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January 23, 2012 5:09 PM   Subscribe

A history of "pearl clutching." Apparently, it originated on In Living Color.
posted by mokin (50 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
clutch the pearls what a sneaky thing to do
posted by robbyrobs at 5:18 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going to take my earrings off.
posted by The Whelk at 5:20 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that "Men on Films" comedy skit has not aged well.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 5:21 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This sounds a little like BS. I distinctly remember hearing that phrase prior to 1990. Perhaps I have a revisionist memory.
posted by koeselitz at 5:22 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Never before has an assertion made on the internet better deserved the response "amazing, if true."
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:24 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I swear I learned this phrase from my mom when I was young, well before "in living color" which I never really watched. Strange.
posted by Biblio at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2012


Two snaps and bury the lead! They're bringing back In Living Color? Why would they want to do that? The world doesn't need another Jim Carey... although it could do with a couple more Jamie Foxxes.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google Ngram for 'pearl clutching' and 'clutch the pearls'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:36 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article acknowledges that the phrase existed prior to In Living Color, but asserts that it was the show that brought it into widespread (read: media) use.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What El Sabor said. Also: Good heavens!
posted by user92371 at 5:45 PM on January 23, 2012


How odd that the In Living Color reference was about Glenn Close being a man playing a woman, considering Ms. Close's current movie project.
posted by hippybear at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2012


the man of twists and turns: Google Ngram for 'pearl clutching' and 'clutch the pearls'

That's not showing any results. Is it just me?
posted by Pronoiac at 6:00 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nope, no results.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2012


well I'll go to the foot of our pearls
posted by The Whelk at 6:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hardly. People have been clutching their pearls since at least 1914. That piece was so shoddily researched.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


How odd that the In Living Color reference was about Glenn Close being a man playing a woman, considering Ms. Close's current movie project.

Or her role in Hook!
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


“Clutch the pearls” first appeared on In Living Color in the show’s 1990 debut season in an April 15 “Men on Films” sketch. ... The sarcastic phrase and its many permutations existed prior to In Living Color, of course; for instance, “she clutches her pearls” appeared in a 1987 article in an Australian newspaper about ladies who lunch. But it was the “Men on …” sketches that brought the phrase into widespread, albeit sometimes too literal, use in the early ‘90s...

"Oh yeah no I didn't mean the phrase first first appeared on In Living Color, of course, obviously, I just mean it first appeared on In Living Color when it appeared on In Living Color that first season. And even then I only mean to say that that's when they started using it a lot."

This article sucks.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've found it twice used as a stage direction, here (1934) and here (1961).
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:58 PM on January 23, 2012


Hardly. People have been clutching their pearls since at least 1914. That piece was so shoddily researched.

Except that was about someone literally clutching her pearls, as someone else was trying to take them - it had nothing to do with moral indignation.
posted by delmoi at 6:58 PM on January 23, 2012


I just turned up a bunch of "clutched her pearls," "clutching her pearls," "Clutched pearls" etc going back to the 1914 mention, and if you broaden it to "clutching her necklace" it's easily 1888, and I decided to stop looking there.

This article is trying to say that In Living Color popularized this meme in the media, but unless books are not media, it's just not the case. It's a trope we all grew up hearing. I can't believe this person didn't bother to spend five minutes on Google Books. What's the point of writing something like this that actually has the aim of discovering the source of something, which then decides to not discover the source of something?

It's like saying McDonald's created the phrase "I'm lovin' it."
posted by Miko at 7:01 PM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I was just relieved it had nothing to do with Palahniuk's pearl diving.
posted by hypersloth at 7:06 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Except that was about someone literally clutching her pearls, as someone else was trying to take them - it had nothing to do with moral indignation.

Moral indignation is only an implication. In the history of the literature, women clutch their pearls when overcome with emotion or concern. That could be caused by moral indignation, fear, shock, any such thing.

Interestingly, it looks like the word "clutch" is really closely associated with gems and jewels of all kinds. Even when you don't search it as a phrase, "clutch" is what people seem to do with pearls and jewels, whether a single pearl, a metaphorical pearl, or a string of pearls. "Clutch" over the last hundred and fifty years or so seems to connote a special panicked grasp that you do protectively to something valuable.
posted by Miko at 7:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article is very interesting. [loop-ty loops tennis bracelet]
posted by hot_monster at 7:11 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Clutch" over the last hundred and fifty years or so seems to connote a special panicked grasp that you do protectively to something valuable.
Like a hen with her clutch of eggs!
posted by moonmilk at 7:15 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Metaphorical pearls being clutched, 1854:

I plunged to clutch the pearl of her babbling beauty
Like a swift diver in a shallow stream


and 1893:
Oh how many poor souls there are who in perfect security clutch the pearl of great price, to find at last that it is but paste!
Pearls and clutching go together.

Emotionally driven necklace clutching, 1873:
Prejudices no longer exist, and Lord Chesterfield's view of the latitude to be allowed to the third sex, as he called ugly women, would be universally acquiesced in -- "that they should be allowed to indulge in field sports, a cheerful glass, and be allowed to stand in Parliament." The only difficulty is to find women willing to admit the qualification. Not only is the present supply above the demand, but the difficulties are increased by a prevailing habit of bringing daughters out at the age of sixteen -- a proceeding utterly subversive of all social progress. If the unhappy creature in question is invited to dine out, she very probably goes through an exhibition of nervous gymnastics, tearing her napkin, spilling her wine, convulsively clutching her necklace, and coloring at the sound of a monosyllable.
and 1895:
"Is it all right?" I heard her say in a sharp whisper full of pent-up anxiety. He nodded gravely in the affirmative and sat down. She gave a little gasp of relief and clutched her necklace.
and 1922
So that was why he was never quite sober, even in the mornings. She clutched her beadsprayed hard under her breath, and watched him kick the door to.
The other thing women clutch in Western pop culture is their own throats. They're always clutching at their throats.

Given all this clutching of pearls, clutching of necklaces, clutching of beads, and clutching at their own throats I certainly think "pearl clutching" was already overdetermined well before the 1990s.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


So, Miko just managed to do better research in the roughly two hours since this thread started than a paid professional journalist? And yet, I am not surprised in the least.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Huh, Damon Wayans Jr. just said that phrase in last week's Happy Endings episode.
posted by zix at 7:49 PM on January 23, 2012


I invented the expression to describe how it feels when complete dip-sticks spew out completely made-up crap.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:59 PM on January 23, 2012


I think she's grasping at straws.
posted by Kabanos at 8:00 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


*fans self*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:09 PM on January 23, 2012


Straw-grasping!
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


paid professional journalist

emphasis mine.

So a profession generally has a code of ethics:

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

First bullet: "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not even prepared to believe that "clutching her pearls" as a mocked form of expressing moral indignation didn't predate that ILC sketch nor even that it was popularized by it. Just the few examples Miko found in the late 1800s should very strongly suggest that exactly that form of the expression widely existed long, long before the ILC sketch.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:54 PM on January 23, 2012


Yes, everyone knows that people literally clutched their pearls prior to Living Color. The article is about the use of the phrase as a short-hand for 'indignation' or for moral panic.
posted by empath at 9:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that "Men on Films" comedy skit has not aged well.

It's almost like it's from another era isn't it? It's hard to remember why the show was so electrifying to me and my friends at the time. Leaving aside the gay pantomime part of it, it was still rare to see black people on TV at all if they weren't Bill Cosby. And this might have been the first portrayal of gays as even slightly sympathetic characters on network TV that I recall, without at all shying away from sexual innuendo -- they were making fun, but you really weren't meant to be seeing them as bad people -- the audience is shrieking with delight, not moaning with disgust. And my friends at the time copied all their catch phrases and mannerisms. I had a gay black friend in high school, and he just owned it, and used their popularity as characters as a shield sometimes. And remember, this was before Will and Grace.

I dunno. In the context of today, it's just awful, but at the time it was almost progressive.
posted by empath at 9:20 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Marge Simpson, anyone? Every time Maggie gets dumped into the grocery sack, it's time for a bit of breast/throat/pearl clutching.
posted by Goofyy at 10:24 PM on January 23, 2012


"Yes, everyone knows that people literally clutched their pearls prior to Living Color. The article is about the use of the phrase as a short-hand for 'indignation' or for moral panic."

Yes, you'd already written that and that is the specific claim I was contesting.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:34 PM on January 23, 2012


You mean that Miko was contesting? All of her examples are of people literally clutching pearls, not metaphorically clutching pearls. Except for the 'pearl of great price' example, which isn't about moral indignation.
posted by empath at 11:05 PM on January 23, 2012


Two of them are of people literally clutching their pearls in something very close to indignation or moral panic.

The distance from literally clutching pearls as a stereotypical act of feminine anxiety to metaphorically pearl-clutching as an indication of moral panic is very, very small and that the former existed more than a hundred and forty years ago strongly calls into question the claim that a 1990 television skit invented the latter.

Not to mention that several of us personally attest to such usages before 1990.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:27 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that "Men on Films" comedy skit has not aged well.

Odd, I thought their characterizations still hold up as skillfully executed, as outrageous parody of course. What was more interesting though, was the powerful audience reaction to blatantly effeminate black men 20 years ago.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:16 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can only assume the writer focused on clutching because it is the one thing you can't do with the more likely and naughty google search result for pearl necklace.
posted by srboisvert at 12:54 AM on January 24, 2012


Grasp the straws!
posted by telstar at 1:46 AM on January 24, 2012


The distance from literally clutching pearls as a stereotypical act of feminine anxiety to metaphorically pearl-clutching as an indication of moral panic is very, very small and that the former existed more than a hundred and forty years ago strongly calls into question the claim that a 1990 television skit invented the latter.

But the article doesn't make that claim --- it say the phrase existed but that the sketch popularized it. And plenty of small leaps in usage don't get made for decades, if ever; the evolution of language is a herky jerky thing. I personally don't feel that a cite to a usage in a literal sense is enough to conclude it was a well-known phrase in a metaphorical sense.
posted by Diablevert at 4:45 AM on January 24, 2012


Beware...beware.

Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys...puppy dog tails, and big, fat snails. Beware, take care....beware!

(pause)

CLUTCH THE PEARLS! CLUTCH THE PEARLS!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:55 AM on January 24, 2012


Oh, mary, don't clutch your pearls. Any gay man worth his salt knew that phrase well before In Living Color came up with that sad, tired sketch.
posted by xingcat at 6:15 AM on January 24, 2012


Ladies, please! There are plenty of pearls to go around and we will be sure to clutch them ALL. So, relax!
posted by Edison Carter at 6:35 AM on January 24, 2012


I was going to say that In Living Color hasn't aged especially well, and that it was pretty hit-or-miss even at the time, and that it tended to beat the audience over the head with recurring characters and catchphrases, but then I started thinking that all of those things are true about almost all network sketch-comedy shows.
posted by box at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2012


But the article doesn't make that claim --- it say the phrase existed but that the sketch popularized it

Even if you want to make that case, I would say the journalist failed to understand the origins of the meme and didn't do the research to put this into proper cultural context. Taking the history into account, you'd have to look at ILC's work as an evolution of an existing meme, not one which originated with them. The weight of influence changes when you look at the whole picture, and this just wasn't fully researched no matter how you slice it. Had the reporter done that research, they'd have structured their statements quite differently and the article's claims would be differently presented.
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2012


I have now reached semantic satiation with the word "clutch".

Time for a palate cleanser: smock smock smock
posted by Guy Smiley at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2012


"Homey don' play dat!"
posted by 00dimitri00 at 4:59 AM on January 25, 2012


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