"That old chestnut"

Posted by James Briggs on December 22, 2003

In Reply to: "That old chestnut" posted by Jamie on December 22, 2003

: Anyone know the origins of this? (A Polish friend just asked me and I have no idea).

: Tried searching the archives and found 1,000s of *uses* but no comments about it

That's 'an old chestnut' means, usually, that a joke is old and well known. The origin here goes back to a near forgotten melodrama by William Diamond. The play, first produced in 1816, has one of the characters forever repeating the same joke, albeit with minor changes. The joke concerns a cork tree. On one occasion another character, Pablo, fed up with the same joke says; " A Chestnut. I have heard you tell the joke 27 times and I'm sure it was a Chestnut!" The quotation was used in real life by the American actor William Warren who, at the time, was playing the part of Pablo. He was at a dinner party when one of the guests started off on a well worn joke. Warren interrupted with the quotation, much to the amusement of the other guests. As a result the expression entered into the wider language.