Rich pickings

Posted by R. Berg on September 18, 2005

In Reply to: Rich pickings posted by Bob on September 18, 2005

: : : : Can anyone enlighten me as to the origin of the phrase "rich pickings"?

: : : : My guess is that it refers to the (mainly) women who would during the nepoleonic wars (after a battle had ended) trawl the dead bodies left on battlefields for anything of value.

: : : I associate it with gold mining, but I don't know that that's its origin.

: : It's the opposite of "slim pickings," meaning not much to choose from. I always associate it with food harvesting (picking fruit off a tree, for example) but I have no evidence to support this.

: Well. Now. I've done a little more research, and I can't find support for my harvesting origin ... except as picking through leftovers is harvesting.

Time to go to the OED. There's no separate entry for "pickings." Definition 3b for "picking" is "That which is or may be picked, or picked up; the produce of picking, the amount picked; a scraping, a scrap; _pl._ gleanings of fruit, remaining scraps of food, or portions of anything worth picking up or appropriating." The first recorded use is by John Milton, 1642: "The Vulturs had then but small pickings."