Posted by R. Berg on November 09, 2001
In Reply to: Phrase origin posted by Jim Schmidt on November 09, 2001
: Curious about origin of phrase 'til who laid the rail'. Means something that will go on forever or will not quit in the foreseeable future. Phrase was used by the mayor in the "Music Man". May be common to the midwest. Are rails fence rails or train rails? Who is who? Any connection to the transcontinental railway?
Never heard of it, but here's an entry for a similar, and probably historically related, phrase in Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British":
'til (or till) who laid the chunk. This US catchphrase, dating from c. 1920, means 'in great excess', as in 'we've got copies of that book till who laid the chunk'. Prof. John W. Clark adds, 'I find it completely mystifying'. A chunk is a large, solid piece or portion of anything, e.g., a chunk of wood or bread, or as in the dialectal 'a great chunk of man'--a very big fellow. Semantically, perhaps, 'until somebody laid a stump or a log against the door to prevent anyone, or anything, else coming or being brought in'.
If Partridge is interpreting the saying correctly, the rail might be a timber used to bolt a door.