Old Good Old Boys

By popular demand, I’m doing another in my series of posts where I rant about some mis-applied cliches that was inflicted on me.  This one may be controversial, since a little research reveals that there are a few confused people out there, but allow me to lay out my case.

Boys prior to becoming old boys

Traditionally, those who attended your fancier male-only British public schools were called “boys” (presumably for the very good reason that they were boys – I’m not sure how this was supposed to set them apart from male children who attended less exclusive schools, but that is a subject for another post).  Of course, you can’t go calling them “boys” after they graduate and get jobs as stockbrokers government ministers or whatever, so they were called “Old Boys”.  Naturally, these Old Boys would tend to remember their old chums with fondness, and lend each other a hand out in the worlds of government and high finance and so on, forming a “network” or “club” of sorts.  This term has gained wider usage, as such terms will, and now “The Old Boy’s Club” or “Old Boy’s Network” refers to any old group of old white men, born to privilege, who keep things moving along the way they always have so as to maintain their traditional advantages.

Good old boys

Good Old Boys (or Good Ole Boys, really), on the other hand, are a very different thing.  It is one of those interesting terms that is applied with varying degrees of perjoritiveness (perjorivosity?  Pejorivication?) by different people.  It has connotations similar to “redneck”, but some people choose to shade the term to emphasize the conviviality of the good old boys (like the Dukes of Hazard, say), while others emphasize their racism and anti-intellectualism.  Whatever you think of them, though, it does seem that while rednecks don’t necessarily have to be from the southern U.S., good old boys do.

So I submit to you that while it is possible that a collection of good old boys might stick together, and might even form some sort of network or club, they pretty much by definition never got anywhere near the halls of Charterhouse or Eton.  More to the point, they really aren’t striding the halls of power, or in any position to help others into those halls.  Hence, the term “Good Old Boys Network” is not a useful one.

Of course, then there are the Good Old Blues Brothers Boys, which is a whole different thing.


~ by smwilliams on July 24, 2012.

2 Responses to “Old Good Old Boys”

  1. Ah, I didn’t even know there was that confusion. Actually, I’m glad you defined that for me, because I probably DID confuse them and didn’t know it! So…I wonder…is there a female-equivalent cliche?

    • Well, I know plenty of female good old boys, so they deserve their own cliche (I guess redneck is gender-neutral, but it isn’t quite the same). Are there enough clubby groups of women keeping down those out of their network to really need a special phrase? The thing is that I could see “good old boy’s network” being a useful for descriptor for a very particular situation, but people confused about the cliche have muddied the waters. Sad, really.

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