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Lose one's marbles

Posted by RRC on August 18, 2009 at 15:25

In Reply to: Lose one's marbles posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 17, 2009 at 20:28:

: : I have a theory (plausible?)about the origin of the phrase "to lose one's marbles"
: : I suggest that it's the opposite of "knowing your marbles" This was a phrase used to imply a knowledgeable person ewho could identify the source of all the pieces of Italian marble which were inlaid into expensive tables of the
: : 18th(?) century. You can see them at museums... e.g. the Gilbert collection in London. Any comments??

: Can you provide any evidence for the use of "know one's marbles" in the 18th century? I have not been able to find it anywhere.
: Michael Quinion says "lose one's marbles" is an American expression, which originally meant "lose one's temper", as when losing all one's marbles in a game of marbles. ( (VSD)

Aside from the counter-evidence, the story has problems. The micromosaic items the Gilbert Collection is famous for are made from colored glass (cut from long thin canes not from glass marbles). Older mosaic work such at St. Peter's Basilica feature many types of precious stone (such as lapis lazuli, alabaster, onyx, jet, etc.) not just marble. Also, we don't find Jane Eyre attempting to impress Mr. Rochester with her lapidary knowledge or any other such example from period literature that I can think of.