Posted by Baceseras on November 26, 2007
In Reply to: Chew the rag posted by ESC on November 24, 2007
: : I heard when I was young that "chew the rag" came from black-powder rifle days when men sat around talking as they chewed the rags used for wadding a ball into the rifle. The material needed to be softened and lubricated to make starting the ball easier. I've actually done this way back when I used to shoot cap locks. Anyone else heard of this?
: That's a new theory. At least, to me. Here are others, from the archives:
: From the archives:
: 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!" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1955).
Doesn't it seem unlikely, though, that anyone could talk much while literally chewing rags or fat? I'm inclined to believe that the phrase arises from a witty comparison: persons engaged in idle conversation are saying nothing of importance, they're only working their jaws --- as when chewing the rag, or the fat.