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Chew someone out

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 27, 2009 at 20:03

In Reply to: Chew someone out posted by Guest on March 27, 2009 at 14:07:

: I'm trying to understand the origin of the phrase "chew someone out." Why does it mean to reprimand someone (and yell at the person)? Is it because you turn the person into mush, as you would if you stomped all over him/her? But why the connotation (if, indeed, it's a necessary one) that the person with authority is yelling?

To the best of my knowledge, the "chewing out" has to be done by someone in authority. Although the Oxford English Dictionary cites examples only from 1948 on, I believe that the expression became common in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, and easily moved to civilian life. When visibly chewing, one's mouth moves a lot, and when a superior chews someone out they presumably use a lot of jaw motion, especially if the chewing out was done loudly. I think the loudness is implied as part of the chewing out. With the emphasis on jaw motion comes the feeling of having been chewed up. One sometimes hears "he chewed me up and then spat me out."

I should add that an alternative form of reprimand, besides being chewed out, is being eaten out, although chewed out is clearly the expression of choice.