See you later, alligator


When was the first time a well-known word or phrase was used in print? explores the history and origins of famous people and places, and of popular phrases, companies,
brand names, products and ideas, along with familiar words and sayings.

Bill Haley and the Comets. One of the classic bands of rock-n-roll. Their monster rockabilly hits changed the world of popular music.

Rock Around the Clock…Shake, Rattle, and Roll…See You Later, Alligator.

Say what??

You may not remember See You Later Alligator, but it was a hit in its day, and a featured song (and dance number, of course) in the 1956 hit movie, Rock Around the Clock.

You can see Bill Haley and the Comets perform the entire SYLA number in all its B&W glory on YouTube.

A popular-enough tune, See You Later, Alligator wasn’t universally well-received. Time Magazine’s popular music critic (who clearly did not like rock-n-roll) described it as “Rock ‘n’ roll rhythm in full cry, primitive to the point of idiocy.”

The lyrics — which include See you later, alligator, and the instant retort, After ‘while, crocodile — picked up on popular teen slang of the day (or jive, as it was known back then).

I have two FirstMentions for you, appearing very close together in 1954. The earliest dates back to the Words, Wit and Wisdom column in the Reno Evening Gazette of February 16, 1954.

Venita Fickel of Oakland, California, the world thanks you for bringing See you later, alligator to the masses.

Just a few weeks later, on February 28, the Los Angeles Times ran a story, Do Kids Speak English, which featured the phrase right up front.

And in case you’re wondering what teens in Los Angeles looked like back then, here’s how the LA Times depicted them…

In between private teen talk, and Bill Haley’s song, SYLA was popularized country-wide by Armour Hot Dogs, in a 1955 advertising campaign.

Crazy man, crazy.