Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Most everyone has probably heard the phrase "tall, dark, and handsome" being used to describe the physical qualities of a perfect male romantic match. Where did this phrase come from, and who, if anyone, made it popular?

share|improve this question
    
would it sound discriminating calling a man from African origin "talk, dark and handsome?" –  rena Jun 26 '13 at 6:04
add comment

6 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The earliest use of it in print that I can find is from The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1833. It is from a "paper" titled "The Story of Hester Malpas," by L.E.L.:

Hester now looked at her aunt, who was the very reverse of what she had imagined : she had always thought she would be like her father, and fancied a tall, dark, and handsome face.

According to an excellent post found at Wordwizard.com, and as seen in the citation above, the phrase was originally used to describe women as well as men up until the early 20th century (see EL&U discussion here). Also of note, the popularity of the phrase spiked after a movie by the same name was made in 1941 starring Caesar Romero.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I can antedate Callithumpian's 1833, at least by dropping the and. The earliest is in 1815's Scenes on the shores of the Atlantic, Volume 2 By M. F. Dickson:

a tall, dark, handsome youth, n'est ce pas Mam'selle? but so melancholy.

This Ngram suggests the shorter version is more common:

tall dark handsome vs. tall dark and handsome

Before these years, the adjectives tall, dark can be easily found together in many places, such as describing men, mountains and trees.

share|improve this answer
add comment

This is a phrase associated with the upper class Europeans along with another allied phrase, namely, "prince charming". Trace it back to Europe especially around the time that the "swarthy" Moors were the masters of Spain. The Shakespearean play Othello is a definite clue. The search will also no doubt find that during the same period the European upper class prided themselves in being extremely pale and free of the tell-tale signs of having had to spend any appreciable time in the Sun. Hence the term "blue blood" that came about as the extremely Sun deprived skin would exposed the veins in a bluish hue thereby giving the illusion of one having blue blood.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I've just heard an anecdotal report on "Travel with Rick Steeves" radio show (American Public Radio) that the Scots believed that to have a stranger who was tall, dark and handsome appear on New Year's as the "first footer" meant good luck all year - as Viking conquerors would have have been blonde, and there to collect taxes or worse. No real etymology research here, but makes a fun thought, and would likely predate much of the written practice.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Suits and Tuxedos may be the source of the "dark, and handsome" part. Wearing nice clothing can also make people "stand taller," because they are proud of their clothing.

share|improve this answer
    
This answer is probably just speculation, but I'm giving it credit for at least attempting to answer the implied (and in my mind, more interesting) question of why or how this phrase came about. A list of publications and dates may answer the question asked more literally, but is dry and not very explanatory. –  John Y Mar 22 '11 at 4:53
add comment

Probably Europe.

Other cultures outside of Europe (with darker skin) seem to think that lighter skin is more beautiful.

share|improve this answer
1  
I'm pretty sure it's dark hair, not dark skin, which is meant. –  TRiG Sep 6 '11 at 0:40
add comment

protected by tchrist Mar 31 '13 at 21:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.