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To buttonhole, buttonhold

Posted by ESC on September 29, 2000

In Reply to: To buttonhole posted by Bruce Kahl on September 29, 2000

: : I am curious about the origin of this expression

: The transitive verb "buttonhole" is really an alteration of "buttonhold".

: Think of how well a button catches and holds a piece of fabric when inserted into a button hole.

: So to buttonhole someone is to detain in conversation as if by holding onto the outer garments of!

: ( I hate ending sentences with prepositions but I had no choice.)

The expression used to be "buttonhold" but changed to "buttonhole."

"BUTTONHOLE. 'Barricade your door against the button-holding world!' a British magazine warned its readers over a century ago. 'Button-holding,' grabbing a man by the top button of his coat and holding on with all the strength of the boring until you sell him one thing or another,' was so common in the early 19th century that button-holder was defined in many dictionaries as 'one who takes hold of a man's coat by the button so as to detain him in conversation.' People must have been button-holding and wearying people in France, too, at the time, for the French had a similar phrase. In those days men's coats had buttons all the way up to the neck, including one on the lapel that could be buttoned in cold weather. When fashion decreed that upper buttons be eliminated, button-holders didn't suddenly reform. Instead they began grabbing people by the buttonholes (that) designers, for no good reason, left on the lapels and the phrase became to buttonhole." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).