Posted by Bruce Kahl on November 19, 2001
In Reply to: "Wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole" posted by ESC on November 19, 2001
: : : Any help on this one?
: (Correcting typo.)
: : WOULDN'T TOUCH IT WITH A TEN-FOOT POLE - "This expression may have been suggested by the 10-foot poles that river boatmen used to pole their boats along in shallow water.In the sense of not wanting to get involved or having strong distaste for something, the words aren't recorded until the late 19th century." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). Another reference has an earlier appearance of the phrase:, "I WOULDN'T TOUCH IT WITH A TEN-FOOT POLE" -- It's a dangerous or disagreeable, and I intend to avoid it. The 'ten-foot pole' is not an item ready to hand, and neither is the 'barge pole' which figure in similar expression. Still, they both serve as figures of speech, and so did 'tongs.' With 'tongs' (spelled 'tongues') the expression was known by 1639, when John Clarke included it in his 'Paroemiologia Anglo-Latino': 'Not to be handled with a paire of tongues.' Then 'ten-foot pole' was in used in the expression by 1758, the 'barge pole' by 1877." From "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).
And all these years I thought the phrase was a racial slur!
See also: the mening and origin of 'I wouldn't touch that with a barge-pole'.