Origin of the word dating
Part 1: A Brief History of Dating and Courtship in America Let's turn our attention now to "dating" and the "date" itself. How did it become such an important part of our courtship system? According to cultural historian Beth Bailey, the word was probably originally used as a lower-class slang word for booking an appointment with a prostitute.
However, by the turn of the 20th century we find the word being used to describe lower-class men and women going out socially to public dances, parties and other meeting places, primarily in urban centers where women had to share small apartments and did not have spacious front parlors in their homes to which to invite men to call.
After World War II, due in part to the fact that 250,000 men never came home, for the first time in the United States, women outnumbered men.
In June 1945, captioned a photo of a bride and groom descending church steps with: "She got a man, but 6 to 8 million women won't. " Around this same time a half-serious article was published in magazine discussing the possibility of instituting a polygamous marriage system in the United States.
The article went on to say that if, for some reason, you did not have a date on a particular night, you should keep the lights off in your dorm room so no one would know you were home.
Beth Bailey comments, "Popularity was clearly the key — and popularity defined in a very specific way.
In the late 1940s, Margaret Mead, in describing this pre-war dating system, argued that dating was not about sex or marriage.
His study of Penn State undergraduates detailed a "dating and rating" system based on very clear standards of popularity.
At the center of this 1950s youth dating culture was the act of "going steady," according to Beth Bailey.