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Crush

Q From John Anunti: I’m interested in the origin of the usage of crush as in she had a crush on him.

A This is yet another expression, originally American, which is now known all round the world. It’s first recorded from the 1880s, but I can’t give you the full story of where it came from.

There was an older usage of crush, now obsolete, for a social gathering such as a dance or reception. It was a colloquial borrowing of the standard English sense — such gatherings were often extremely hot and crowded and the prevailing women’s fashion for large skirts could hardly have helped matters. It’s known from Britain in the earlier part of the nineteenth century: the first known written example was in a letter of 1832 by the historian Thomas Babbington Macaulay: “I fell in with her at Lady Grey’s great crush”. By the 1860s, the same word was being used in the US — an early example appears in the Southern Literary Messenger in August 1862: “In the hatroom at a ‘crush,’ is the air freer from taint, because the men are fresh and young?”.

It seems possible that the word was borrowed again to refer to a romantic entanglement that originated at such a crowded social gathering, not because the couple were literally thrown together, but because such events were among the most common ways at the time for young men and women to meet.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Apr. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 20 April 2002.