“What you done, sunshine, is criminal damage”

The 1975 quotation (in Green’s Dictionary of Slang) is from a (British working-class) policeman, who “levelled a finger at” a man and made this accusation. My interest here is in the address term sunshine, which has become familiar to me though British (occasionally Canadian) police procedural tv shows, where the cops (or private detectives) often use this form of address, aggressively, to male suspects. From the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (ed. Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, 2015), p. 2192:

used as a form of address, often patronizing with an underlying note of disapproval or threat UK, 1972

A (very natural) extension of literal sunshine to ‘cheerfulness, happiness’ has been around for some time, as has the extension to someone who exhibits or elicits cheerfulness or happiness, in both referential and vocative uses. Then, the address term sunshine (like any other) can be used sarcastically, aggressively, or truculently, but the conventionalization of such uses specifically in British (and not American) English, for use to men by men, especially by official authorities, is yet a further development, one that I hadn’t experienced until I got into modern police procedurals, in books and on tv.

Green’s has sunshine (also sunbeam, sundown) ‘a general form of address’, e.g. Oi! sunshine!, with cites from 1953 and 1961, both apparently simple address uses, then a truculent 1965 cite. Then we get the quote in the title above, followed by cites from 1983, 1984, 1999, and 2005, all of which seem to be truculent, including several sarcastic ones from police; all the cites seem to be British.

The New Partridge has two cites (1984 and 2000), both from British tv shows or books based on them (Minder and Lock, Stock …).

And from recent tv, on the Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries S5 E8 (2012), after a baseball game:

You’re under arrest, You won’t  be hitting many hits from behind bars, sunshine.

Just a few older, more straightforward uses — not sarcastic, aggressive, or truculent. First, the referential Poss + sunshine, especially my sunshine (roughly ‘the light of my life’), made famous in the song “You Are My Sunshine”. From Wikipedia:

“You Are My Sunshine” is a popular song recorded by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell and first recorded in 1939. It has been declared one of the state songs of Louisiana because of its association with Davis, a country music singer and former governor of the state.

The song has been covered numerous times — so often, in fact, that it is “one of the most commercially programmed numbers in American popular music.” The song, originally country music, has “virtually lost” its original country music identity, and “represent[s] both the national flowering of country music and its eventual absorption into the mainstream of American popular culture.” In 1941, it was covered by Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Mississippi John Hurt and Lawrence Welk. In subsequent years, it was covered by Nat King Cole (1955), The Marcels, (1961), Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, The Rivingtons (1962), Frank Turner, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, Mouse and the Traps, Jamey Johnson, Low, Andy Williams, and Johnny and the Hurricanes, amongst many others.

(When I was a child, it was my mother’s favorite song.)

You can watch Johnny Cash and June Carter perform the song here.

And then there’s the metaphorical vocative sunshine, as in the goofy Europop love song “Good Morning Sunshine” (some writers are sparing with commas), which you can watch here. By Danish-Norwegian band Aqua, from their debut album, Aquarium (1997).

Quite some distance from these sweet examples to British coppers trying to sweat the truth out of male malefactors with the aid of vocative sunshine.

2 Responses to ““What you done, sunshine, is criminal damage””

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Deborah Swayne on Facebook:

    An American policeman once called me Sunshine. He was the head of campus security at the University of Wisconsin, and was telling me that our peace vigil would have to pack up and move out. Madison, 1970.

  2. Wilson Gray (@hwgray) Says:

    When I was a child, my grandmother used to sing a children’s song whose first verse, “Good morning, merry sunshine,” wherein _merry sunshine_ was a metaphor for the child being sung to. The line was also used as a greeting, in ordinary speech.

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