Based on the limited figures I have at my disposal, I’d guess that this here blog has only around sixty regular, dedicated, engaged readers. Which perhaps isn’t many compared to some other blogs, but you all are the right sixty readers. Whenever I pose a question here, I am always amazed at the range of thoughtful answers I recieve.
In reference to l’affaire fiducie de fonds kids of several weeks ago (that is French for “the affair of the kids with the funds of trust,” according to Google Translate), I got a few interesting comments and emails. The first, from my old friend Brady Bergeson, a writer in Fargo-Moorhead and my favorite activity partner for a lively round of that classic hotel bar game, Can You Draw a Fairly Accurate Sketch of Vice President Henry A. Wallace From Memory? Brady says:
I was going to suggest you start a band called Trust Fund Kids. But then there’s this:
Brett, a friend from Minneapolis that’s roughly the same age as me (and an MCAD alumnus), adds some insight into the mindset of the typical college student in those post-Pets.com years:
I hypothesize that the dot-com bubble of the late ’90s may have been crucial to propagating the nationwide scare that trust-funded kids were lurking in and around every coffee shop and campus corner. Between ‘99 and ‘03, there were three different instances where I learned that a friend who had a decent apartment was seemingly supporting themselves via an online entrepreneurial venture or freelance web work. Eventually in conversation it would slip out that the freelancing work or web site was actually unsuccessful. And in fact, that person’s family owned eight apartment buildings in Boston, or a chain of grocery stores in Colorado. Once a juicy nugget like that hits a college town’s gossip chain, it spreads like wild fire, causing everyone to wonder who else may in fact be a secretly funded via a trust.
But here’s the real bombshell, from an anonymous reader named “Murk.” Murk proves him- or herself to be the Deep Throat of this whole “Trust Fund Kid” episode:
Not to muddy the etymological waters here, but, if my murky memory serves at all, I believe the term originated first as “trust fund babies,” before aging up a bit to the “kid” level. I seem to vaguely recall hearing the former term some time in the mid-80s. I place it there because my best friend from high school was literally one (receiving a trust from his grandparents at age 18), and I recall a light bulb going on about said friend once I’d heard the term (he eventually blew the entire fund on LPs top-end stereo equipment, and a generally profligate lifestyle while in college in Cambridge). Maybe your search should include tracking down this earlier term and theorizing why it may have aged through the years?
Of course! “Trust fund babies”! Using the same questionable research methods (Google Books and nGram), I explored the origins of that particular phrase.
Surprisingly, “trust fund baby” first turns up about the same time, maybe a little bit earlier, during the ‘84-‘86 period. “Places like Woodstock, NY, Taos, NM, and the Hotel Chelsea were filled with these Trust-Fund Babies,” reports New York City novelist Carole Berge’s 1984 Secrets, Gossip and Slander.
However, between 1984 and 1987, there’s almost double the references in print compared to “trust fund kid.” It seems to be in more mainstream use in the early to mid-1980s, turning up in everything from nonfiction sociology books to Mademoiselle articles, and even in a work entitled Fringe Benefits: The Fifty Best Career Opportunities for Meeting Men. (Unfortunately, the entire text of this landmark volume was not available online, so I can’t tell you what the results are, other than, in many respects, aren’t you glad it’s not the 1980s anymore?)
All of this would lead me to believe that “trust fund baby” is the older of the two phrases, and the one from which the now more common “trust fund kid” is derived.
As mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I am still giving credit to photographer Abby Robinson for coining the actual phrase “trust fund kid” in her semi-autobiographical 1985 Künstlerroman The Dick and Jane. Again, I can’t really prove this in any real, academic way, other than to say two things: 1.) there is no earlier instance on Google Books, and 2.) since I last wrote about this, I’ve purchased The Dick and Jane, and read it, and loved it, and it confirms my suspicions that Robinson may have been the coiner, for one specific reason. The book is a funny, thoughtful combination of the old, mythical world of the seedy, pre-WWII New York City and the then-contemporary world of seedy, pre-Giuliani New York City — a New York City that is now just as mythical as the old hardboiled New York City of Raymond Chandler. So it’s myth doubling back on myth, a fact reflected in the language in the book, a really inventive blend of ’80s downtown artspeak and ’40s hardboiled pulp fiction. One of the hallmarks of this type of writing is taking common phrases and punching them up a little bit; making them a little more colorful. I believe Robinson may have taken the then-current phrase “trust find baby,” and roughed it up, Bogart-style, into “trust fund kid.” Because “kid” is more hard-boiled than “baby,” right?
Again, I cannot totally prove this. I am not an authority on this subject. But Robinson was nice enough to exchange a few emails with me, and though she said she doesn’t think she coined the term, I told her I’m giving her credit anyhow. Someone had to coin it, after all. Why not her?
Many thanks to Brady, Brett and Murk for prompting me to further investigate this topic, and to Abby Robinson for indulging me. This is what South 12th is all about, my dear sixty readers: making crazed, unfounded speculations on things that happened 30 years ago that no one is really worried about. Well, most people aren’t worried about them: maybe me and you and the other fifty-eight are, and that’s why we’re all in this together.
(Post-script: Robinson’s favorite variation, “trustafarian,” seems unsurprisingly to be a pure product of the 1990s.)
(Double post-script: The French term for “trust fund babies” is “fiducie de fonds pour bébés.” According to Google Translate.)