Six degrees of denigration.
Dear Word Detective: My girlfriend of many years and I are in a locked battle. She believes that “yuppie” stands for “young upwardly mobile professional.” I on the other hand believe that it stands for “young urban professional.” She is on the verge of getting her second masters degree, while I am but a lowly bachelors degree holder. Could I upset the entire academic world by being right? Could this mean the end of civilization as we know it? Will we ever settle this debate and go out for pizza? Only you can decide. — Dave.
Holy moly, here it is 2007, and somehow I’ve avoided exploring “yuppie” for the past fifteen years. Then again, it’s often not until once-hot terms fade a bit from public consciousness that I receive questions about them. But there was a time, back in the 1980s, when the public consciousness was awash in “yuppies” and their affectations, their “power ties,” their beemers, and that arrogant aura of entitlement that drove the average working stiff to apoplexy. Oddly enough, for a term that once dripped with jocular contempt, “yuppie” now seems almost affectionately nostalgic and no longer really relevant in today’s economy. For instance, I’m not sure what you’d call the 33 year-old hedge fund manager who, according to a recent Reuters article, took home between $1.5 and $2 billion (that’s with a “b”) last year, but “yuppie” seems entirely too mild to me. May I suggest “greed weasel”?
Onward. To cut to the chase, you are correct and your girlfriend is mistaken, but only a little mistaken. “Yuppie” does indeed stand for “Young Urban Professional,” what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a member of a socio-economic group comprising young professional people working in cities.” In practical terms, people termed “yuppies” in the 1980s tended to be stockbrokers, lawyers or consultants, despite the fact that “hair stylist” and “plumber” were also perfectly respectable professions.
“Yuppie” first appeared in print, as far as is known, in a 1982 article in Commentary magazine by Joseph Epstein. The first three letters (“yup”) were an acronym, but the word as a whole seems to have been inspired by the late 1960s coinage “Yippie,” the Youth International Party, a political movement promoted by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. “Yippie” was, in turn, inspired by “hippie.”
I say that your paramour is only slightly mistaken, however, because in that same period of the early 1980s “yuppie” was co-existing in the popular lexicon with the variants “yumpie” (Young Upwardly-Mobile Professional) and “YAP” (Young Affluent Professional). “Yumpie” and “YAP” were arguably the more descriptive terms for the species, but “yuppie” won the popularity contest and remains in use to this day, while the other two have faded away, which is sort of a shame. But, as I’m sure that hedge fund manager will be happy to point out, life is not fair.