sourpuss – glamour puss



Puss [u sounded as in ‘full’]; the mouth and lips, always used in dialect in an offensive or contemptuous sense:—“What an ugly puss that fellow has.” “He had a puss on him,” i.e. he looked sour or displeased—with lips contracted. I heard one boy say to another:—“I’ll give you a skelp (blow) on the puss.” Origin: Irish ‘pus’, the mouth, same sound.

Patrick Weston Joyce – English as we speak it in Ireland (1910)


The word puss in the sense of mouth is first recorded in Fishing in the Shannon, a story published by The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine of June 1844. The author, “N. S.”, accompanied by Ter Keane, a local fisherman, is at Captain Hickie’s fall, “one of the most sporting holes on the Shannon”:

Immediately in the rapid water over this fall is the “favorite lie” of the salmon.
“Now sir,” says Ter, “be alive, as I tink dere’s a chap dere will open your eye afore long—and dere he is, sir, right on de drop af de fall,” and he pointed to where a splendid fish rose and threw himself in sporting style. “Be quick, sir, or dat lad will run ahead af [= if] you don’t put de hook in his puss.”

In the sense of a sour pout, puss is first attested in Myles McGarry and Donal McGarry, one of the stories of In Chimney Corners, Merry Tales of Irish Folk Lore (1899), by the Irish author Seamas MacManus (1869?-1960):

An’ away the masther goes with his mouth in a puss, an’ away goes Donal with his tongue in his cheek.


Originally American and dating from the 1930s, sourpuss denotes a bad-tempered or habitually sullen person. For example, The Princeton Alumni Weekly of 19th November 1937 had:

We are glad to note that our old friend, Sour Puss Kidder, was again elected mayor of Tenafly, N.J., last election day.

In its 22d April 1938 issue, the same periodical had:

Old sour puss Faber (with apologies to the original copyrighted owner of that title, A. M. Kidder) is getting rather weary!


The compound glamour puss, meaning a glamorous person, seems to have appeared in the 1940s. In this advertisement for “Personna Precision Blades”, published in the magazine Life of 21st May 1945, the American actor Bert Lahr (1895-1967) says:

Ong! Ong! I’m workin’ all day over a hot footlight, and a jerk sez to me, “Bert, how can you be a glamour-puss when yer kisser’s so rough?”

glamour-puss - advertisement for ‘Personna Precision Blades’, published in the American magazine Life of 21st May 1945

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