What is the origin of the phrase "to be in fat city" meaning "to do well" (financially or otherwise)? A search with an internet search engine suggests that it is of fairly recent vintage, as the two earliest occurrences in newspapers I could locate are from the 1990s:

http://articles.latimes.com/1994-03-20/local/me-36359_1_earthquake-readiness I kept thinking we would be in fat city if the house was left standing.

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/03/realestate/appraising-the-role-of-the-appraiser.html When the appraisers got licensed they thought they would be in fat city, but Federal licensing standards are so high that they had to do a lot more work.

  • Sounds like the opposite of 'being in Shit Street'! – WS2 Apr 17 '14 at 7:36
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    I am not familiar with that idiom. Is it British English by any chance? – njuffa Apr 17 '14 at 7:39
  • Yes; used most frequently with businesses about to go bankrupt. – WS2 Apr 17 '14 at 17:40
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    The slang term became familiar to most people following the publication (in 1969) of Leonard Gardner's novel, Fat City, and following the release of John Huston's excellent film of the same name (1972), which is based on that novel. – Sven Yargs Nov 30 '16 at 6:58

Fat City

noun Slang.
an easy and prosperous condition or circumstance: With a new house and a better-paying job, she's in Fat City.
Also, fat city.


As for why 'city,' Joe-ks has this to say under 'Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings,' though I'm not sure of the authenticity (Scroll down to 'Fat city'):

Fat city

Meaning: To have luxuries.
Example: When I land my movie contract we will be in fat city.
Origin: This is a type of slang that adds city to a word to indicate a "location" of some condition - "if you do that you'll end up in trouble city." And of course "fat" has been used for centuries as a synonym for rich and well-to-do people. From the fact that only the rich had the money to buy the food and the servants to do the work - both things adding to their size.

[emphasis added]

And the fun part:

Have you ever been to Fat City?

If you’ve ever been to Manteca, California, then you have indeed been there since the word “manteca” in Spanish literally means “lard.” Check it out the next time you’re in the meat section at Vons where they sell little bricks of it.

  • +1 That narrows down the time frame (earlier than I thought), but I am wondering whether there is more information on the origin? Was it coined by a particular person, was it derived from the jargon of a particular profession such as financial services, or did it originate in a particular region? "fat" as in "prosperous" makes sense, but why "city"? – njuffa Apr 17 '14 at 6:43
  • Following up on the pointer by Joe-ks, I found a few instances each of similary constructed phrases such as "frustration city" and "trouble city". So this explanation of the phrase's origin seems plausible. – njuffa Apr 18 '14 at 5:23

I've found this:

Fat City History – By Dan Ellis – The first phase of Lakeside Shopping Center became established in 1958-59 – Bob Spraque, architect. It was soon to become the anchor for the birthplace of numerous high-class lounges and happy-hour bars that would eventually be built. These were followed by apartment complexes that catered primarily to singles who greatly populated the area and laid the groundwork for a dynamic happening — Fat City.


  • This perfectly matches the timeframe given in Kris answer. – skymningen Apr 17 '14 at 10:17
  • I don't see a convincing connection yet. In the meantime I have consulted Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang which defines "fat city" as "the condition of being extremely well-off or having a superior advantage". The earliest citation is from 1964, from a source referred to as "AS XL", which appears to be a publication "American Speech". – njuffa Apr 17 '14 at 17:53

"To be in fat city" seems to have come up in analogy to old formulas in the bible such as "Ye shall eat the fat of the land". A modern variant is "to live off the fat of the land". The expression "to be in fat city" for "to be lucky" is AmE and a bit old-fashioned, according to Longman DCE.

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