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Re: To beat the band

Posted by ESC on March 05, 2008 at 22:43:

In Reply to: To beat the band posted by Betty on March 05, 2008 at 22:29:

: Has anyone ever heard of the phrase "to beat the band"
: what does it mean?

It's common in my part of the United States -- West Virginia. Merriam-Webster defines the phrase as meaning: to beat the band -- in a very energetic or forceful manner. Talking away to beat the band.

I don't think we have a definite answer on the origin. Here is previous discussion and a follow-up that includes a couple of theories. I especially like the last entry because I'm called erudite.
: I saw the phrase used on many sites to mean "Out does anything around"!

: "It was raining to beat the band."---In the early 1900's band concerts were popular and bands often played at ceremonial events. The band would be the most audible and conspicuous entity around. Any action or performance which out did the band was remarkable.

: I have no back up on this so my explanation might be called a big maybe!

"beat the band. Banagher, an Irish town on the Shannon, was in the mid-19th century a notorious 'pocket borough' where most residents were employed by the local lord and voted as he directed (were 'in his pocket'). It became a standing joke in Parliament at the time to quip, 'Well, that beats (or bangs) Banagher!' whenever someone mentioned a pocket borough where every resident was employed by the local lord. Either via this route, or because of an Irish ministrel named Bannagher who told amazing stories, the saying 'that beats Banagher,' for 'anything amazing or superior,' became an English favorite. It's reasonable to suggest, as Partridge does, that the later phrase 'that beats the band,' derived from it. The alliterative expressions do sound alike and 'bang' (from both the alternate version of the English phrase and Banagher) would suggest 'band' - that beats something louder, bigger, better than a great brass band. Attempts to connect 'that beats the band' with several real bands have all failed." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)

Posted by Shae on December 10, 2002
I was asked about the origin of the phrase by a student of the Unofficial University of Clare and, having searched the archives, found erudite ESC's explanation posted on May 19, 2000. Some additional and supportive information is provided by Terence Patrick Dolan in his 'Dictionary of Hiberno-English':
'Banagher, a place-name, a town in Co. Offaly in which the novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) spent some time as a Post Office surveyor but chiefly famous for its inclusion in the saying 'That beats [often pronounced /be:ts/] (or bangs) Banagher,' a common reaction to something extraordinary or absurd. Banagher was once a 'pocket borough', meaning that the local lord nominated its representatives in Parliament. The town became famous for this (once-common) undemocratic way of conducting politics, so if something was really anomalous it was said to 'beat Banagher.' Trollope, 'The Kellys and the O'Kellys, 221: "Conspiracy" av [if] that don't bang Banagher!""; Joyce, 'Finnegans Wake,' 87.31: "bank from Banagher"; Plunkett, 'Farewell Companions,' 293: "'That beat's Banagher,' he said."