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preppy

prep·py / ˈprepē/ (also prep·pie) inf. • n. (pl. -pies) a student or graduate of an expensive preparatory school or a person resembling such a student in dress or appearance. • adj. (-pi·er, -pi·est) of or typical of such a person, esp. with reference to their style of dress: the preppy look.

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preppy

preppy (chiefly in the US), an informal term for a pupil or graduate of an expensive preparatory school or a person resembling such a pupil in dress or appearance.

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preppy

preppycrappie, crappy, flappy, gappy, happi, happy, nappy, pappy, sappy, scrappy, slap-happy, snappy, strappy, tapis, yappy, zappy •campy, scampi, vampy •harpy, okapi, serape, sharpie •raspy •Giuseppe, peppy, preppy •kelpie •kempy, tempi •Gillespie •crêpey, kepi, scrapie •creepy, sleepy, tepee, weepy •chippy, clippie, dippy, drippy, grippy, hippy, Lippi, lippy, Mississippi, nippy, slippy, snippy, tippy, trippy, whippy, Xanthippe, zippy •chickpea •crimpy, gimpy, skimpy, wimpy •crispy, wispy •turnipy • recipe • praecipe • gossipy •pipy, stripy •choppy, copy, floppy, jalopy, moppy, poppy, sloppy, soppy, stroppy •Pompey, swampy •waspie, waspy •photocopy • cowpea •dopey, Hopi, Opie, ropy, soapy, topi

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Preppy

Preppy

The word "preppy" (also spelled "preppie") derives from "preparatory" and refers to someone who attends or has attended a college preparatory secondary school. In actual use, preppy implies a wide variety of assumptions about the class, style, and values of such a person. Preppy can be used as a noun ("She dresses like a preppy.") or an adjective ("I'm not interested in your preppy friends.") It can be congratulatory or condescending, though its use is usually humorous and to some degree derisive.

Though preppy was long in use among high school and college students, the word first gained wide national exposure in Erich Segal's 1970 romantic novel Love Story and the movie that was made from it. Set on the Harvard University campus, the novel describes the relationship between working-class Radcliffe student Jenny Cavilleri and blueblood Harvard jock Oliver Barrett. Jenny's personality is characterized by salty language, a blue-collar chip on her shoulder, and her hostile references to Oliver as "Preppy." The word preppy entered the national vocabulary at that point in its most common usage—an antagonistic epithet for the elite, used by those who are not in the upper classes.

In 1980, Lisa Birnbaum published The Official Preppy Handbook, a tongue-in-cheek look at the very real characteristics, quirks, and foibles of the privileged classes. She focuses her not-altogetherunloving mockery on the "old money" upper crust society of the East Coast, the alumni of such schools as Choate, Groton, Exeter, and Andover. By poking fun at their "Chip and Muffy" nicknames, and their expensive-shoes-without-socks pseudo-casual style, Birnbaum shined a revealing light on the quietly rich. Her book inspired imitators, including some that were more overtly hostile to her subject, such as Ralph Schoenstein's The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook: A Guide for the Rest of Us.

Part fashion, part breeding, and part attitude, preppiness denotes wealth, privilege, pomposity, and dissipation. The hostility with which the epithet preppy is hurled casts doubt on the reality behind the U.S. myth of the classless society. Preppy continues to be used regularly in the press, sometimes interchangeably with "yuppie," though yuppie does not carry the East Coast blueblood connotation that preppy does. One of the most memorable outbreaks of preppy in the headlines occurred in the fall of 1996, after Jennifer Levin was strangled in New York's Central Park by Robert Chambers. Levin and Chambers were both members of Manhattan's high-society prep-school elite, and Levin's death was immediately dubbed "The Preppy Murder" in newspapers across the country, giving credibility to the axiom that a particular form of public outrage is reserved for the misdeeds of those who have "all of the advantages."

Though the working classes may have their revenge on preppies in the press and in film, it is the preppies who continue to triumph. With elite boarding schools becoming almost as expensive as private colleges, the prep-school education is more out of reach than ever for working people. A 1997 Fortune magazine study showed that corporate executives with upper-class prep-school backgrounds are consistently paid higher salaries than those executives with more middle-class upbringings. Preppies may be targets of fun and ridicule, but grown-up preppies become the power elite who perhaps see themselves safely insulated from the impact of jokes made at their expense.

—Tina Gianoulis

Further Reading:

Birnbach, Lisa. The Official Preppy Handbook. New York, Workman Publishing, 1980.

Flippin, Royce. Save an Alligator, Shoot a Preppie: A Terrorist Guide. New York, A & W Visual Library, 1981.

Schoenstein, Ralph. The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook: A Guide for the Rest of Us. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1981.

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Preppy

Preppy



The word "preppy" was originally used to describe someone who attended a private college-preparatory high school (called a "prep" school). Gradually, the term came to mean any young person who was upper class and snobbish, and also described the style of clothes such people wore. The word was widely used in the 1980s as a negative term describing the superficial values of those with a privileged lifestyle. By 2000, it was mostly found in articles about fashion. Its meaning had become less negative, simply describing the button-down collars and loafers that are considered the preppy style.

Though the word "preppy" had been used on the East Coast for many years, it was widely popularized by two books published a decade apart. Love Story, a novel published in 1970 by Erich Segal (1937–), tells about the romance between two college students, one an Italian American working-class woman and the other an upper-class jock. In the book, Jenny Cavilleri never lets rich Oliver Barrett forget their class differences, and she scornfully calls him a "preppy." Both the book and the film that was made from it the same year were very popular, and "preppy" entered the American vocabulary nationwide.

The second book, published in 1980, was the best-seller (see entry under 1940s—Commerce in volume 3) The Official PreppyHandbook, edited by Lisa Birnbach (1957–), which was a satirical look at the lifestyle of young adults of the upper class. In an intimate style that showed how well Birnbach knew her subjects, she poked fun at those who came from "old money," that is, the spoiled children of families who had been wealthy for a long time. Birnbach included chapters on which silly nicknames were appropriate for the children of aristocrats ("Muffy" for girls, "Chip" for boys), and how to dress casually while still showing off one's wealth.

Both Love Story and The Official Preppy Handbook achieved popularity because they ridiculed the arrogance of the upper classes. Such ridicule is the intention of those who use the silly, snappy word "preppy" to deflate those who may think their wealth or background places them above others.


—Tina Gianoulis


For More Information

Austin, Stephanie. The Preppy Problem. New York: Fawcett, 1984.

Birnbach, Lisa, ed. The Official Preppy Handbook. New York: Workman Publishing, 1980.

Schoenstein, Ralph. The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook: A Guide For the Rest of Us. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

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"Preppy." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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