Posted by ESC on December 19, 2002
In Reply to: Body related phrases posted by Andrew Davies on December 19, 2002
: "Show a leg" is missing.
It's in the discussion forum archives:
SHAKE A LEG/SHOW A LEG - According to "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions" by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, 1995), the meaning and origin of "show a leg" is: "Make a move, get started. It dates back to Napoleon times or before, when men were pressed into service and taken forcibly from the streets and their homes. Shore leave was impossible lest the men should desert, so as recompense, women were sometimes allowed to visit and it is recorded that at Spithead, the naval anchorage off Portsmouth, as many as 500 women might be entertained aboard one ship. Naturally in the mornings when work was begun there existed some confusion and the petty officers' way of sorting this out was to shout 'Show a leg!' Soft and curvy ones could stay where they were, hairy ones were kicked out of bed! Another shout that accompanied reveille was 'Rise and shine' which again people still use today. There are more, indeed there is an entire verse but it is much too rude to publish here."
The Facts on File "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, 1997) says the expression was "Show a leg, show a leg or a stocking!" The women on board were "ostensibly" the sailors' wives. ".the bos'n cried, 'Come on, all you sleepers! Hey! Show a leg and put a stocking on it.' 'Shake a leg,' meaning 'hurry,' may derive from this earlier phrase, for both are nautical expressions and no better explanation has been given."