Articel from American Speech, volume 45, found on JSTOR
American Speech, Vol. 45, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1970), pp. 300-302
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In a „Miscellany“ item in American Speech, Robert Ian Scott recorded the 1962 use of lunch
(for example in lunch guy
) as an undergraduate’s adjective meaning ‚useless’1.
The etymon supplied from the University of Buffalo was the phrase out to lunch
, which may be glossed as ‚mentally vacant’. Joining the issue, Norman D. Hinton reported an identical 1961 Princeton use2, but his informants suggested two different origins: „It means the sort of guy you’d take out to lunch with your mother“, „Lunch is what you wrap up and throw in the garbage can.” The lunch guy of the ordeal with mother is useless in real collegiate society precisely because he is useful in the make-believe scene; anyone your parents would approve of must be really out of it. Once the luncheon inspection is over, you dump this showpiece companion. The lunch guy of the second etymon, the one who reminds us of institutional food, is more self-evidently useless.
Although Scott’s candidate is older and his theory simpler3, Princeton informants in 1965 not only substantiate Hinton’s etyma but suggest a matrix that harmonizes them. For on the face of it, the Princeton lunches are quite distinct: lunch is a noonday occasion with doubtful company, and lunch is the pitchable food itself. The 1965 definition synthesizes things nicely: “You know, the kind of guy who’d bring his lunch to a football game.” Here we have the social misfit at the special occasion, in the group but not of it, not “with it”.
1 R. I. Scott, 'Qualm’ as Verb, 'Lunch' As Adjective,“, American Speech, 28 (1963), 159.
2 Norman D. Hinton, „An early Instance of ‚Lunch’ as an Adjective,“ American Speech, 39 (1964), 294. The definition offered by Hinton’s second informant suggests a curious renovation of etymology. Lunch is short for luncheon, and although the genesis of that substantive is somewhat clouded, the idea of “lump” is probably part of the blend.
3 It must have been the nine-to-five world of business that invented out to lunch for absence of mind. It is my own experience that the phrase has been current among students at least from the early fifties, and that instances occur in New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Chicago, St. Louis, Miami. Academic informants strongly suggest a still earlier appearance and national distribution.