Posted by ESC on May 16, 2000

In Reply to: PHRASES posted by shannon on May 15, 2000

: I need some help with the origins and meanings of these phrases:

: dirt poor
: peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old
: chew the fat

Peas porridge -- I came up blank.

DIRT POOR - I couldn't find this one. But I've always thought this mean a family was so poor they had a dirt floor, rather than plank. Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993) doesn't have this expression, but he lists "dirt-dog poor - Very poor, living in poverty."

CHEW THE FAT - "One guess is that this expression was originally a nautical one: Sailors working their jaws on the tough salt pork rationed out when supplies ran low constantly grumbled about their poor fare while literally chewing the fat." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). Another reference says, ".'Rag (or fat) chewing' we have had since the early 1880's. It was then classed as American Army slang, in Patternson's 'Life in the Ranks.' To my notion, although either expression may have been adopted into army lingo, both are much more likely to have alluded to ladies' sewing circles - to the 'rags,' or cloth, upon which they worked while tongues clattered, or to the 'fat,' or choice morsels of gossip upon which they could feast." From Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1955).