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Called on the carpet (orig. posted June 2002)

Posted by (Various posters) on August 10, 2002

Posted by ESC on June 07, 2002

In Reply to: Called on the carpet posted by Frances Lake on June 06, 2002

: : : I've always known this phrase to mean being censured by your superiors, generally in a derogatory manner but I just read an explannation of the term - While re-reading "Wild Horses" by Dick Francis on page 40 one of his charaters, a film director, is going over a scene to take place in a mock-up of the enquiry room of the English Jockey Club, the ruling house of English racing. He explains that jockeys, trainers, et al, were required to stand on a specific bit of carpet while being drilled by the Directors.

: : True, but there is a more general explanation.

: : Carpet: To carpet someone summons up a picture of a boss reprimanding an underling for a misdemeanour. This goes back to the days of the Victorian Civil Service when attainment of a certain status carried with it the right to a piece of carpet in the office.

: That's interesting, but if attainment of status granted the person the right to carpet in their office, then "to carpet someone" would seem to mean to grant them status whereas being "called on the carpet" would indicate being called before the statused individual. And the bit about the enquiry room - which has existed since Victorian days and before - would also fit your description since the directors of the Jockey Club would all be men of influence in their own right as well as being the final word on the English racetracks.

I found the phrase in a couple of books. But the explanations were fuzzy around the edges. I think the jockey theory should be explored.

CALL ON THE CARPET or MAT - "to reprimand, to call to account. Late 1930s." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

ON THE CARPET - "In the days when 'carpet' retained its original sense, 'a thick fabric used to cover tables,' to have something 'on the carpet' had the same meaning that we now give to 'on the table'; that is, to have something up for discussion, for consideration. Such was the usage in the early eighteenth century and is still common usage in England, and is, as well, the intent of the French 'sur le tapis,' and the German 'aufs Tapet.' But dainty ladies found, even in the fifteenth century, that these thick fabrics also made ideal floor coverings and began to use them, first, in their bedchambers, and then in other private or formal rooms of a house. But they were for the use of the gentry. The occasions when a servant might 'walk the carpet,' as the expression went, was when he or she was called before the mistress or master of the house for a reprimand. Though this latter expression, coined in the early nineteenth century, is still in use, it has been largely replaced, especially in America, by transferring its meaning to 'on the carpet.'" From 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to Song and Dance by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).

(A side note. "On the table" means a subject is up for discussion. But in legislative jargon in the U.S., to "table" a bill or to put a bill "on the table" is to take it out of action, out of consideration. It has to be voted off the table. I think we've discussed this before.)

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