American slang: “to give a girl the time” (in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye)

In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, chapter 6, Holden, who is worried sick because one of his school mates, Stradlater, some kind of sexual predator, went on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden used to know and get on well with, writes:

‘What’d you do?’ I said. ‘Give her the time in Ed Banky’s goddam car?’

How come ‘give a girl the time’ can mean ‘have sex with a girl’?


Green’s Dictionary of Slang has an entry for “give her the time,” defined as of a man, to have sexual intercourse, but the only citation provided is a reference to the Salinger passage discussed here, which appears to leave potentially two open questions, one being whether the phrase was actually ever in slang use outside the realm of fiction, apart from references alluding to Catcher In the Rye.

The second question, as outlined in by the OP, is why:

How come ‘give a girl the time’ can mean ‘have sex with a girl’?

A possible explanation for this is given in the context of the phrase as defined in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2005), which defines it as a variant of do her job for her:

do her job for her v. [mid-19C+] of a man, to have sexual intercourse and give a woman an orgasm (cf. give her a tail v.; give her one v.; give her the jampot v.; give her the time v.;

This angle suggests that it could be an alteration of “give her a good time,” ostensibly referring euphemistically to giving “her” “an orgasm,” though we have no knowledge of what evidence Cassell used to categorize the phrase this way.

If the phrase is a true slang phrase that was adopted by Salinger into use by a fictitious character, it seems like a reasonable explanation of the phrase’s use. There are plenty of slang terms and phrases that lexicographers take seriously but which have essentially no identifiable primary source examples available.

However, it’s worth noting that the phrase might have been a complete invention of Salinger’s unless anyone can disprove that by finding other uses in print.

Another possibility

It’s also worth considering the similarity to the phrase make time with, meaning “to make advances, to flirt, to court,” as in this 1942 citation from GDoS:

He’s one of those cab-Casanova — makes more time than a driver does.

  • W. Winchell ‘On Broadway’ 23 Jan. [synd. col.]

Another citation from 1935 might be earlier to follow by context:

Brer’ Rabbit saw he wasn’t makin’ no time wid Miss Saphronie.

  • Z.N. Hurston Mules and Men (1995) 109

Source : Link , Question Author : user58319 , Answer Author : RaceYouAnytime

Leave a Comment