy footwork to become a sleep-in secretary for Argentina's
raunchy ex-Dictator Juan Peron, 60." [Do the _Time_ authors really
grasp what the word means?]
Finally, a couple of others from the '50's: "...clad in a raunchy
sweatshirt and a pair of khaki jeans filthier than Mr. Cleary's
buckskins" (Leslie Waller, _Phoenix Island_, Lippincott, 1958, p.
173); "...the nice raunchy tide-smell of the lake water..." (Jack
Kerouac, _The Dharma Bums_, Viking, 1958, p. 91).
Not until the mid-'60's does _raunchy_ become, at least in print,
something of a vogue word with thereafter dozens of cites from many
sources, and with senses ranging from "seedy" to "smutty,
pornographic" to "foul-smelling." At least in journalism, this word
is still very much alive on both sides of the Atlantic; Nexis produced
mountains of cites, 923 for 1998 alone. The usual sense seems to be
I am curious where you found the hypothesis that _raunchy_ was "RAF
slang that originated during the time that British soldiers were
getting killed in large numbers" [World War I?, but there is no early
British evidence for the word as far as I know--in fact, no evidence
outside North America before the '70's]. I can find only one
possible echo of such a notion. The Merriam publication _Word Study_
(v. 28, no. 1, Oct., 1952, p. 5) has the following note:
- A. H. Roberts, a student in the classes of William J. Griffin at
- George Peabody College, noted in a description of cowboy riding
- [unfortunately the actual cite is not given--JLR] a word that
- recalled Chaucer to him. The writer remarked that sometimes the
- _raunchiest_ looking horses buck off the best riders. The word
- reminded him of _rouncy_ as it appears in the _Canterbury Tales_
- (1.390) [Middle English _rouncy_, referring to a horse, has no
- etymological bearing on _raunchy_--JLR] As employed by cowboys and
- others in the South, it means anything or anyone substandard. The
- term does not appear in Ramon F. Adams's _Western Words_.
This note elicited a letter from one J. Buckminster Ranney, Dept. of
Speech, Ohio Northern University, dated Dec. 16, 1952:
- Re page five of the October 1952 WORD STUDY and the word
- _raunchiest_, a comment is herewith noted.
- The most common form of the word, to my knowledge, is the simple
- adjective, _raunchy_. I suspect that the word was introduced by the
- British Air Force Cadets [sic] at the Southern U.S. Air Force Bases
- in 1942. _Raunchy_ was adopted by the then USAAF and applied to all
- US Cadets who were, as stated by Roberts, 'substandard' in uniform or
This portion of the letter was published as a note in the April,
1953, issue of _Word Study_, but no one at Merriam seems to have
followed up the matter by inquiring of Mr. Ranney how he came to the
conclusion he did. Pending further evidence, the British hypothesis
OED2 has an entry for _ranchy_ that seems to equate the word with
_raunchy_. It labels the word "U.S. Slang" and illustrates it with
two quotes from British authors: Arthur Morris Binstead (1861-1914),
a humorist cited dozens of times in the OED, and Lord Kinross. The
Binstead cite appears to be a hapax that I don't know how to
interpret; the Kinross cite is a quote ("A bit ranchy, that") that
from the syntax hardly seems to be coming from the mouth of an
American, though the book in question (_Innocents at Home_, 1959)
deals with the U.S. What the Oxford editor who wrote this entry had in mind
I can't imagine.
Pace Chapman it is extremely unlikely that Italian _rancio_ is the
source of _raunchy_. The Italian word in the approximate sense
"rancid" is attested predominantly in the 16th century and seems to
be obsolete in Modern Italian, to judge by the cites in Battaglia,
_Grande dizionario della lingua italiana_. Modern Italian has
_rancido_, but I don't see any persuasive reason to connect it with
_raunchy_--any more than I can see a persuasive reason to connect
_rancid_ to _raunchy_. Nothing in the history of the word sketched
above suggests a connection with Italy or Italian-Americans. Though
there are outcomes of Latin _rancidus_ in Italian dialects, they are
too distant phonetically to fall under consideration in any case.
Both Italian _rancido_ and English _rancid_ mean "having an offensive
smell or taste usually from chemical change or decompostion." There
is only a loose semantic connection between this and _raunchy_,
which at least in early attestations, as we see above, means "sloppy"
or "performing in a sloppy manner," not "rancid."
Perhaps DARE and RHHDAS, when they reach R, will produce new data
that will suggest new etymological hypotheses. For now, if pressed,
I would have to stick with "origin unknown."