Posted by Gary on February 18, 2002
In Reply to: Top Notch posted by James Briggs on February 17, 2002
: : : I'm looking for suggestions
as to the origin/background of this phrase - there's nothing I can find in the
: : : Thanks
: : Pasted from the Word-Detective:
: : "The term "top notch" originated in some sort of game or competition where the score was kept by moving markers upward on a notched board or stick. The winner, presumably would be the one whose marker reached the top notch first, making "top notch" a fitting metaphor for "the best."
: Thanks for the offering - I too had found the Word Detective suggestion, but it was there as no more than that. The reason I posed the question is that someone had written to me with the following, and I wondered if the same idea might come up from elsewhere. Here's what I received:
: "I may have a possible origin for the phrase.
: I had purchased a courting candle last week and was explaining its' use to my parents when I thought of this.
: A courting candle is a candle holder that holds one tapered candle of which you can vary the height by raising or lowering a lever. Parents of a daughter of courting age would light the candle when a boy came to see her. Depending on how much they liked the lad, they would raise or lower the candle. When the candle burned down to the base, courting time was over. A candle raised to the top notch of the holder would extend courting time and showed that the parents approved of the boy.
: I imagine, that people would begin using this expression to describe the quality of a boy based on the notch placement he received. Leading to: "He's a top notch boy/man"
: Let me know what you think."
Maybe. It sounds like one of those explanations that are plausible but which it is difficult to find evidence to support or deny. We've seen enough of those here to be cautious.