Posted by Gary Martin on November 20, 2003
In Reply to: Taking exception posted by Ron on November 20, 2003
: One of the problems I have noticed in postings throughout this forum, is that people try to rationalize the meanings of these phrases based on their own scant experience and misapplied logic. While the origin of this phrase is not described to my satisfaction, the phrase has been used in mainstream literature and in motion pictures as far back as the 1920s, and perhaps further. The mores at that time, and well into the 1970s, would never have permitted the use of that phrase were it in reference to pubic hair. Any literate person of sufficient age would understand that. For this reason alone, it is quite impossible for the phrase to have originated as this site describes.
: Handling unruly or misbehaving youngsters by the scruff of the neck was a very common reference in literature, and later in films, before such an act would get you arrested for assault. I doubt many of us would grasp anyone, of either sex, by the pubic hair except during intimate relations. To suggest that such a maneuver was practiced often enough to become a cliche is simply naive.
: No one said this phrase originated in English-speaking people; but more important, many people with essentially straight hair, including myself (of 100% Swedish extraction), have hair that tends to curl at the nape of the neck. To not have noticed this common trait is to be either unobservant, or young enough to have lived only during the current period of shorter hair styles. In the 1960s and 70s, for example, when longer hair was quite common, examples of this trait were walking all over the place--none of them speaking Swahili.
: I have belabored this point, but only after reading scads of mindless drivel by people who simply are not thinking, and who believe that everything originated in the only culture of any significance--the culture of their own early adulthood. I was young once myself, and enjoyed it immensely. Then I grew older and realized I knew less than I did when I knew everything. This need to rationalize all these phrases to one's own experience is goofy.
There are two separate but related phrases here that appear to be getting mixed up: 'the short hairs' and 'the short and curlies'. The first originates from the US and was first used by George Burnham in his ' Memoirs of the United States Secret Service', 1872. It isn't clear whether Burnham was referring to pubic hair or not.
The second was coined in the British Army - not a group shy of using allusions that polite society would shun, around 1935. (ref. Eric Partridge - A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English). Both Partridge and Robert Hendrickson, in the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins cite the likely meaning of this phrase as a reference to pubic hairs. I can testify from my own recollection that it was certainly used to mean that as far back as the 1950s.