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Level best

Posted by James Briggs on April 17, 2003

In Reply to: Level best posted by R. Berg on April 17, 2003

: : Any ideas on origin of "level best." Why "level?"

: The Oxford English Dictionary labels "level" in "level best" as slang or colloquial and says it's of U.S. origin. It gives no further explanation. My hunch: "level" works like "straight" or "downright" or "flat out" here, also spatial metaphors denoting an absence of twists and turns and hence meaning "honestly" or "purely," as in "the straight story" or "That's flat-out illegal."

I had the following suggested to me.
To do your level best is to do as best as you can in the circumstances. The level here is an underground seam or level found in a mine. The particular mines of origin in this saying are the gold ones of 19th century California.