Geezer

Where all the food is soft and every day is Halloween.

Dear Word Detective: Where did the word “geezer” or “geezing” come from? — Brent Lilly.

That’s a good question. I actually answered it about ten years ago, but that was before many of today’s geezers were geezers, and the ones who were are unlikely to remember the answer anyway, so we’ll do it again. In fact, I must be a geezer too, because I didn’t initially remember that I’d ever explained the word. What was the question again?

A “geezer” is, in popular usage today, an older person, almost always a man, often one whose behavior is regarded as either eccentric or stereotypically “elderly.” Grampa Simpson of the Simpsons TV show is probably the most well-known example of the “geezer” in popular culture today (“Dear Mr. President, there are too many states nowadays. Please eliminate three. I am not a crackpot.”). Grampa the “geezer” is often depicted as irritable and cranky (“Hey kid, get off my lawn”), at least mildly irrational (“I say we call Matlock. He’ll find the culprit.”), and mired firmly in the past (“The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it.”).

Given how firmly “geezer” is connected today with old men, it’s a bit ironic that the term originally meant a person of any age. The criterion of “geezerhood” was not age but oddness, and when it first appeared in the late 1800s, “geezer” simply meant “an eccentric, unpleasant man.” The root of “geezer” is the English dialectical term “guiser,” which is a shortened form of “disguiser,” meaning a person who dresses up in costume for a masquerade or other occasion. To call someone a “guiser” (or “geezer”) was to say that they were dressed and behaving as oddly as one might on Halloween, for example. The transition of “geezer” to meaning an older, eccentric man took place around the 1920s, and the use of “geezer” to mean simply “weirdo” is now obsolete.

“Geezing,” presumably based on the verb “to geeze,” meaning “to act like a geezer,” isn’t in the dictionaries yet, but probably soon will be, as I have found myself using it on several occasions recently. Interestingly, “to geeze” has been fairly obscure slang among users of illicit narcotics since the late 1960s, meaning “to inject morphine, heroin or a similar drug.” The noun form “geezer” has been used since the 1920s to mean such an injection, apparently an outgrowth of “geezer” as slang for a drink of liquor in the late 19th century. Whether these uses of “geezer” are related to “geezer” meaning either an odd person or an old man is unclear, but if they are the connection may be an allusion to the drugs reducing the user to a state of insensibility associated with either dementia or senescence.

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