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Not by a long chalk; long shot

Posted by ESC on September 29, 2001

In Reply to: Phrase origin and meaning posted by LEE DARBY on September 29, 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).