high-maintenance woman

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high-maintenance woman

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Sep 20, 2007 9:05 pm

In the posting Gender: political correctness the subject of HIGH MAINTENANCE WOMAN came up and it is here listed as a separate topic.

This is off-topic – however, that’s often where a lot of the fun is and where we are a good portion of the time – but since it came up, I was wondering how and when this high-maintenance woman/women expression (sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not) got started, and here’s what I came up with:

The phrase had its roots in the adjectival expression LOW-MAINTENANCE (1916), which applied to inanimate objects and which is defined as ‘that which requires a low or minimal level of maintenance or effort,’ as in a low-maintenance equipment:
<1916 “Low cost and low-maintenance cars”—‘Washington Post,’ 2 January, page 15/3>
Some 60 years later, came the contrasting adjectival expression HIGH-MAINTENANCE, which is defined as that which requires a high level of maintenance or effort,’ as in high-maintenance equipment. This expression, surprisingly, appeared in print only relatively recently and I was unable to turn up anything earlier than the following 1977 Oxford English Dictionary quote:
<1977 “The considerable extra cost of building and equipping a plant in a high-construction-cost, high wage, HIGH MAINTENANCE region like Arabia.”—‘The Economist,’ 10 December, page 71/1>
Less than 10 years later, HIGH-MAINTENANCE (1985) began to be used to describe a person who requires a high level of maintenance and effort, where this maintenance requirement may be self-imposed (e.g. sartorial, dietary, monetary, self grooming, etc.) or may be required of another person in a relationship in the form of attention, etc.; very demanding or fussy; needing and craving a great deal of attention and possibly having a big ego as with, but not limited to a 'prima donna' or 'princess.'

And finally, and nearly simultaneously (within 2 years) as far as I could determine, it came to be applied specifically to a woman and women as in HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN. The OED doesn’t list a quote using these exact three words, but its earliest example, which does specifically refers to a female, is from 1994 (see quote below). The earliest examples I found in my search were from 1987 (see quotes below). However, my earliest memory of this usage is from one of my all-time favorite movies When Harry Met Sally, the 1989 film starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal (see quote below). And it’s pretty clear that Billy Crystal’s words to Meg Ryan in this movie were what really catapulted this expression into the big time. I would add that the form of high-maintenance that Crystal’s character was referring to here, at least with respect to Sally's personality, was mainly of the self-imposed, fussy variety, where Sally had to have everything just so and usually in non-standard form as witnessed, for example, by her highly idiosyncratic food ordering habits in restaurants.
<1985 “None is what I think of as a HIGH-MAINTENANCE friend—someone, that is, who requires regular ministering to in the form of visits, daily telephone calls, or lengthy letters.”—J. Epstein in ‘American Scholar,’ Spring, page 155/2>

<1987 “The . . . suggestion that any shift in more feminine fashion signals a mass exodus from the work place could arise only in the rarefied social milieu inhabited by the leading designers and their clients-a tiny claque of HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMEN . . . who work at nothing more arduous than the organization of charity balls.”—‘Washington Post,’ 8 March>

<1987 “ . . . aimed the microphone toward the exquisite Mrs. Kimball, already forming in her mind the title of the article ‘HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN.’”—‘Living Color’ by Kate Coscarelli, 21 May, page 221>

<1989 “‘Billy Crystal (Harry): There are two kinds of women: HIGH MAINTENANCE and low maintenance.’ Meg Ryan (Sally): ‘Which one am I?’ Billy Crystal (Harry): ‘You're the worst kind. You're HIGH MAINTENANCE but you think you're low maintenance.’”—(film) ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ written by Nora Ephron, and directed by Rob Reiner>

<1991 “Long-distance relationships . . . are very HIGH-MAINTENANCE.”—‘Sassy,’ August, page 77/1>

<1993 “This affair, between an aging, gray-haired, working stiff and a beautiful, independent, HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN approximately 175 years younger, is one of the movie's [[Another Stakeout]] more unintentional jokes. ‘Washington Post.’ 23 July>

<1994 “I like her, but she's too HIGH MAINTENANCE.”—‘Illuminata’ by M. Williamson, II. v. page 146>

<1996 “‘"I know she loved to shop and she loved quality,’ . . .Hawthorne was HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN. She used to keep a standing appointment at her hair salon. Her nails were always manicured. Being impeccably dressed was second nature.”—‘Washington Post,’ 3 August>

<1997 “The Princess [[Diana]] is what is known as a HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN. She has eight pairs of tennis shoes and spends pounds 4,000 a year on underwear alone. She is the sort of woman who expects lavish gifts, expensive holidays, and a constant supply of champagne and flowers.”—‘The News Letter’ (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 24 July>

<1998 “‘We only wanted women [
] who were not psychologically needy, {who are not} HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMEN,’ said Craig, . . . who more than two decades ago helped found the Washington chapter of the National Organization for Women.”—‘Washington Post,’ 4 July>

<1999 “Brown is an exceptionally unguarded actress, and McTeer, a British stage actress, brings the right mixture of verve and vulnerability to the role of a high-volume, HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN.” [[in movie Tumbleweeds]]—‘ Denver Rocky Mountain News’ (Colorado), 10 December>

<2002 “I am thinking of going on one of those girlie spa days, like a proper HIGH-MAINTENANCE WOMAN.—‘The Mirror’ (London), 14 December>

<2004 “My character is very HIGH MAINTENANCE. She's a real diva and always looks immaculate.”—‘Liverpool Daily Echo’ (Nexis), 2 October, page 3>

<2007 “‘HIGH MAINTENANCE WOMAN’ is an Aerosmith-flavored lament sung by an apartment-complex handyman who realizes he'll never get close to the career women at the pool.”—‘Washington Post.’ 13 July> [[song on pop-country singer Toby Keith’s album Big Dog Daddy]]
(Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)


To be evenhanded, though, there should be the expression HIGH-MAINTENANCE MAN, and, of course, there is – the ladies would never let us get away with that one – but its use is far less frequent. A Google search produced ~ 78,000 hits for ‘high-maintenance woman/women,’ whereas there were less than 6000 hits for ‘high-maintenance man/men.’ So much for equality!
<1997 “Worn by well-paid executives whose businesses cross borders, it's a look [[men who dress in designer garb by Prada]] that says, quietly but with authority, "I am a HIGH-MAINTENANCE MAN. I see myself as sexy. And I hope you do, too." ‘Washington Post.’ 14 September>

<1998 “He's a HIGH MAINTENANCE MAN who, like many little men, needs his ego massaged night and day.”—‘The Daily Record’ (Glasgow, Scotland), 10 April>

<2000 “In other words, don't be a HIGH-MAINTENANCE MAN who depends on many--too many--things to make you happy.”—‘Ebony,’ 1 May>

<2003 “Having spent as many years around the Prince of Wales as any ‘outsider’ on Earth, may I [[columnist James Whitaker]] tell you he isn't modest, he isn't hard-up, he isn't even vaguely frugal and that he's the most HIGH-MAINTENANCE MAN I've ever known. ‘The Mirror’ (London), 5 July>

<2004 “Cathryn has admitted to attracting HIGH-MAINTENANCE MEN in the past, who are exhausting and have a huge ego. ‘The Mirror’ (London), 24 August>

<2005 “Diary of a High-Maintenance Man: Cosmo Style imagines what a day in the life of an over-the-top metrosexual might be like: 7:30 am Wake and hit the gym. Spend 15 minutes doing crunches, then 15 minutes admiring six-pack in the mirror. Repeat: 8:30 am Sit in eucalyptus steam room. Breathe deeply from the core; 10:15 am Back; sack; and crack-waxing appointment. Remind aesthetician to give a countdown before ripping: 1:05 pm Wash down diuretic pill with a skim cappuccino at lunch--gotta get rid of the bloat before my date; 2:00 pm Head to therapy. At Hugo Boss; 4:30 pm Read newspaper article about Beards making a style comeback. Consider growing one; 8:00 pm Dine at hip new raw-food Restaurant. Give Natasha my wallet to Hold (to prevent butt from looking bulky); 10:00 pm Lure Natasha into bed by bragging about new 1,000 thread-count Egyptian--cotton sheets; 12:00 am Politely ask Natasha to go home. Need good night's sleep. Can't have dark circles for big a.m. Meeting tomorrow.”—‘Cosmopolitan,’ 22 September>

<2007 “I wonder what would be happening now if Williams and the front office [[baseball team Boston Red Sox]] had had more faith in some they cast aside. Aaron Rowand, Neal Cotts, . . . and youngsters like . . . center fielder Chris Young. Maybe even the HIGH-MAINTENANCE MAN, El Duque [[Orlando Hernandez, now pitcher for the New York Mets]]”—‘Chicago Tribune’ (Illinois), 20 May>
(quotes from archived sources)


There were many great exchanges in When Harry Met Sally (Can you tell that I was taken with that movie?) The faked-orgasm scene in the diner is priceless and unforgettable, with the older female customer (actually played by Rob Reiner’s mother) when it was over telling the waitress taking her order, “I’ll have whatever she’s having.”

One more classic jewel was the philosophical discussion between Crystal and Ryan on why a man can never be friends with a woman – and then I’ll quit, but I could go on – was the following:

Billy Crystal (Harry Burns): You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Meg Ryan (Sally Albright): Why not?
Billy Crystal (Harry): What I'm saying is - and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form - is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Meg Ryan (Sally): That's not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Billy Crystal (Harry): No you don't.
Meg Ryan (Sally): : Yes I do.
Billy Crystal (Harry): No you don't.
Meg Ryan (Sally): Yes I do.
Billy Crystal (Harry): You only think you do.
Meg Ryan (Sally): You say I'm having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Billy Crystal (Harry):: No, what I'm saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
Meg Ryan (Sally): They do not!
Billy Crystal (Harry): Do too.
Meg Ryan (Sally): They do not.
Billy Crystal (Harry): Do too.
Meg Ryan (Sally): How do you know?
Billy Crystal (Harry):Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Meg Ryan (Sally): So, you're saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Billy Crystal (Harry): No. You pretty much want to nail 'em too.
Meg Ryan (Sally): What if THEY don't want to have sex with YOU?
Billy Crystal (Harry): Doesn't matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Meg Ryan (Sally): Well, I guess we're not going to be friends then.
Billy Crystal (Harry): I guess not.
Meg Ryan (Sally): That's too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

Ken G – September 20, 2007.

high-maintenance woman

Post by LoisMartin » Fri Sep 21, 2007 12:12 am

Thanks for explaining my off-handed expression. And thanks especially for reminding me of scenes from a great movie!
Signature: Lois from Birmingham

high-maintenance woman

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Sep 21, 2007 7:01 am

Almost 30 years ago, from time to time I encountered highway maintenance women in Russia hacking holes in asphalt with picks or raking sand over a road bed. Seemed like hard work.
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high-maintenance woman

Post by mongrowl » Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:27 pm

Back in the seventy,s it was well known among young men on the subject of 'muscle' versus 'sports' cars, that 'sports' cars were expensive mainly because they were "high maintainance" vehicles. I experienced this with my jag-wahr. Just could not keep it in tune.
Signature: All we can do is the Best we can do.

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