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The meaning and origin of the expression: Take down a peg or two

Take down a peg or two

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Take down a peg or two'?

To 'take (or pull, or bring) down a peg (or two)' is to lower someone's high opinion of themselves.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Take down a peg or two'?

Various quantities and qualities have been measured by the use of pegs. It has been suggested that the pegs in question here were those used to regulate the amount of drink taken from a barrel, or those that controlled the hoisting of the colours (flags) of ships. Either of these might be correct although, like the 'yards' of 'the whole nine yards', 'pegs' could relate to many things.

It is interesting though that all the early citations of the phrase have a religious context; for example:

Pappe with An Hatchet, 1589 - "Now haue at you all my gaffers of the rayling religion, tis I that must take you a peg lower."

Joseph Mead's Letters, 1625 - "A-talking of the brave times that would be shortly... when... the Bishop of Chester, that bore himself so high, should be hoisted a peg higher to his little ease."

Samuel Butler's Hudibras, 1664 - "We still have worsted all your holy Tricks,... And took your Grandees down a peg."

If the pegs were some religious artefact, it isn't clear what they were. Lacking any real evidence, we can't be sure of the origin.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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