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Re: More than you can shake a stick at

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 25, 2010 at 02:13

In Reply to: More than you can shake a stick at posted by Rick on March 24, 2010 at 23:20:

: My answer to the question of where did the phrase "More than you can shake a stick at" is this and I just learned this from my father because I was asking about the origin of our family Irish Shillelagh/Club (pronounced shi-LAY-lee). The Shillelagh was an Irish club (stick) used for battle, and if there were more people than you could handle, then there were more than you could shake (or swing) at.

It's a good story, a very Irish story, but I think your dad has been kissing the Blarney stone. The expression appears to be of American origin. Or so the Oxford English Dictionary beliees.

" 8b. more than you can shake a stick at (and vars.): more than one can count, a considerable amount or number (colloq., orig. and chiefly U.S.). . .

"[exx.] 1818 Lancaster (Pa.) Jrnl. 5 Aug. 3/1 We have in Lancaster as many Taverns as you can shake a stick at. 1843 R. CARLTON New Purchase I. xii. 86 Our queen snake was..retiring, attended by more of her subjects than we even dared to shake a stick at. . . ."

I'm guessing that the expression was already well-established by 1818, at least in the Colonies. But the OED doesn't tell us how the expression acquired the meaning that it seems consistently to have.
SS