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Rising to the bait

Posted by Word to the Wise on February 08, 2004

In Reply to: Re: Spat out? posted by Smokey Stover on February 08, 2004

: : : : : : : : where did the phrase "chewed my ass out" come from?

: : : : : : : I don't know. But I can tell you that one reference says it dates back to 1946 and originated in the U.S. ("Oxford Dictionary of Slang" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York, 1999)

: : : : : : : I'm going to guess that it refers to some drill sergeant who was chewing on a soldier like a dog chews on someone.

: : : : : : "I heard that every expression ever used originated in the USA, whether in English (misnoma), Spanish (New Mexico), French (Cajuns), German & Dutch (Noo Yoirk). I am surprised that the world even existed before 1492, let alone spoke."+

: : : : : : When common-place expression uses simple words in an obvious context, I think it unlikely that it took until 1946 for anybody to use it.

: : : : : : + from "If I ruled the word" Chapter 2 of the collected musings of Li Yar with a forward by William Shakespeare.

: : : : : The usual practice of this type of reference book is to assign a date based on the first use of the expression in print.

: : : : Everybody's right, including Li Yar, but someone neglected to say (I think) that the addition of "my ass" is supererogatory, just an attempt to be more emphatic by being more vulgar. I'm a bit surprised that the Oxford Dictionary of Slang has a leg up on the OED, which could only find a citation from 1948. The transition from chew something to chew someone is not a difficult one to make, but I can't honestly say that I remember hearing "chew out" before WW II. The OED gives a citation from "c1230" of chewed used to mean "to worry with reproaches." As for the apparent hegemony of American slang, I think Li Yar is well suited to study the subject, or at least brainstorm it, and report back to the rest of us. I'm not trying to belittle the idea; it would not have occurred to Li Yar without some reason. So what's the reality? I would point out that what we call standard English is riddled with expressions which were once slang or obnoxious cliches (and brought to North America from Britain), and have since won a permanent place in the mother tongue. SS

: : : A common usage of giving somebody a verbal going-over is to use the metaphor of chewing - for example (without any sexual allusions) one can say "She chewed him up and spat him out!" meaning that the person overcame and dominated with ease.

: : : With good scanning, eventually most of the written word may be contained in a database, but that is a very difficult task as much that is written was not created using fixed type. The question of establishing original use is very difficult, but despite this, caution should be exercised as to fairly recent 'first usage' with commonplace words. If one only has American literature from 1950 in the database then first use will not be earlier or from elsewhere - it requires a comprehensive survey to have any meaning whatsoever. To me, it appears entirely misleading to cite first use based upon inadequate data, especially citing American usages - America has only had a few hundred years to create a canon of the written word whereas the words within English have been in use for perhaps 1,300 years in written form (albeit that latin was the scholars medium). The Old World has many centuries of opportunity for combinations of words to be used and thus it appears ridiculously Americocentric to give citations without explaining the breadth of the sources analysed.

: : : I'm not anti-American, simply want the truth not self-agrandising cultural propaganda.

: : : It's bad enough that the outrageously over-priced Starbucks replace local cafes without cultural domination replacing truth. Braveheart was 'true', Titanic was 'true', The Patriot was 'true' and Independence Day was 'true' - they were all 'true' because they were 'based on a true story' (although I'm not quite sure about Titanic, which seemed a bit far-fetched.

: : : As I have posted before - let entertainment be entertainment and history be mundane if that is what truth requires. What we seek on this site is what is known, plus debate and stimulating ideas - what doesn't contribute to that is ill-considered reference to inadequate external sources.

: :
: : But the 'inadequate external source' in question is British?

: "She chewed him up and spat him out!" There are some phrases or sentences that are not ambiguous at all, like "chew out" (= "scold," or as it is said in some parts, "scold out"), and others that really require some context. My take on "chew up and spit out" is that if it is a she doing it, she is probably someone who might be said to "devour men." If it is a he, then it is doubtless a boss or some authority figure. In either case, it is someone forceful and dominating enough to shrivel the self-esteem of the one spat out. There could be scolding, but only incidentally if at all.

: I feel I should make some sort of response to Li Yar because his comments straddle mine. If I have understood him, he feels that the American phrase-heads are indulging in the same self-aggrandizing cultural propaganda as, say, the present national Administration, or the corporations engaging in globalization. I'm not sure I understand cultural propaganda as opposed to, say, political propaganda or cultural invasion. We North Americans are admittedly a somewhat insular people, since we live on a very large island, connected by a sort of causeway to another large island, but separated from the rest of the world by big oceans. So we give a lot of attention to the idiosyncrasies of American English and its slang. But are the Americans who contribute to this site really word-chauvinists, or language-chauvinists? If so, let us be told so by our fellow English speakers from elsewhere-with examples, please!

: The other point of Li Yar is, I think, that the contributions of the present crowd of phrase-heads (who sometimes demonstrate a sense of humor verging on the raucous) are often careless and lacking in scholarly precision. Actually, this message board (the Discussion Forum) is only one of the parts of the complete site, and doesn't compete with the more serious parts, which are edited by Gary, the Webmaster of the site. If Gary wants to, he can make us all shape up or ship out. SS

Please don't feed the trolls.