4

A video from 2005 (transcript) was recently released wherein Donald Trump made vulgar comments about women. In his effort to downplay/apologize for his remarks, he has repeatedly labeled his comments as "locker room talk" or "locker room banter". Articles, like one from the NYTimes, have since tried to explain what "locker-room talk" is, but these are from the perspective of what is literally said in a guys' locker room--as opposed to addressing the phrase from an English-language usage perspective.

Does the phrase "locker room talk" have any precedent? If so, has it historically been used to mean what Donald Trump is using it to mean? And what is its history?

7
  • 2
    I think to answer your second question, we’d have to start out by defining what exactly Trump is using it to mean. To the best of my knowledge, he is simply using it in the literal sense also used in the NYT article: stuff that guys talk about in locker rooms when there’s lots of testosterone and competitiveness floating about and they know there will be no women present. He’s not using it as a term to mean something else; he just seems to believe guys routinely do things like brag about sexually assaulting women in locker rooms, which many have said (correctly, one hopes) is not the case. Oct 11 '16 at 19:36
  • I don't know when lockerroomtalk.com was set up, but I bet they've had a bit more traffic than normal in the last few days. Oct 11 '16 at 19:37
  • In Britain we rarely use the term locker-room. It is either changing room (Rugby) or dressing room (football). How best to describe Trump's overheard conversation, I've no idea. But, as one who has lived an unsheltered life, I can honestly say that I have never before heard a man boast of having indecently assaulted a woman, claiming immunity to sanction on the basis of his own stardom. Never mind "locker room" , it is something one might only expect to hear from those "locked in a room"!
    – WS2
    Oct 11 '16 at 19:43
  • 1
    There has actually been a fair amount of academic study of "locker room talk". I would not say that this literature helps Trump's case.
    – 1006a
    Oct 11 '16 at 19:53
  • 1
    What some consider locker room talk and what Trump (or his staff) does may well differ. I have participated in many a macho environment— all-boys high school, swim team, college fraternity, etc.— but like WS2, never was open sexual assault acceptable, much less something brag about. We would have beaten the daylights out of anyone who did.
    – choster
    Oct 11 '16 at 21:41
6

Locker-room is used as an adjective to refer to explicit sexual talk. This usage appears to be from the '40s.

  • of, characteristic of, or suitable to conversation in a locker room; earthy or sexually explicit: locker-room humor.

Ngram shows usages of the expression "locker-room talk" from recent decades:

From The New York Times:

  • 28 mag 1982 - The hero (Russ Thacker) finally learns that sex isn't just locker-room talk but a means ''to create another human life.'' The heroine (Maureen Moore), prodded on by a spiritual adviser akin to the Mother Superior in '' The Sound of Music,'' decides to join a convent. The finale is titled ''Thank God.'' It would be unfair to say that ...

From The Gender Line 1998:

  • The do-me feminists are choosing locker room talk to shift discussion from the failures of men to the failures of feminism, from the paradigm of sexual abuse to the paradigm of sexual pleasure.
3
  • I'd be really interested to see one of the original examples of its usage in this context. I haven't been able to find where the info comes from that dates it back to the 40s.
    – spacetyper
    Oct 11 '16 at 19:53
  • 2
    @spacetyper, the OED's earliest attestations are both from the 1940s, one from a Texas newspaper and one from the entertainment magazine Billboard.
    – 1006a
    Oct 11 '16 at 19:57
  • @spacetyper - Ngram starts finding credible uses in the 1970s.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 11 '16 at 22:52
2

From Merriam-Webster: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/news-trend-watch/locker-room-20161009)

"'Locker-Room' 'Locker-room talk' has been with us for a while


Locker rooms have been with us since the middle of the 19th century, when they referred simply to rooms which had lockers and in which people changed their clothes. However, the word has also been used, for a considerable length of time, as an adjective, denoting things (especially talk) of a coarse or offensive nature.

Lookups for 'locker-room' spiked after Trump said comments which seemed to described sexual assault as "locker-room talk."

Trump repeated his apology but downplayed the seriousness of his comments. "This was locker-room talk," he said. -Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times, 9 Oct. 2016

The adjectival use of locker-room has been combined with talk since at least 1921:

In the July issue of the magazine Mr. Richards has two articles: one on the Bloomfield Hills Country Club, in which he sketches accurately and in a delightfully humorous way some of the locker-room talk that may be heard at any country club. -Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), 4 Sept.1921."

Here is the 'Ngram Viewer' graph of 'Locker room talk':

enter image description here

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