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Two shakes of a lamb's tail

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 25, 2004

In Reply to: Two shakes of a lamb's tail posted by Lotg on January 25, 2004

: : : : : anyone know the origin of this phrase, as in "I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail"?

: : : : : thanks

: : : : TWO SHAKES OF A LAMB?S TAIL ? "One who has seen a lamb shake its tail, sees readily that this saying means with no loss of time, for a lamb can shake its tail twice 'before one can say Jack Robinson.' Usage appears to be entirely American, going back a hundred years or longer. (Note publication date of Mr. Funk's book.) The probabilities are that the saying is a humorous enlargement of the older 'in a couple of (or brace of, or two) shakes,' a saying first record by Richard Barham in 'Ingoldsby Legends' in 1840, but probably much older. This latter saying has been variously interpreted ? as alluding to a double shake of the hand, two shakes of a dice box, two shakes of a dustcloth, or whatever it may be that takes little more time in shaking twice than in shaking once." From "A Hog on Ice" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1948).

: : :
: : : As a kid growing up on farms, I always thought it was to do with the process of docking a lamb's tail. Which is far less attractive than your theory. Although, I have to admit that even as a kid I struggled to see the connection because that process has nothing to do with shaking, and was always rather cruel I thought. So there's a big chance I was being conned, as farmers are wont to do to kids from time to time.

: : Quote from above:
: : "Usage appears to be entirely American, going back a hundred years or longer."
: : The phrase is very well known in the UK and was around in my youth before WW2

: Yes I think it more likely to have a UK origin, given it seems to have been handed down through my ancestry too, and we white Aussies obviously owe most of our language to our original Anglo/Irish/Scottish heritage.

: Plus, and now I'm probably showing my ignorance, I didn't think sheep were as big a deal in years gone by (farming-wise) in the US as in Australia, NZ, the UK and parts of Europe. Am I wrong there?

"Two shakes of a lamb's tail" came to America a long time ago, from England, with the colonists, along with Jack Robinson. Where do the experts get these ideas? SS