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Get off it

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 04, 2008 at 17:06:

In Reply to: Get off it posted by Victoria S Dennis on May 04, 2008 at 07:34:

: : I'm wondering about the origin of the phrase "get off it". I searched and found ya'll had discussed this in the past, but it was a fuller phrase, "get off your soapbox". Since I was a little girl, this has been a Southernism. I recall on an original Twilight Zone episode ("The After Hours", where Marcia the mannequin and co. come alive) some of the mannequins imploring Marcias to "climb off it".

: I've never heard "get off it", but here in the UK we have been saying "Come off it!" since the late 19th century. Similar phrases meaning the same thing are "Get away!" "Come away!" "Give over!" etc.

: : Same thing, you think?

SS: It's hard to pinpoint an "it" which has no visible antecedent. The question is, of course, get off what? I agree, at least tentatively, with Victoria's suggestion equating "come off it" and "get off it."

The Oxford English Dictionary does not treat "get off it" at all, as far as I can find, but has numerous examples of "come off it," in which the use is transitive, and many in which it is intransitive, just "come off." The latter seems the earlier use, common in the 18th and 19th centuries, while the former is the more common in recent times.

What is "it"? I think the safest definition is something like "whatever you are trying to tell me or persuade me of." The OED offers: "Stop trying to fool me," inter alia, as a gloss for "come off it." Let me quote a few citations from the OED:
"1711 H. FELTON Classicks (J.), To come off from these grave disquisitions, I would clear the point by one instance more. a1714 BURNET Own Time II. 31 To forgive every one that should come off from his opposition. 1870 J. J. MCCLOSKEY Across Continent in Amer. Lost Plays IV. 95/1 Oh, come off, Joe. 1889 Century Dict., Come off, to cease (fooling, flattering, chaffing or humbugging); desist: chiefly in the imperative: as, oh, come off! (Recent slang, U.S.)"

Is this consonant with "get off your soapbox"? Well, people on soapboxes are trying to persuade their listeners of some proposition. In the end, if you get off your soapbox you are no longer trying to persuade people, at least of that particular proposition at that time. "Climb off it" would certainly suggest a soapbox rather than just some unwelcome proposition. It's possible that different people use "it" with slightly different meanings.

Americans, at least, will have heard the more recent slang expression, "Get out!" From the context one can usually tell easily whether this means "Leave the room!" or "No, you must be joking! What you say can't be true." When Giles tells Buffy the Vampire Slayer something she's loath to believe, she responds, "Get out!" It's not to be taken as a complaint or anything disagreeable, it just means "You can't be serious!" I think this is the same as Victoria's "Get away!"

Incidentally, the OED, in discussing "come off it" with the meaning "desist, cease from, stop talking," adds the synonym, "give over" (cf. Victoria, supra).