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Posted by R. Berg on March 13, 2010 at 15:13

In Reply to: Would not touch it with a ten foot pole posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 12, 2010 at 13:26:

: : : Greetings - it is my understanding that the origins of "would not touch it with a ten foot pole" relates to the use of the Roman decempeda - ten foot pole - for camp layouts and all other standard linear measurements. Although all camp measurements were not 10 feet - the ten foot pole was standard. This ensured rapid mobilization with enough distance between camp units and standardized camp layouts for the army.

: : Personally I've hardly ever heard that version. In the UK I think 'I wouldn't touch that with a barge pole' is the most used expression. My guess is that almost anything that's reasonably long could be used in the phrase. What version is used may be the subject of regional variation.

: I agree that "a barge pole" is far commoner. And the notion of a folk memory of Roman military camp-laying-out equipment creating a common British slang idiom is quite fantastically unlikely. (VSD)

In the U.S., the standard phrase is, and has long been, "I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole." We don't hear about barge poles here. ~rb