26 October 2015

The History Of The Yuppie Word

A couple of English mid-1980s yuppies in London. They had the big hair. They had the brains. They had the looks. They made lots of money.

Jeanne has written to ask me about how the yuppie word - an acronym pasted onto a model suggested by "hippie" came about.

Well, Jeanne, the term first arrived in print in a May 1980 Chicago Magazine article by Dan Rottenberg, and at that point simply referred to young urban professionals who were buying up houses and apartments in former working class areas and rather destroying the feel of these places in Chicago - with trendy shops and theatres opening to service their needs where once had been old family concerns, etc. Poorer folk who had traditionally lived in those areas were being priced out.

At that point, President Carter was still in charge at the White House, and the booming busting part of the 1980s was not in sight. So, we seem to have quite an innocent local word, not an approval word by any means, but lacking the vehement condemnation and international infamy which would later follow.

After the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 (he was elected in November 1980) this began to change. The term "yuppie" caught fire and was applied to the type of person who flocked to the stock exchange and lived a highly excessive lifestyle, taking full advantage of the new political regime.

The American 'Newsweek' magazine , in its December 31st issue, declared 1984 "The Year Of The Yuppie".  With $600  a month workouts available at the new Definitions Gym in New York (most of us lesser mortals never worked out in those days), continuing "gentrification" of quaint neighbourhoods, property values soaring, Presidential candidate Gary Hart, and the ex-flophouse in Milwaukee which became a "mecca for social drinkers" (complete with ceiling fans) what wasn't there to love?

The yuppie was still pretty dowdy in 1983, if the humorous American Yuppie Handbook and an American mug I have from the same time are anything to go by (they wanted pasta machines, Rolex watches, Sony Walkmans and a VCR), but within a few years the image had altered to that of Wall Street - "Greed Is Good".

The infamous yuppies of the mid-to-late 1980s were apparently ruthless individuals, their lives dominated by the love of money and THINGS. They quaffed champagne. They snorted cocaine. They wanted it all. And they wanted it now.

The word spread to England in the mid-1980s, and was applied to similar types, waving their wads about, who took advantage of the financial knock-on effects of the American Reaganite ethos and the prevailing, highly similar attitudes of the Thatcher governments. They bulled. They beared. They sported the new revamped and highly trendy Filofaxes and the brand new miracle, the handheld brick cell phone ("Yuppie toys!" we called 'em). They drank bottled water. They worked out. They were fit for business. Fit for life.

Of course, not all yuppies were champagne swilling, cocaine snorting, horribly greedy gits with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but "yuppie" became a buzz word for those who were all or some of these things. The yuppies of the mid-to-late 1980s were horribly grandiose, high tec, greedy, without care. That was the popular view.

And that, as far as I'm aware, is a history of the yuppie word, how it was originally applied and how its usage altered with the changing political regimes and attitudes in America and England as the 1980s progressed.

There was a point, circa 1985, 1986 and 1987 in my home city where I could almost smell the money around about me. The night clubs went neon. The pubs went posh or themed. Glittering new office blocks rose left, right and centre. The supermarkets were full of "posh" (and strange) foods that we'd think nothing of eating now. The smell of wonga hung heavy. But, unfortunately, I never had much. Ah, well, as a care worker at least I could take the moral high ground.

But I couldn't help finding yuppies fascinating.

Read more of our material on them by clicking the "yuppies" label below.

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