Posted by James Briggs on January 24, 2004
In Reply to: Two shakes of a lamb's tail posted by Lotg on January 24, 2004
: : : anyone know the origin of this phrase, as in "I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail"?
: : : thanks
: : TWO SHAKES OF A LAMB?S TAIL ? "One who has seen a lamb shake its tail, sees readily that this saying means with no loss of time, for a lamb can shake its tail twice 'before one can say Jack Robinson.' Usage appears to be entirely American, going back a hundred years or longer. (Note publication date of Mr. Funk's book.) The probabilities are that the saying is a humorous enlargement of the older 'in a couple of (or brace of, or two) shakes,' a saying first record by Richard Barham in 'Ingoldsby Legends' in 1840, but probably much older. This latter saying has been variously interpreted ? as alluding to a double shake of the hand, two shakes of a dice box, two shakes of a dustcloth, or whatever it may be that takes little more time in shaking twice than in shaking once." From "A Hog on Ice" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1948).
: As a kid growing up on farms, I always thought it was to do with the process of docking a lamb's tail. Which is far less attractive than your theory. Although, I have to admit that even as a kid I struggled to see the connection because that process has nothing to do with shaking, and was always rather cruel I thought. So there's a big chance I was being conned, as farmers are wont to do to kids from time to time.
Quote from above:
"Usage appears to be entirely American, going back a hundred years or longer."
The phrase is very well known in the UK and was around in my youth before WW2