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Posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 01, 2005

In Reply to: Context? posted by James Briggs on August 01, 2005

: : : Can someone please tell me the origin of the phrase 'push the boat out'

: : : Thanks

: : What's the context? Is there reason to believe the phrase is used to mean anything besides pushing a boat out (into the water from the land, perhaps)?

: In the UK the phrase can mean to 'to celebrate elaborately'. The Dictionary of Slang defines it as '1930+.1 To spend heavily, usu on pleasure, eating, drinking etc, often treating others. 2 to exagerate.'
: Sadly, no derivation.

I have heard one derivation, which I put forward with great caution. In posh circles in the 18th century, after dinner the ladies would retire and the tablecloth would be removed, and the gentlemen would settle down to drinking port, passing the decanter around the table clockwise. A refinement of this custom in the 2nd half of the century was to put the decanter in a wheeled silver coaster made in some fanciful shape, so that the port could be slid around rather than passed from hand to hand. Such coasters were often in the shape of a miniature boat (that at least is true; I have seen several such), and it has been suggested that "pushing the boat out" referred originally to that kind of boat. I don't really believe this myself, (a) because surely that would have made the phrase "push the boat around", not "out"; and (b) it has the smell of a folk etymology - I can just imagine someone looking at one of those coasters and saying "Hey, you could really push the boat out with one of those! I bet that's the origin of the saying!" (just as somebody did with square wooden trenchers and the phrase "square meal"). But I offer it for what it's worth. (VSD)

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