Gussied up

The phrase gussied up is considered an American idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase gussied up, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Gussied up means dressed up in a garish way, overly smartened up, applying heavy makeup and wearing flamboyant clothes. The expression gussied up is sometimes used humorously, but is not considered a compliment. If someone is overdressed in a manner that is too fancy for the occasion, or is so overdressed that she almost appears to be clownish, she is gussied up. The expression gussied up seems to have first appeared in the United States in the 1930s. Some believe that the term gussied up is derived from the slang word Gussie that was used in Australia and the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century. A Gussie was a weak or effeminate person, derived from the nickname for Augustus. Note that in this case, the word Gussie is capitalized. The expression seems to have taken on a new life in the 1940s when American tennis player “Gorgeous Gussie” Moran appeared at Wimbledon in frilled panties. Related phrases are gussy up, gussies up, gussying up. The phrase gussied up is hyphenated only if it is used as an adjective before a noun.


Why it’s that creaky old Hollywood property all gussied up in a new wig and a fresh set of false teeth, here with designs to take up residence again in our pop-culture-loving hearts. (The Seattle Times)

The Tea House on Los Rios is gussied up for the holidays with twinkling lights, wreaths and stockings. (The Los Angeles Times)

They’re gussied up in tuxedos and tails, when they used to be fit for strapping a deer to the hood and sticking the boat in the water. (The Providence Journal)

All gussied up, the play still lives and dies by its celebration of technical brilliance—I would trade all the proscenium stages in America for one pout, one perfectly-timed tilt of the eyebrow, from the great Pamela Chermansky, who plays Fancy Clown. (The Chicago Reader)

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