Guts for garters

Posted by R. Berg on March 29, 2002

In Reply to: Guts posted by ESC on March 29, 2002

: : : : This is driving me slightly insane, the phrase "I'll have your guts for garters" taken on face value is stomach churning! I would love to know where it came from and the meaning behind it-apart from the obvious!

: : : I almost hesitate to mention this because I know what R Berg goes through to bring us snippets of the OED. But I feel duty bound to mention that "Garter" was the word of the day on the OED site a few years ago. I believe it shed some light on this. Sadly I did not save it. I'd do it to save R Berg from having to type it all in.

: : : Camel

: : : Ps Maybe I could spend the rest of my life collecting the OED words of the day?

: :
: : Here you are, a reference: "have someone's guts for garters (humorous): punish someone severely (used in a threat or warning of potential future punishment).

: I first heard the expression used by the main character, Louisa Trotter, in "Duchess of Duke Street," a British series set in the Victorian Era. Nice phrase.

I was modemless when "garter" was OED's WOTD, but here's something from Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (the empathetic among you will be relieved to know that I can quote Partridge without pulling a muscle in my back or emptying that bottle of eye drops):

"I'll have your guts for garters!" A threat, orig. serious, latterly humorous: mid C18-20. In C20, it has been a racecourse and low Cockney catchphrase. . . . Yet, since WW2, the phrase has gradually mounted the social scale--not that it has yet become either aristocratic or cultured. . . . But it must have gone underground for a century or more: Robert Greene, "James the Fourth," at III, ii: 'I'll make garters of thy guts, thou villain'; and Jack Lindsay found, in an early C17 parish register, 'I'll have your guts for garter points'. . . . In 1969, Laurie Atkinson glossed the present usage thus: 'The garters not so much historical as English homely phrasers' love of alliteration and assonance.'