Posted by RRC on November 29, 2007
In Reply to: Re: Oil rag posted by Smokey Stover on November 29, 2007
: : I would like to know the origin of "he/she lives on the smell of an oil rag".
: In days gone by, people with wooden floors sometimes used to oil them, using rags to rub in the oil. I don't know if this is the meaning in the phrase. The rag was more often called an oily rag, I think, but perhaps when used with so specific a purpose it was called an oil rag. Perhaps other things were oiled up that I never found out about.
The point being that there is a small amount of oil on an oily rag and the smell of it is even less, thus to live on a very meager amount. I also found related phrases "to live on the clippings of tin" (clippings being the left over scraps/trimmings) and "to live on the skin of a rasher" (the outside edge of some bacon).