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Re: "spin a tale"

Posted by R. Berg on February 06, 2003

In Reply to: Re: "Spin a tale" posted by Bob on February 06, 2003

: : : : : I'd like to find out the origin and meaning of this phrase. Thanks!

: : : : The transitive of "spin" has a meaning of forming or creating as when a spider "spins" a web.
: : : : So when someone "spins a tale" he or she is creating or forming a story.

: : : I think this could have a different origin. In the UK the saying is often 'to spin a yarn' - a yarn being a story or tale. At first this seems an odd combination of words until it's remembered that, in the old days, women used to spin yarn on spinning wheels. They frequently did this in groups and, to pass the time, they often told each other stories. In time the words came to mean the production of the stories themselves.

: : Those two ideas don't seem so different. Spinning a (spider's) web and spinning (wool) yarn are the same kind of process--fiber production--from a point of view that leaves out the technical details.

: I may be indulging in some hair-splitting here ("un-spinning" perhaps?) but all three activities: a group of women spinning yarn, the noiseless, patient spider pooping out a web, the novelist writing chapter 7 - all three involve a similar creation, the making of a continuous, connected thread. A story is a story because it is connected -- it's not just a collection of random incidents, characters, sentences. In fact, in the absence of a story teller, tell human beings three things, and we'll fill in the blanks ourselves. Random neural firings in the sleeping brain are woven together into dreams as we try to "make sense" of the elements -- to spin them into a continuity. Show us a field of stars, we'll see patterns. So. What I'm leading to is that a story is called a yarn *not* because women were making yarn as they told stories -- but because one is a metaphor for the other. If they sat around telling stories while cooking, we wouldn't call a story a "soup."

So that accounts for the popular series of stories "Chicken String for the [Whatever]."