Q: Throughout my life, I have thought that “hardy” meant being able to withstand hard things, while “hearty” referred to doing things heartily. Why do so many people say “party hardy” when I would say “party hearty”?
A: Well, “party hearty” is the older of the two phrases, but both of them have been around for dozens of years, and “party hardy” is slightly more popular on the Web.
The Oxford English Dictionary says the colloquial verb phrases “party hearty” and “party hardy” mean the same thing: “go to parties, celebrate, drink, etc., esp. unrestrainedly.”
The OED’s earliest citation for “party hearty” is from a headline in the Dec. 24, 1955, issue of the Washington Post: “Young set still party hearty.”
The dictionary’s earliest example for “party hardy” is from the July 7, 1977, issue of the same newspaper: “ ‘Party hardy! Yeehaw!’ yelled Brenda Stephens, 14.”
Oxford says the “hardy” form “seems likely to derive from the expression party hard,” with the “-y” suffix added “for reduplicative effect.”
(We’ve written several times on the blog about reduplicatives, terms with recurring sounds. A recent post discusses examples like “goody goody,” “bow-wow,” and “choo-choo.”)
The OED also has citations for “party hearty” and “party hardy” used as adjectival phrases, including these two:
“Those party-hearty people who manage, somehow, to take in four and five debuts a day are complaining,” from the Dec. 24, 1955, issue of the Washington Post.
“The Gang cranks up one of its party-hardy grooves,” from the Jan. 14, 1985, issue of People Weekly.
And the Dictionary of American Slang (4th ed.) has an entry for the noun phrase “party hearty.” The dictionary defines the noun as a “party animal” and gives this example:
“He attracted a Hollywood set of Hawaiian-shirt party hearties who sunned themselves like alligators down in Key West.”
We suspect, as you do, that “party hardy” was initially the result of an eggcorn, the misinterpretation of a word or phrase as another word or phrase. The linguists Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Liberman coined this term for a substitution—like “egg corn” for “acorn.”
The OED suggests that the American accent may have contributed to the substitution of “hardy” for “hearty.”
“The interchangeability of hardy with hearty is likely to have arisen because their U.S. pronunciation is frequently identical,” the dictionary says. It notes that the usage originated in the US and is chiefly seen there.
The Eggcorn Database, a collaborative collection of eggcorns, has a Feb. 20, 2005, entry on “party hardy” submitted by the linguist Ben Zimmer.
Zimmer cites two songs released in 1977: “Party Hardy,” by the funk band Slave, and “We Party Hearty,” by the funk band L.T.D.
Ten years ago, when Zimmer wrote his entry for the Eggcorn Database, he said the usage was running “about 1.3:1 in favor of party hearty.”
Our Internet searches indicate that Web usage is now running slightly in favor of “party hardy,” indicating that the “hardy” version is gaining in popularity. And popularity is what ultimately determines common usage in English.
Which, you ask, makes more sense: “party hardy” or “party hearty”?
Colloquial expressions don’t always make sense, but if we’re talking about people who party hard until they drink themselves under the table (as the OED’s definition suggests), then the partyers had better be hardy.