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Fits the Bill

Posted by Baceseras on November 29, 2008 at 19:47

In Reply to: Fits the Bill posted by Gary Martin on November 22, 2008 at 10:32:

: : : : : "Fits the Bill" is a phrase that could be added. I believe it is theatrical in origin refering to the bill or poster describing the concert, play or other entertainment. An actor could be selected for a play as he "fits the bill" has the right experience and skills to play the role, or an act in a variety show can be chosen as suitable for the overall show.

: : : : That's an interesting speculation, but I can find no evidence to back it up. The earliest examples that I can find of the phrase in print are from 1964.

: : : Is the phrase in common use nowadays?

: : In a quick search of Google News Archive, I'm finding hits for "fit the bill" as early as 1912 which seem to be the right figurative usage (there are even earlier ones dealing with the type of bills that are made into laws which mean something literal). My guess to the origin would be a bill of lading or other such delivery ticket sort of bill, laundry ticket, etc. As in: uf this delivery matches the items on the bill, then it fits the bill.

: That's well spotted. There is also an 1899 citation in that archive which, while not relating to playbills, does put the phrase into the variety theatre era.

"Fit the bill" appears to be a variation: the Oxford English Dictionary notes printed use of the expression "to fill the bill" as early as 1861; they expound its meaning as, "to fulfil the necessary requirements; to come up to the requisite standard" - a "bill" can have been any kind of written document, not only theatrical but any sort of advertisement, invoice, inventory, shipping label, sale catalogue, membership list, etc. etc.