Falling off the wagon
Posted by ESC on March 26, 2005
In Reply to: More [BLANK] than you can shake a stick at... posted by ESC on March 26, 2005
: : WTF?!
: : I know it means an ample amount, but what is the origin?
: From the archives:
: SHAKE A STICK AT - "Although this does have a literal meaning, to threaten with a stick, we in the United States give it much more fanciful interpretation. If we say, 'There are more filling stations in town than one can shake a stick at,' we mean nothing more than that the town contains an abundance of places at which one may purchase gasoline for one's motorcar. That American usage dates from early in the nineteenth century. One may speculate that it arose from the play at warfare by small boys - George Washington Jones flourishing a triumphant wooden sword over the considerable number of British soldiers who surrendered at Yorktown, more, in fact, than he could wave his 'stick' at. Then, too, we use the expression to indicate a comparative that may express derogation, and have done so for well over a hundred years. David Crockett, in his "Tour to North and Down East" , wrote of one place at which he stayed, 'This was a temperance house, and there was nothing to treat a friend to that was worth shaking a stick at." From "Heavens to Betsy" (1955, Harper & Row) by Charles Earle Funk.
: : How about "Falling off the wagon"
Also from the archives (search under "fall wagon" for other theories):
ON THE WAGON - "The original version of this expression 'on the water wagon' or 'water cart,' which isn't heard anymore, best explains the phrase. During the late 19th century, water carts drawn by horses wet down dusty roads in the summer. At the height of the Prohibition crusade in the 1890s men who vowed to stop drinking would say that they were thirsty indeed but would rather climb aboard the water cart to get a drink than break their pledges. From this sentiment came the expression 'I'm on the water cart,' I'm trying to stop drinking, which is first recorded in, of all places, Alice Caldwell Rice's 'Mrs. Wiggs of the Caggage Patch' , where the consumptive Mr. Dick says it to old Mrs. Wiggs. The more alliterative 'wagon' soon replaced cart in the expression and it was eventually shortened to 'on the wagon.' 'Fall off the (water) wagon' made its entry into the language almost immediately after its abstinent sister." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).