Posted by Paul on June 05, 2001
In Reply to: On a hiding to nothing posted by ESC on June 05, 2001
: : : : What on earth is the derivation of this expression. I have searched all the usual sources and can find nothing
: : : Is that British? I haven't heard it here (U.S.). Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," has an entry for it but doesn't say exactly how it originated:
: : : "Usu. prec. by 'he's' or 'they're.' Bound to be defeated: (?) since c. 1960, but very much in the vogue early and mid 1970s. 'Common. I suspect mainly political or business. It appeared in a headline in The Sunday Times, 25 Sep. 1977' (Playfair)."
: : A hiding to nothing is used regularly in the UK to suggest that there is no way to win in a particular situation. I too am intrigued by this combination of words, but I can find no recorded reason why they should be used together in this way. If it were a hiding OR nothing then it would be clearer.
: (BE) ON A HIDING TO NOTHING -- "Face annililation. Or, less dramatically, 'face insuperable odds,' 'be without a prayer,' i.e., with no hope of success. 'Hiding,' in this expression, is synonymous with 'thrashing,' and a 'hiding to nothing' means 'a thrashing to bits.'" From "British English: A to Zed" by Norman W. Schur (Harper Perennial, New York, 1987).
To me it also sounds a bit like a play on betting odds, e.g. '2 to 1' is low odds, '100 to 1' is high odds, a 'hiding to nothing' is insuperable odds.