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To talk the stripes off a zebra

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 17, 2006

In Reply to: To talk the stripes off a zebra posted by ESC on April 15, 2006

: : : : : : : Hi, I'm trying to find the meaning of "to talk the stripes off a zebra". My impression is that it either means that someone is very persuasive or that he talks too much and about unimportant things, but since I haven't found it anywhere I can't confirm. I need this for a class assignment. Thanks!

: : : : : : It could be used either way. *My* impression is that "very persuasive (in speech)" is the primary meaning. The phrase suggests a con artist who knows how to get things, how to make a listener yield up something, by talking. But I have no research to back this up.

: : : : : Bergie is right, pay attention to her. Except that it isn't just con men who can talk the stripes off a zebra, the spots of a leopard, etc., but any smooth talker, such as an Irishman with the gift of blarney, for instance. SS

: : : : I think the oldest version of this type of phrase is "talk the hind leg off a donkey", and a person who can do this is simply unstoppably loquacious. The phrase doesn't necessarily include any value judgements about the importance of what is said, nor does it imply blarney or sweet-talking.

: : : Is it possible that there are two different meanings at work? I'm familiar with talking the hind leg off a donkey, which is something a very garrulous person might do. I'm not sure I've ever heard the stripes of a zebra thing, but it sounds to me more of the persuasive variety. But I could easily be wrong. After all, has Victoria ever been wrong? SS

: :
: : Often, believe me! But I only meant to refer to the donkey version: the zebra one may have extra connotations. (VSD)

: Talk the hind leg off a dog.

We aren't the only ones vacillating on this question. OED: "10. Colloq. phrases. to talk the hind leg off a donkey (horse, etc.), applied to one who: (a) talks with unflagging and wearying persistence, or: (b) is said to have the power to persuade another by eloquent or charming speech; to talk (someone's) ear off: to talk incessantly or until one is tired of listening (U.S.).
1808 Cobbett's Weekly Pol. Reg. XIII. II. 47 The old vulgar hyperbole of 'talking a horse's hind leg off'..will find its verification in the American Congress." ♪ SS ♬