phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Yanking chains & rattling cages

Posted by ESC on August 08, 2000

In Reply to: Rattle His Chains posted by ESC on August 07, 2000

: : This phase seems to have a southern origin. My intuition tells me it refers to chained people. It is used when someone means that must rush someone.
: : Any ideas?

The expressions I am familiar with are "rattle someone's cage" and "pull (or yank) someone's chain." I found these phrases in "The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang" by Tony Thorne (Pantheon Books, New York, 1990; originally published in Great Britain by Bloomsbury Publishing, 1990).

"YANK (SOMEONE AROUND/SOMEONE'S CHAIN) -- vb. American to mislead, deceive, harass or irrate. The image on which the expression is based is that of a chained or leashed animal or prisoner being thoughtlessly or maliciously jerked about or led in different directions..."

The image I have is more benign -- a cartoon scenario of a bulldog on a chain and a cat, or whatever, accidently pulling the chain. And there's a variation, "Who pulled your string?" referring to talking dolls that are activated by pulling out a string in their backs. Remember Chatty Cathy?

Then there's:

"RATTLE SOMEONE'S CAGE vb. to provoke, disturb, rouse. A phrase in mainly working-class usage, others(drop off the perch, sick as a parrot) using the imagery of a caged bird or animal. The expression usually forms part of a provocative rhetorical question, 'who rattled your cage?' addressed to someone suddenly roused to anger or indignation. Yank (someone around/someone's chain) is an American alternative."

Actually, both expressions are used in the U.S. And neither, to my knowledge, are southern.