Airtight alibi

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Airtight alibi

Post by PhilHunt » Mon Jan 18, 2010 11:33 am

While looking up the word alibi, I started wondering when it was first refered to as 'airtight'. I decided this is probably one for the folks here.

For those who may be interested, I'll post below what I found out about the origins:

Online Etymology website
1743, "the plea of having been elsewhere when an action took place," from L. alibi "elsewhere," locative of alius "(an)other" (see alias). The weakened sense of "excuse" is attested since 1912, but technically any proof of innocence that doesn't involve being "elsewhere" is an excuse, not an alibi.
American Heritage:
Usage Note: When used as a noun, alibi in its nonlegal sense of "an excuse" is acceptable in written usage to almost half of the Usage Panel. As a verb (they never alibi), it is unacceptable in written usage to a large majority of the Panel.
Random House
Alibi in Latin is an adverb meaning “in or at another place.” Its earliest English uses, in the 18th century, are in legal contexts, both as an adverb and as a noun meaning “a plea of having been elsewhere.” The extended noun senses “excuse” and “person used as one's excuse” developed in the 20th century in the United States and occur in all but the most formal writing. As a verb alibi occurs mainly in informal use.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by hsargent » Mon Jan 18, 2010 3:39 pm

I think of alibi as almost exclusively a legal term.

I don't think of alibi as an excuse versus proof that one was someplace else from the location of the crime.

To me an excuse explains why one did something for a justifiable reason.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by trolley » Mon Jan 18, 2010 4:21 pm

Come to think of it, what's so good about an airtight alibi anyway? It doesen't actually mean that someone couldn't poke a hole in it. You'd be better off with a bullet-proof or iron-clad alibi. Then again, those two might not hold water.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:17 pm

I've many times encountered the term 'watertight alibi', but never 'airtight alibi'.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Phil White » Mon Jan 18, 2010 9:59 pm

Quite so, Erik.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by hsargent » Mon Jan 18, 2010 11:24 pm

And I have never heard of watertight versus airtight. I have also heard iron-clad.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by PhilHunt » Tue Jan 19, 2010 10:56 am

Hmmm.. perhaps I heard it somewhere in my head :/ Nope, I've just checked. I've seen it in news articles. Granted it's not as common as the rest, but it's there.

The Daily Tribune 2009-12-29
Gloria is Zaldy A’s airtight murder alibi
Naples news.com
Airtight alibi clears arrested North Naples man whose identity was stolen
Transcript of the O.J.Simpson trial
Thus, it makes no difference whether Colin Yamauchi was referring to news reports or to the actual statement of the defendant. The fact remains that an "airtight alibi" is attributed to the defendant:

"He's got an airtight alibi."

The impact upon the jury of leaving this testimony unexplained is readily apparent. they are left to speculate why the alleged "airtight alibi" has not been explained. Is it because it was false? Is it because the defense got it suppressed? The correct answer, of course, is it's because the prosecution made a tactical decision to keep it from the jury. The whole purpose of Section 356 is to say to the prosecution, "you can't have it both ways. You can't keep the defendant's exculpatory statement from the jury, and still offer to the jury a detached and misleading summary of the statement in the form, 'he's got an airtight alibi.'"

I even found this:
The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English | 2009
air·tight / ˈe(ə)rˌtīt/
• adj. not allowing air to escape or pass through.
∎ having no weaknesses; unassailable: Scamp had an airtight alibi.
Ok. Let's flip the question. When did alibi start to be thought of in terms of 'watertight' or 'iron-clad'. Is there a connection with nautical terminology?
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Shelley » Tue Jan 19, 2010 10:49 pm

Although I'm sure "watertight" and "iron-clad" exist as adjectives for alibi, I have never heard anything but "airtight alibi". Iron-clad agreement, definitely.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:13 pm

Google searches on the terms 'watertight alibi', 'water-tight alibi', 'airtight alibi', 'air-tight alibi', 'ironclad alibi' and 'iron-clad alibi' throw up significant numbers for all variants, although they must be skewed by the existence of a music band called 'Airtight Alibi' whose impact on the search results is too hard to tease out. There are even a few hits for 'copper-bottomed alibi'.

My general impression is that in the UK, a strong alibi is usually considered watertight, whereas in the USA it is quite likely to be regarded as airtight; but I can't quantify the prevalence of the terms more precisely than this.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Jan 22, 2010 1:19 am

We probably need them more regularly than those in other regions, and I'm only familiar with the term cast-iron alibi.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by PhilHunt » Fri Jan 22, 2010 8:01 pm

First hit on Google books is a 1945 thriller called "Air-Tight Alibi" by Walter Anthony Hackett.

There are also many hits in the text of thrillers from 1913 onwards, both British and American. I don't know if this is a good indication of anything or not, but it does seem to indicate a starting point in the novel "The Woman in Black" by Edmund Clerihew Bentley p183.

/Term/...../Starting date/.................. /Hits/
Iron clad (1904) [Between 1900-1945 48 hits]
Water Tight (1904) [Between 1900-1945 56 hits]
Cast Iron (1904) [Between 1900-1945 157 hits]
Air Tight (1913) [Between 1900-1945 56 hits]

So, we seem to have a starting point (on google books at least) for the idea of alibi as container.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by hsargent » Sat Jan 23, 2010 4:49 pm

I must be doing the Goggle differently.

I got 43,900 hits for airtight alibi and 23,400 for air tight alibi.

I did not do any more because I don't know if there is really a point. We could also "Bing" search.

Seems there is some regional variations but all are pretty clear in meaning.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:01 pm

Harry: as Phil H has mentioned, his hit count is for occurrences in Google Books, not for occurrences found with the regular Google search engine.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Lanfear » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:13 pm

'Ironclad: A 19th century warship with armour plating... used particularly of such ships during the civil war'.

Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

So, ironclad has a nautical history whether said of an alibi or of anything else.
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Re: Airtight alibi

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:45 pm

Prior to this posting, there appears to be 1 Ghit for "gold-plated alibi".
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