Posted by R. Berg on January 10, 2005
In Reply to: Derivation of posted by ESC on January 10, 2005
: : To settle a literary argument, does anyone know where I can find out whether the phrase "let on" (for reveal or disclose) would have been in use in the 19th century? Thank
: The older folks in my part of West Virginia (who would be 100+ if they were still with us) used that phrase. So I believe it would date back to the 1800s. "Don't let on that you know about it."
: One reference has a slightly different meaning -- to pretend. "She let on like it belong to her." "Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech Based on the Research of Horace Kephart," edited by Harold J. Farwell Jr., and J. Karl Nicholas (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky., 1993).
: "Dictionary of American Regional English," Volume III, I-O, edited by Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall (1996, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, England): let on -- to pretend. Play like, make like. Cited 1826, West Virginia.
: But could you mean "let in on"? There's "let in" meaning to make a start or begin or to admit people , same reference.
The Oxford English Dictionary labels "let on" in this sense "dialectal and U.S." It quotes uses dated from 1637 to 1893. So the answer to your question about the 19th century is yes.