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Is the sentence below correct?

The place is lousy with hippies

I looked it up on merriam-webster.com but they said that lousy was:

infested with lice

Close, but not quite there...

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your sentence,

The place is lousy with hippies

means the place is filled with undesirable or unwanted hippies. Here the meaning of being infested with lice is not used. You can look up in Oxford English Dictionary - here.

Therefore the sentence is correct.

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I don't see how your link supports your assertion that 'lousy' can mean 'full of' anything other than lice. –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 8:20
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@Benjol - the quote in the definition says "(lousy with) informal teeming with " - that does not refer to lice –  Mark Feb 14 '11 at 11:55
    
@Mark, ok I see. I guess I just skimmed the 1. and 2., and didn't see anything there. –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 12:24

I'm not sure what you think lousy means, but from your example phrase, it doesn't look like you think it means what I think it means!

In general usage, lousy means "of bad quality" or just plain bad.

In fact, I'd say that you'll find it is almost exclusively used with that meaning. If people are referring to something that is infested with lice, they are more likely to say "infested with lice", or "lice-infested", to avoid being misunderstood.

Because if you say, "my lousy son", people are more likely to think you are referring to his bad attitude than his bad hair...

(It's interesting to note that on this Merriam-Webster page, even though the 1st meaning is give as "infested with lice", all of the usage examples relate to the one I suggest above)

Edit, as @Ian points out in his comment below, the ambiguity would be written, because when speaking, one would differentiate between louSSy (with 'louses') and louZy (bad/'naff'). Nevertheless, I can't think of the last time I heard anyone say louSSy. (Re-edit read the comments)

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I think the word is pronounced with an unvoiced s sound when it means lice-infested, to match louse (the singular of lice), but with a voiced z for the more common meaning. That way it's not ambiguous when you speak, but doesn't help reading. –  Ian Henry Feb 14 '11 at 8:15
    
@Ian, good point. I wonder if that's the case on both sides of the Atlantic? –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 8:16
    
@Ian: are you sure? As I understand, the original sense is also pronounced with a /z/ — or at least, it was when it was in more common use. The OED only lists this pronunciation; also, somewhere in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Pairie series, a girl named Eliza Jane who’s had headlice gets taunted with “Lazy, lousy, Lizy Jane”, which strongly suggests they used /z/ in the 19th-century Midwest… If lousy gets pronounced with /s/ these days, I’d imagine this is a spelling pronunciation, arising just since the literal sense fell out of common use. –  PLL Feb 14 '11 at 18:07
    
@PLL - No, I'm not sure. That was based on a thoroughly nonscientific poll consisting of me and a friend. Thinking about it after the fact I think my reasoning is that lice - louse - lousy should be pronounced to rhyme with mice - mouse - mousy, but honestly I'm not sure I've ever heard the word spoken (and I live in Austin, with no shortage of lousy hippies). –  Ian Henry Feb 15 '11 at 0:07

Lousy means literally infested with lice. That's actually a rather uncommon usage, though; nowadays it's almost always just a synonym for bad. So you could say:

Hippies are lousy.

Which is sort of a subtle pun on the idea that hippies have lice, but in general you'd just be saying that hippies are bad. You can't say:

This place is lousy with hippies.

Because that means this place is infested with lice with hippies, which doesn't make much sense. This place is infested with hippies with lice does make sense, though: the lice infest the hippies and the hippies infest this place. And you could say:

This place is full of lousy hippies.

Which means that the place is full of hippies, and that you think hippies in general are lousy people. In the right context, it could also be understood to mean that while this place is full of lousy hippies, there's somewhere else that has good ones.

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@Rhodri: It just sounds off to me. –  Jon Purdy Feb 14 '11 at 17:08
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purdy: It's a perfectly good idiom around my parts. –  Hellion Feb 15 '11 at 3:27

As others have said, probably the commonest meaning of lousy today is simply bad.

Ugh, the weather here is lousy.

However, the OP’s example is not quite this sense; it’s a figurative usage a bit closer to the original in meaning. Lousy with X is roughly equivalent to swarming with X, or more generally, well-supplied with X. It often implies that X’s are undesirable (as in the OP’s lousy with hippies), but not always:

Amazon is Lousy with Gaming Deals Today  —kotaku.com headline

The Random House Mavens’ Word of the Day has a nice little article on the matter.

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Interesting, I've not come across that usage before. Re @Ian's comment on my answer, how would you pronounce this type of lousy? Louzy or Loussy? –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 8:24
    
@Benjol: I’d always pronounce it with a /z/, whatever sense of the word I’m using. See my comment on your answer too… –  PLL Feb 14 '11 at 18:08

Lousy means generally of poor quality (materially or morally).

It's pronounced "LOW-zee" in the US and UK.

Originally it meant "full of lice", and the implication in calling someone a louse is that they're (metaphorically) a blood-sucking pest. But as noted, it's hardly ever used to actually say that someone has lice. You'd generally say "has lice". As I did.

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The NOAD reports that lousy means also teeming with something regarded as bad or undesirable.
You can understand lousy as metaphorically referring to an infestation.

The town is lousy with tourists.

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