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Re: Rubbed up the wrong way

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 20, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Rubbed up the wrong way posted by ESC on May 19, 2005

: : I would like to know the meaning of the phrases 'rubbing somebody up the wrong way', 'Bold as Brass' and 'Brassed Off'. Any help would be appreciated.

: I always think of a cat...

: RUBS THE WRONG WAY - Annoys. "It is what happens when one's hair is rubbed backward (it may feel good at first, but it can become annoying and uncomfortable) or when you rub a plane against the grain of wood. Charles Hamilton Aide offered the figurative meaning in 'Carr of Carriyon' : 'Don't rub her prejudices up the wrong way.if you can help it.'" "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).

Rub the wrong way. Of course it means to irritate, to cause resentment. But why? I don't think it has much to do with static electricity except perhaps indirectly. If you rub a cat's fur, or that of many other animals, against its natural lie, the cat may exhibit a bit of resentment. I don't think it's because of electricity. But I do believe that our ancestors noticed what happens when you stroke an animal à rebours. I haven't heard it used in direct reference to the grain of wood.

Sometimes the phrase is written with "up," that is, "rub up the wrong way." I don't know if this is an anglicism, but I've never heard it spoken that way in the U.S.

Rub up, without "the wrong way," seems to have two meanings. One is "to revive or bring up a memory." British? The one that I've heard means to cultivate, figuratively, as in "he knows how to rub up the boss." Perhaps this, too, derives from our observant ancestors who knew that cats and goats and many other creatures like to rub favored people (and others of their kind) with their heads. Or maybe it comes from the fact that most people like a good massage. (Incidentally, the current theory is that the cat rubs you with its head to mark you with its scent, thus establishing a sort of ownership.)

Brassed off. OED: "disgruntled, 'fed up', 'browned off'. slang (orig. Services')." This apparently originated with the British armed forces; the first OED citation is from 1941. It remains an English favourite, heard rarely in the U.S. except from the mouths of foreigners.

Bold as brass. Brazen, very bold. Also used adverbially. Perhaps because the copper in brass makes it bright and shiny and conspicuous compared to baser metals. SS