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Posted by Robert Strong on April 29, 2000

In Reply to: Bootstraps posted by ESC on April 28, 2000

: : : Contrary to you entry in your phrase definition and origin section I believe that the phrase 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps' pre-dates the era of the computer and was used by the computer folk to indicate what clever chaps they were to be able to persuade an empty computer to self load complex and relatively large programs following the operator keying in just a few instructions - the bootstrap.

: : : Now I know all about bootstraps in the computer sense as I'm old enough to have used just about every model produced between the early fifties, sixties and seventies and continue to struggle with some of the models produced up to the present day. However, I can find no definitive reference to this phrase which pre-dates the computer age. Please don't tell me that a bunch of computer nerds really did invent it; I just couldn't bear that.

: : I agree that it refers to boots of the footware variety. If you search the archives under "pull," you can access a previous discussion on this topic.

: From "Heavens to Betsy" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1955):
: "TO LIFT (or hoist or pull up) ONESELF BY THE BOOTSTRAPS - You may travel all over the United States, North, South, East or West, or in any part of Canada or England, and find almost no one who isn't familiar with one form or another of this expression. It is hardly necessary to say that by its use we mean to raise oneself through one's unaided efforts above one's former cultural, social, or economic level. And yet, beyond being able to state positively that the expression cannot be more than 350 years old, I cannot say in what English-speaking country it originated, or even whether it dates back to the time of George Washington and George the Third of England, though I am almost certain that it is considerably older. That is, I myself have not been able to turn up any printed use or record of this common expression at any date earlier than about ten years ago. It occurs on page 456 of 'The Beards' Basic History of the United States' by Charles A. and Mary R. Beard. Undoubtedly it has appeared earlier, but no dictionary nor other reference work has made note of it. Yet I have seen it in print several times since. In fact, I cannot even tell you nor hazard a guess as to how old the compound word 'bootstrap' may be. The earliest printed record, as far as I have been able to discover, is in the Funk & Wagnalls Standard dictionary, 1894; and there it appears only in the definitions of two related words - boot-hook and strap.But this strap was known to Shakespeare. In 'Twelfth Night,' , Act I, scene 3, Sir Toby Belch makes the comment: 'These cloathes are good enough to drink in: and so bee these boots too; and they be not, let them hang themselues in their owne straps.'.the expression (lift oneself by the bootstraps) alludes to the struggle from early date to late date in inserting one's foot into a well-fitting boot.The bootstrap was invented to give the would-be wearer a better purchase."

I feel better already. Thanks.