The Birth and -- Maybe -- Death of Yuppiedom

After 22,000 articles, is this truly the end?

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BORN: 1983

DIED: 1991

Let not ambition mock their frivolous ways,

Their pricey joys and consumer craze.

Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful twitch

The short and selfish annals of the nouveau rich.

The causes of death were family, finances and fatigue. The tasteful tombstone is set amid the soothing green of a field of Perrier bottles.

Even now I cannot believe it is really over. Since early 1983, when the term first appeared in print, more than 22,000 magazine and newspaper articles have featured the word yuppie. Can this torrent be at an end?

As a card-carrying baby boomer, I take this death personally. Not that I ever was really a yuppie, of course. But walking the greed-locked streets of Manhattan at the dawning of the new age of avarice, I felt like John Reed in Moscow in 1917. A revolution in human consumption patterns was under way, and I was on the barricades, ordering grilled tuna with sun-dried tomatoes, an arugula-and-radicchio salad, an insouciant Chardonnay and cappuccino.

Please understand that my values have always been spiritual, stressing service to others above all. But like many of my generation, I nurtured an image of the good life that was the polar opposite of how my parents spent their discretionary income in the 1950s. My taste was too elevated to tolerate frozen vegetables, supermarket ice cream, one-from-Column-A Chinese restaurants, off-the-rack clothing and clunky domestic automobiles. Yuck, how Middle American! My refined sensibilities required only the best: fresh asparagus, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Sichuan and Hunan restaurants, ventless Italian suits. But I was never one of those yuppies; they drove BMWs.

That was the whole point -- yuppies were always somebody else. Almost no one fit all the requirements of age (young), income (high), geography (urban), attitude (selfish) and affectations (Filofaxes and yellow power ties). Yet the fascination with charting the tastes of this subgroup was easily explainable. "Yuppies live in the fashionable neighborhoods of large urban areas," says Brad Edmondson, editor of American Demographics. "That's also precisely where editors and TV producers live."

The social history of American life since the early 1980s can be encapsulated in the ever changing images conveyed by this simple six-letter word. Watch how the meaning of yuppie shifts with the zeitgeist.

1983. A value-neutral term occasionally popping up in print as a successor to preppie.

1984. The takeoff year. It started as a political buzz word to describe the followers of Gary Hart and ended up as a catchall label for the Doonesbury generation.

1985. Now uttered with a slight sneer. Slowly, it starts to be used as an adjective modifying the noun greed.

1986. The first recorded use of the phrase "death of the yuppie." In hindsight, this can be seen as wish fulfillment.

1987. After the stock-market crash, the press plays taps. The Wall Street Journal declares, "Yuppies have become a bore and . . . Madison Avenue is trying to wipe them out."

1988. A consensus that the flashy life-style is doomed by the old-money values of President-elect George Bush.

1989. The fading finances of corporate raiders herald the bonfire of yuppie vanities.

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