Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Far Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 13, 2011

The expression far out refers to something of a positive nature that’s avant-garde or bizarre.  Originally it was a slang term for daringly creative jazz and eventually it was applied to other art forms and, finally, anything in life that was seen as being unconventional, somewhat eccentric and probably nonconformist.

Back on March 15, 1985 the Spokesman Review newspaper ran an article entitled, “Budget Panel Shuns Those Far Out Ideas.”  The Associated Press story stated in part:

Sell the Grand Canyon? Abolish the Marine Corps? Balance the budget on the backs of America’s waitresses?  The Senate Budget Committee summarily brushed these disease aside, but some lawmakers say parts of the panel’s new 1986 federal budget stand about as dubious a chance of eventual passage.

On February 28, 1961 the Daytona Beach Morning Journal ran a news story entitled, “It’s Gigantic, Man, Like Far Out.”  The first paragraph read:

American jazz virtuosos allowed yesterday that those hot notes breaking out in Russia could do a lot to warm up international understanding.  It  might, they said, mellow the communist mood.  “Why man, you can’t even think about being made with that music going through you,” drawled bop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.  “It engulfs you.  You forget all about trouble.”

On August 18, 1958 the Daytona Beach Morning Journal ran another bit, this time In Dorothy Kilgallen’s column, “The Voice of Broadway.”  On tidbit was this one:

Residents of Southampton are apt to raise eyebrows over this one:  Birdland is about to name its “bleacher section” — where the far out aficionados sit and listen to the jazz for just the price of admission — and the new tag will be “The Duke Box.”  Actually it’s for Duke Ellington but since it’s the same as a rather well-known high society get-up on Angier Biddle Duke’s Southampton estate (a couple of elegant barns which he’s converted as a guesthouse for blue blooded chums) the management of Birdland is inviting Duke and an assortment of his regular guests — Serge Obolensky, Jay Rutherfurd, Dmitri Djordjadze and Jacques Frey — to attend the Maynard Ferguson opening August 26.

Even Time magazine used the term far out in an article entitled “Far Out Words For Cats” in their November 08, 1954 issue.  The article reported in part:

U.S. colloquialisms evolve slowly.  “Jag,” tops,” “dude” stayed around for decades before they began to lose their freshness.  But jazz lingo becomes obsolescent almost as fast as it reaches the public ear.  A term of high approbation in the swing era was “out of this world,” in the bop era it was “gone,” and today it is “the greatest” or “the end.”  Similarly, a daring performance was “hot,” then “cool,” and now is “far out.” 

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression far out and it is reasonable, based on the aforementioned information, to assume the term is from the early 1950s.

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