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By a; not by a long chalk

Posted by ESC on September 30, 2001

In Reply to: Not by a long chalk; long shot posted by James Briggs on September 30, 2001

: : : I was wondering if anyone knows the meaning and origin of the phrase " NOT BY A LONG CHALK "?
: : : Thanks LEE.

: : "Not by a long chalk" means "not by much" and its origin is "the use of chalk for reckoning points in tavern games." See below.

: : "Whether it was suggested by a difficult long shot attempted in archery or shooting isn't known, but the expression 'a long shot' first arose in British racing circles some 128 years ago as a bet laid at large odds, a bold wager. NOT BY A LONG SHOT therefore means hopelessly out of reckoning. Attempts have been made to derive the saying from the slightly earlier NOT BY A LONG CHALK, which comes from the use of chalk for reckoning points in tavern games. But 'not by a long chalk' means 'not by much,' so it seems that the phrase (long shot) derives from either archery or shooting." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

: Chalk: I beat him by a long chalk signifies a good win over an opponent and comes from the days before lead pencils were common. In schools, merit marks were made with chalk; the longer the mark, the more meritorious the receiver.

Now I'm confused. Could we be talking about two different phrases with different origins? Here are the entries from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition):

BY A LONG CHALK - By far; easily. The allusion is to the custom of making merit marks with chalk, before lead pencils were common. See also NOT BY A LONG CHALK.

NOT BY A LONG CHALK - Not by any means; in no way. The allusion is probably to the chalk marks made on a floor to record the score of a player or team. A 'long chalk' would mean a high score. See also BY A LONG CHALK

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