Q From Chris Heinrich: Why is a square a socially backwards or overly conservative person?
A We don’t know the reason why the word took on the meaning of somebody who is boringly conventional or old-fashioned. It seems to have been in use first in the jazz world from the 1920s onward, with the first written record said to be in a 1938 jazz catalogue. At first it referred to people who didn’t appreciate jazz; only after the Second World War did it branch out into the wider world with the more general meaning we now know. It’s probable that it’s an appropriation of the figurative sense of “square”, which has been around for many years, of something which is properly arranged and in good order, or which is honest or straightforward (as in “square deal”, or “square shooter”). To move from this idea to a sense of “boringly conventional” is not such a large step, at least from the perspective of speakers who don’t consider themselves to be part of the mainstream.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Latrinalia; Charon; True blue; Nakation; Hands off?; Who coined forecast?; Vigintillion; Hingle; Bookaneer; Pig sick; Adimpleate; Deodand; Ilk; Fowler’s Modern English Usage; Skint; Vellichor; Galoot; Crizzling; Caparisoned; Volleyballene; Trove; Smithereens; Worry wart.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!