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Looking for origin of phrase

Posted by Bruce Kahl on May 29, 2004

In Reply to: Looking for origin of phrase posted by ian kidd on May 29, 2004



Ex various sources:

"There are a lot of theories out there on 'stitched up like a kipper,' but from what can be gatherered no one knows for sure which one is correct.

This is not an expression we use in the U.S., but from what I can gather it means that one has been manipulated, used, and betrayed. The image I see is that one has been sewn up and as we say in the U.S. "left hung out to dry," which is similar but not quite the same - since it perhaps has a bit more to do with abandonment than manipulation.

One definition sense of 'stitch' given by the OED is "to enclose 'in' a cover or receptacle and secure it by sewing. Also 'figuratively.'" The OED also gives another definition of 'stitch,' 'to swindle.' One source has suggested that since stitch also means to prick or stab' or 'make (a wound) by stabbing, then the expression could mean that the fish was cut and gutted before being hung up to smoke. This seems a bit of a stretch to me and that sense of 'stitch' has been obsolete since the 16th century.

Here's another theory. In the 1960s, according to London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the extra wide tie called the 'kipper' was in vogue. Kipper ties were introduced by the British fashion designer Michael Fish. The term 'kipper' was a pun on his last name 'Fish.' Another source 'The A-Z of Food & Drink' by noted lexicographer John Ayto says, in addition, that tie was also named partly for its shape (the kipper).

So 'stitched like a kipper' could mean, if one assumes the above enclosed sense, that one has been sewn in and is hanging there as if stitched into the kipper tie. But I believe that there is yet one more pun in there that clinched it for me. The word 'stitch' has another meaning, which is 'to swindle' (OED) and. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that 'to stitch someone up' means 'to betray a person by fabricating evidence against them; to manipulate a situation to one's advantage.' This would give the 'stitch' in 'stitched up like a kipper' the double meaning of both being confined by being sewn in and at the same time having been suckered."

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