The OED has made a public appeal for help in tracing the history of some English words, including:

party animal

noun earlier than 1982

When the OED added its entry for party animal, meaning ‘an exuberant reveler’, in 2005, the earliest quotation we were able to include was from 1982, but we knew that the term could almost certainly be traced earlier. As our entry notes, the slang lexicographer Jonathan Lighter has recorded hearing the term in a Saturday Night Live episode which aired in 1978: ‘Here is the party animal himself—Bill Murray.’ There is also a record of the similar term party hound being used in 1973. Yet, the first verifiable evidence we had at hand was from an interview with the playwright Israel Horovitz:

1982 New York Times 2 July c8/5 If this movie stops one couple from getting a divorce because it’s the groovy, party-animal thing to do, it’s worth everything.

Can you help us uncover party animal's earlier history? Records of spoken language such as television and film sources may hold the key, including any leads on establishing the original air date for the usage on Saturday Night Live.

I've found the original air date of the Saturday Night Live in question, and some examples on the same programme from the previous year.

But can you find anything earlier?


Saturday Night Live, 1978

Jane Curtin and Bill Murray, Saturday Night Live, 1978

The Saturday Night Live in the question first aired on March 25th, 1978. Here's a transcript of a sketch called Weekend Update from season 3, episode 15:

Jane Curtin: ... And now, with this week's movie news, here is the Party Animal himself -- Bill Murray.
Bill Murray: Thank you, Jane. [ he holds up his Oscar board ] Well, the Oscars are coming up, April 3rd, and here are my predictions, everybody. ...


Let me throw it back to a future Oscar winner, and a girl who's at least a half a party animal herself -- Jane Curtin. Get out of here, Jane, you're terrific!
Jane Curtin: Thank you, Bill!

SNL "party animal": 1977, 1978, 1980

And whilst we have the SNL transcripts handy, here's a whole load more, mostly from Bill Murray in Weekend Update.

Bill Murray, The New Guy, season 2: episode 16, March 19th, 1977:

[Fade in on recently-hired cast member Bill Murray who sits at a desk, addressing the camera.]
Bill Murray: Hello, I'm Bill Murray. You can call me "Billy" but, around here, everybody just calls me "The New Guy." ...


Last Friday, I went to a party with Danny. There was a pretty girl there I wanted to impress and, uh, I'm a party animal. I was very funny. Danny said nothing. He was saving it. She said to me, "You're so funny! I wish I had a tape recorder." Well, I wish she had, too, you know? Saturday night, after the show, when she went home with Dan, I could've played the tape back for her.

Bill Murray, Baba Wawa At Large sketch, season 2: episode 21, May 14th, 1977:

Richard Burton [played by Bill Murray]: They HATE me! They DESPISE me! And just because I'm a PARTY ANIMAL!! I like to PARTY! PARTY! PARTY! And they DON'T!!

Bill Murray, Weekend Update, season 3: episode 1, September 24th, 1977:

Bill Murray: Thank you, Jane. Hello, everybody. And I mean that. Now, get out of here! I love you! I hope everyone had a primo summer. Yours Truly, the Party Animal, went totally insane for three months!

Bill Murray, Weekend Update, season 3: episode 19, May 13th, 1978:

Bill Murray: Thank you, Jane. Well, just like all the other critics in this country, I gave my Oscar predictions the week before the Academy Awards. But unlike all those other critics, tonight I'm here to 'fess up on just how badly I did. Uh, pretty damn badly, I'm afraid. Other than Diane Keaton's nod for Best Actress, the party animal here completely struck out.

Bill Murray, Weekend Update, season 5: episode 14, March 15th, 1980:

Bill Murray: ... I gotta say: Ayatollah, if you wanna go, if you wanna get loony - I know you, you're a nut - if you wanna go, you know, go festive. Let loose the party animal within you, okay? Go completely nuts! [ puts lampshade on Ayatollah dummy ] Now, get out of here, you crazy Komeiniac! Get outta here! Jane?

SNL "party animals": 1977

Finally, the earliest I found is in the plural and isn't by spoken Bill Murray, but he's also in the sketch.

John Belushi, The Wild Bees Motorcycle Club sketch, Mardi Gras Special, February 20th, 1977:

Jake the Snake [played by John Belushi]: [ blows smoke at Rhonda's face ] You know what your gonna do?! You're comin' back to California with me! Come back to your block house! Listen! I'm an ANIMAL!! I call party animals, animals from parties! anything will do! We'll shave your head and chain you to the roof and wipe our feet on 'ya! And then we'll make 'ya pick up after us! Whattaya say?! you wanna come?! [ thrusts her to the ground ]


Via Google’s N-gram viewer:

The Alphi Phi Quarterly, 1913: relating to political party animals, but with an actual celebration involved.

This second ref is misdated in Google books. As noted by Andrew Leach in comments, it's actually from from Time after Time by Antoinette Stockenberg (1995): Das Oxforder Buch Deutscher Dichtung, 1927:

Liz was being attended to by her dinner partner, a party animal who looked as if he wasn't above howling at mid-

  • 3
    The 1913 reference looks like (political party)(animal) and not (political)(party animal), but the second one looks spot on. Dec 31 '12 at 15:42
  • 3
    The second one is from Time after Time by Antoinette Stockenberg (1995). I have no idea how Google Books has identified it as a German book from 1927.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 31 '12 at 18:17
  • 2
    It's the same reference: page 399. Same sentence, same typeface, and the same title-page image.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 31 '12 at 18:32
  • 2
    You need to be extremely careful with Google snippets for just this very reason: often they run two books together but show just the title and date for one. I've reported this book's problem to Google.
    – Hugo
    Jan 2 '13 at 20:14
  • 1
    @Hugo This is the second time I've run into this trouble with Google's ngrams site. You're right, much more care is needed. Jan 2 '13 at 20:37

In the 1850's, Sir Richard Owen (the man who came up with the word "dinosaur") hired a sculptor named Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to create the world's first life-sized dinosaur figures to display in the Crystal Palace.

In 1953 while the Iguanadon model was still under construction, Hawkins hosted a New Years Eve gathering and a dinning area was set up inside the partially built sculpture. Several people at the party celebrated and dined inside the unfinished model. (Wikipedia)

A narrator of the program Dinosaurs Next Exit: Prehistoric Parks Ahead talks about the idea of this rumoring to be the origin of the phrase "party animal." Here's a youtube link to that segment.

I can't find a documented use of the phrase that old, but it's still an interesting idea!

  • +1 Marvellous stuff, "party animal" a dinner party held inside a life-sized dinosaur model.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 29 '14 at 9:48

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