RARA-AVIS: Re: origin of term "cozy"

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 23 Mar 2007


Re your question below:

"Does anyone know who first used the word 'cozy' to describe, not necessarily in a negative way, the puzzle-mystery or whodunit type story usually set in a place where the 'somebodies' live, and in which the perpetrator is punished and the evil removed from the then-healthy community?"

I don't know the name of the person who coined the phrase, but, as I understand it, it was first used in the late '50's by a mystery critic who didn't particularly like traditional mysteries, and, apparently, he did mean it to be a dismissive term.

It began to be more commonly used to describe around the '70's and '80's, and I think at least part of the impetus for this was the publication of a VERY traditional mystery novel in the Christie/Marsh/Sayers tradition by James Anderson called THE AFFAIR OF THE BLOOD-STAINED EGG COSY. It had a surprisingly large vogue, and many reviewers applauded the author's rigorously traditional approach. I suspect that the book's title was at leart part of the reason the term was commonly adopted for traditional crime novels.

Another factor may have been the way Dilys Wynn, founder of the late lamented MYSTERY INK bookstore in NYC shelved books. Rather than simply put the in alphabetical order, she tended to shelve by sub-genre.
 Traditionalists like Christie were shelved in a section Ms. Wynn labeled "English Teacake Ladies," whether or not the authors were either English or ladies. It's not that big a jump from "teacake" to
"tea cozy" or "tea cosy." And an even smaller jump to just-plain "cozy."

But the initial use, though it took awhile to catch on, was, as I say, in the late '50's.


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