RARA-AVIS: Re: hard-boiled

From: marianne.macdonald@lineone.net
Date: 23 Mar 2002

>It would be nice if somebody could come up with
> the origin of the word [hard-boiled as a synonym
> for "tough]

Well, in the spirit of my public announcement at Bouchercon 2001 that the murder mystery can be traced back to that 10th century police-procedural investigation of a serial killer, BEOWULF, I could point out that the word is used in the sense of "tough" or "dire" there (line 166). The 1886 Miriam-Webster reference is to Mark Twain (and as Hemingway pointed out, everything starts with Twain), but he was talking about
"hard-boiled, hide-bound grammar". So Chandler didn't invent the style!

The earliest clear published usage in our sense seems to the OED to be from 1915, Twain, American Speech, "hard-boiled egg who wouldn't bid 90 on 100 acres", which suggests to me that it must have been in common usage in the US well before WWI, certainly before the US entered the war.
  Conan Doyle imports it into crime writing in 1929, in Maracot Deep:
"The hard-boiled Scanlon actually fell down in a faint." So by that time, it's being understood by an Englishman in our sense. Enough? Enough! People have been boiling eggs for a very long time.


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