Posted by Lewis on May 09, 2003
In Reply to: Shake a stick at posted by ESC on May 02, 2003
: : what in the world does this mean? I mean, I know what it means, but what does shaking a stick have to do with the abundance of something? I just don't get it. please help or even if you think you know, try it out.
: SHAKE A STICK AT - "Although this does have a literal meaning, to threaten with a stick, we in the United States give it much more fanciful interpretation. If we say, 'There are more filling stations in town than one can shake a stick at,' we mean nothing more than that the town contains an abundance of places at which one may purchase gasoline for one's motorcar. That American usage dates from early in the nineteenth century. One may speculate that it arose from the play at warfare by small boys - George Washington Jones flourishing a triumphant wooden sword over the considerable number of British soldiers who surrendered at Yorktown, more, in fact, than he could wave his 'stick' at. Then, too, we use the expression to indicate a comparative that may express derogation, and have done so for well over a hundred years. David Crockett, in his "Tour to North and Down East" , wrote of one place at which he stayed, 'This was a temperance house, and there was nothing to treat a friend to that was worth shaking a stick at." From "Heavens to Betsy" (1955, Harper & Row) by Charles Earle Funk.
It sounds a West Country expression - "there be more [sheep/people/cowpats] than you can shake a stick at" - it has had a resurgance during the last few years - something to do with mock simplicity of language.