[lit-ideas] Re: Rubbernecking

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 18:12:57 -0700

David Ritchie writes

So what do we have?  An American noun--still no trace of point of
origin, though the date range is very narrow--that quickly spreads
elsewhere in the English speaking world.  Only later does it become a
verb, referring to two different kinds of gawper: the aimless tourist
and the accident vulture.

Since JL's temporarily absent, I'll provide what he would have provided from the OED. (It says too much.)

colloq. (orig. U.S.).

A. v. a. intr. To crane the neck in curiosity, to gape; also, to look around, to sight-see. b. trans. To stare at. Hence {sm}rubbernecking ppl. a. and vbl. n. 1896 ADE Artie iii. 23, I stood around there on one foot kind o' rubber-neckin to find an openin. 1899 Pall Mall Mag. Sept. 195 ?To rubberneck? or, more concisely, ?to rubber?..is to crane the neck in curiosity, to pry round the corner. 1902 GREENOUGH & KITTREDGE Words 255 Recent slang has coined the word ?rubber~neck? for a gaping fellow in the street, who turns his head this way and that. 1927 H. V. MORTON In Search of England ix. 173 Here's a great sight going on that hundreds of rubber-necking tourists would pay anything to see. 1932 D. L. SAYERS Have his Carcase iv. 59 She..could not waste time rubber-necking round Wilvercombe with Lord Peter. 1939 Daily Mail 12 Apr. 8/4 Thousands of people..have ?rubber-necked? this monstrosity [sc. Ming, the giant panda] until their eyes ached. 1939 Times Lit. Suppl. 20 May 293/3 Mr. Graves resembles some of the professional guides who showed him round when he went ?rubber-necking?. 1946 Sun (Baltimore) 5 Nov. 10/7 The long, vaulted central hall..was crowded with chairs for invited guests with probably five times as many more people standing behind them. Londoners love to rubberneck on tiptoe. 1958 Observer 27 Apr. 6/7 Mr. Gunther has the born tourist's eye, and he can put down what he sees. He carries his rubber-necking from the pavements and the cafés to every corner into which he is allowed to penetrate. 1969 Daily Tel. (Colour Suppl.) 21 Nov. 73/2 Hortensio was rubber~necking like an American tourist, admiring the scenery, sniffing the breeze. 1973 J. MANN Only Security vi. 61 ?You're not itching to get your hands on the site??..?Not a bit, lovely just to rubberneck for a change.? 1977 Time 16 May 54/1 Wisconsin motorists may never see a purple cow, but they are rubbernecking at an enormous piebald blue one emblazoned on Farmer Hilbert Schneider's 75-year-old barn at Johnson Creek.

B. n. a. Someone who stares; an inquisitive person; a sight-seer, a tourist. 1899 Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. May 726 Oh, no! in the language of the shop, she was only a ?rubber-neck?. 1909 G. B. MCCUTCHEON Truxton King iii. 41 They are the nobility{em}the swells. They don't hang around the streets like tourists and rubbernecks. 1918 ?I. HAY? Last Million xii. 188 Attended by a respectfully interested cohort of disciples, or rubbernecks. 1937 Daily Herald 6 Feb. 6 One of its valuable features will be to deprive the rubber~necks, who gloat over the domestic troubles of their neighbours in the local police court, of their entertainment. 1941 J. SMILEY Hash House Lingo 46 Rubber neck, tourist. 1974 P. MCCUTCHAN Call for Simon Shard xiii. 119 Can you clear the place up, Inspector? Move the rubbernecks on, back to bed? 1975 C. WESTON Susannah Screaming (1976) xxiv. 123 Without apology, Krug shoved through the rubbernecks.

b. attrib. and Comb., as rubberneck party, ride, tour, tourist; rubberneck auto, bus, car, wagon, a vehicle for taking people on a sight-seeing tour. 1906 ?O. HENRY? Four Million (1916) xix. 192 The *Rubberneck Auto was about ready to start. The merry top-riders had been assigned to their seats by the gentlemanly conductor. 1949 Chicago Daily News 13 Aug. 5/6 That's the relatively harmless impression of Skid Row seen from the *rubber-neck busses. 1951 E. PAUL Springtime in Paris x. 175 Large rubberneck buses from travel agencies drive through, packed with sightseers from various States of the Union. 1915 Dialect Notes IV. 245 *Rubber-neck car, n. phr., sight-seeing vehicle. ?We saw several rubber-neck cars in Yellowstone Park.? 1916 GALSWORTHY Sheaf 276 There exists in America a vehicle called the ?rubber-neck? car. 1925 H. L. FOSTER Trop. Tramp with Tourists 326 The tourists go riding through town in *rubberneck parties. 1927 New Republic 12 Oct. 210/2 ?The Manhatters? is founded upon the idea of a *rubberneck ride through this island. 1915 Chicago Herald 8 Nov. 4/2 The black and tans from the southern states..have been taken on a *rubberneck tour. 1949 Nat. Geogr. Mag. Dec. 783/2 Twice daily a horse-drawn stage leaves the Plaza on a ?rubberneck? tour. 1926 Glasgow Herald 27 July 10 As somebody has to get it in the neck, it may as well be..the *rubberneck tourist. 1942 BERREY & VAN DEN BARK Amer. Thes. Slang §424/2 Rubberneck tourist, a sight-seeing tourist. 1908 G. H. LORIMER Jack Spurlock xi. 321 The Major inquired loudly of Horton, the Governor's secretary, whether he was ?runnin' a blank *rubber-neck waggon?. 1932 New Yorker 11 June 38/2 The one who stepped from the rubberneck wagon happened to be the first [Japanese lady] they had ever seen. 1943 M. FLAVIN Journey in Dark 174 On the rubberneck wagons the fellow with the megaphone would point it out and say: ?Residence of Stanley Adams, financier and banker.?

    Hence {sm}rubbernecker = RUBBERNECK n.
1934 in WEBSTER. 1942 BERREY & VAN DEN BARK Amer. Thes. Slang §765/8 Rubbernecker, a sight-seer. 1958 N.Y. Times 19 Apr. 16/5 He..completed a swing that lofted the ball over the barrier. He grinned apologetically at the rubber-neckers. 1969 S. HYLAND Top Bloody Secret i. 61 The usual crowd of rubberneckers on the far pavement. 1974 Spartanburg (S. Carolina) Herald 22 Apr. A4/2 American rubber-neckers in Moscow or Leningrad or elsewhere, with their free and easy manners, will leave as much an impression on the Russians they meet as they will take away with them.

Robert Paul


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