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Make Both Ends Meet (Meat)

Posted by Bob on September 28, 2003

In Reply to: Make Both Ends Meet (Meat) posted by R. Berg on September 28, 2003

: : I'd like to see if anybody can lend further info on this.

: : I was told, years ago, that this expression actually used to be 'We can't make both ends meat'. I was told that it originated during the depression (or at some distant time in the past when times were tough) they had to resort, when they made their sausage, to stuffing more filler into one end than the other and meat in the end you could more easily untie to make it look like it was all sausage.

: : Then, over time, I was told, the expression turned and people started thinking of it as meaning 'both ends meet(ing).

: : From research, I found that either Ogden Nash, or someone unknown wrote it as a poem that almost exactly is the same as the original explanation I had been given with the sausage interpretation.


: : "I buy a pig," the butcher said,
: : "And grind 'er up complete,
: : Excepting for the nose and tail,
: : For they ain't fit to eat.
: : That's why I'm always broke," he wept;
: : "I can't make both ends meat."

: : So, did the person that had told me the 'time of the depression' story misrepresent its origin, were they possibly remembering this poem, or, is this poem the true origin of the phrase? (or, did it really start as the more well known interpretation, 'both ends meet').

: : The poem, though, seems to be making a pun of something that's already well-known. They wouldn't be making a pun unless people already thought of it as 'both ends meet'. Wouldn't be funny, otherwise.

: : I know that in these archives someone said, "To make (both) ends meet is to live within one's means, but what are the ends in this instance? Most probably the term comes from accountancy where "meet" used to be an adjective meaning "equal" or "balanced". The end was the end of the financial year in which both profit and loss accounts had to be balanced: the ends had to be met."

: : And, that is the most common thought of how it's used today, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it didn't originate as the 'Both ends meat' concept.

: : Anybody have any more information about that?

: The "meat" interpretation is spurious. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase originally referred to making the two ends of the year meet. (Think fiscal years.) French has a similar phrase, "joindre les deux bouts de l'an."

The human tolerance for folk etymologies seems boundless. I think a good rule of thumb is this: if it seems a bit labored, it's probably hokum. (Let's see. If you wanted to put cheap fake ingredients into your sausage, would you a) mix it into the meat so you won't be discovered, or b) carefully make one sausage at a time, half-filling a casing from the grinder, then putting sawdust or soy or whatever into the other half, then repeating the process.) Sound absurd?