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I used to watch an anime titled Golden Boy. A few years after I saw it, I heard the lyrics of a Shins song say "you're finally golden boy". In both cases it seems to refer to a young man coming of working age or maybe the first signs of success (probably in terms of a carrier or something).

I was wondering how widespread that usage is, where it comes from, and if I'm right about the meaning.

Anyone know of this?

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This questions appears to duplicate english.stackexchange.com/questions/8092/on-being-golden –  mfe Apr 10 '11 at 18:53
    
I read that post before I ask. It kind of touches on it but in relation to being 'golden'. It gives some examples of 'golden boy' usage but does not really give a reason for it's meaning, or what exactly that meaning is. Basically, an answer in that post does refer to 'golden boy' but does not answer the questions I ask. –  logicbird Apr 10 '11 at 19:43
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Note: I did find that post useful, but I'm still curious about 'golden boy' more so than the seemingly more general statement of being golden. I don't know, maybe I'm just splitting hairs. thanks for pointing out that post anyway. –  logicbird Apr 10 '11 at 19:51
    
This is a great question. The link I pointed to doesn't satisfy your question. I just wanted to point out a good answer would benefit both posts. –  mfe Apr 10 '11 at 19:55
    
"Golden Boy" appears in Seinfeld youtube.com/watch?v=CEp6-MAFbCY –  trideceth12 Apr 11 '11 at 10:56
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Looking at an Ngram of the phrase I noticed a sharp rise in its print frequency starting just before 1940. Scanning references from that time period, I found numerous mentions of Golden Boy, a commercially successful 1937 play by Clifford Odet (inspiration for the Coens' Barton Fink). This is also the earliest reference given by the OED as quoted by @Cerberus in his answer to the linked queston, On being golden.

I then found this definition in Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable that confirms the influence of Odet's title:

Golden boy or girl.

A popular or successful person, especially in sport or business. In the former, it is usually implicitly connected with one who wins gold medals, especially when handsome or attractive. Thus the good-looking US boxer Oscar De La Hoya was dubbed the 'Golden Boy of Boxing' after winning the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics. In Clifford Odet's play Golden Boy (1937) the hero, a violinist, is also a successful boxer.

Other Google Books listings confirm the use of the phrase as a favorite in sports lingo, with various countries and sports having their own golden boys.

The phrase certainly predates this popularization, though. I found several figurative uses of the phrase from the 19th century, notably this 1848 reference describing a character from Goethe's 1773 Goetz von Berlichingen:

Then there is George— " the golden boy," the joyous and lighthearted aspirant to chivalry, whom old Gotz loved as a part of himself, and who is indeed the very perfection of boys.

The phrase is in quotes because it is being used as a direct (translated) quotation from the play. Sir Walter Scott's English translation of this play has "gallant boy." If any German-fluent users here could confirm that "golden" is a more accurate translation, then this may be the first example of its modern connotation.

In other news, I found early references to the Japanese legend of Kintarō whose name is often translated "Golden Boy" and is the inspiration for the anime title mentioned by the OP. This popular Japanese folk hero, a child of superhuman strength, could also be the origin of this phrase in English though I couldn't find translations of his name as such before this 1896 reference:

The hero of Japanese boys is Kintarō, the "Wild Baby," the "Golden Darling." Companionless he played with the animals, put his arm around their necks, and rode upon their backs. Of him we are told,"He was prince of the forest; the rabbits, wild boars, squirrels and pheasants and hawks, were his servants and messengers." He is the apotheosis of the child in Japan.

Also of note, while unrelated to its origin, is the use of the phrase golden boy in gay subculture since the 1970s to refer to a young man in his prime.

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Nice work. Two thumbs up. –  mfe Apr 11 '11 at 15:54
    
wow, thanks Callithumpian. That is a wonderfully well researched answer. You addressed all the points of my question and also satisfied my curiosity very well. Your answer is so well documented that it also helps to serve as a guide for how to research this kind of question in general. Thank you to @mfe as well for supporting this question to help get it answered. Thanks to @Billare and @Kosmonaut for fixing formating issues with my question. I think I learned some of my mistakes from your examples. Thanks to anyone else who helped with this question that I did not mention. –  logicbird Apr 12 '11 at 19:23
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To me, a primary meaning is found in business and other organizations. The term describes a leader's current favorite for advancement, and is often used derisively by the favorite's competitors. There is an implied fickleness in the choosing, and a consequent jealousy of the chosen one. engendered when the power broker uses the labeling process to manipulate his "princes" to work harder and be more loyal.

The term also carries a connotation of royal courtiers in a not-so-friendly competition to gain the king's blessing as his chosen favorite son.

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No existing answers mention the most prominent early usage - Rhododaphne: or, The Thessalian spell (1818) a poem by Thomas Love Peacock which includes the (imho, less-than-immortal) lines:

A golden boy, in semblance fair

Of actual life, came forth, and led

Anthemion to a couch, beside

That festal table, canopied

With cloth by subtlest Tyrian dyed.

Although few would claim Peacock was one of our finest poets, he was (and possibly still is) quite widely read, so this could be quite sufficient to establish "golden boy" as a known "set phrase".

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