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Off pat, down pat

Posted by R. Berg on June 06, 2001

In Reply to: Off pat & Off your own bat posted by James Briggs on June 06, 2001

: : : Any ideas as to the origins of these?

: : The alphabetical meanings-and-origins list on this website explains "on your Pat" as "on your own" (Cockney or Irish rhyming slang: "on your Pat Malone"). Maybe our British friends can tell us whether "off pat" is related. The Oxford Engl. Dict. traces "off his own bat" to cricket: "in reference to the score made by a player's own hits" and, figuratively, "solely by his own exertions, by himself."

: To have something off pat is to have it exactly right. The saying has been in use since the 17th century but its precise origin is not altogether clear. The best suggestion is that it is derived from the sense of the word a "light touch". If something only needs a light touch to get it right then it must be almost perfect. Not very convincing I'm afraid, but it's all that I could find. "Pat", in my Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, meant "apposite, or to the purpose".

: "Off his own bat" could well have a cricket origin, and the phrase is certainly used in the sense quoted above.

In the U.S., to have something "down pat" means to be so practiced at a routine that one is perfectly proficient at it. "I went through my speech ten times last night, and I've got it down pat." Evidently this is the same "pat" as occurs in "off pat" as explained in the preceding post. Here's the Oxford Engl. Dict. on "pat" as an adverb: "In a way that hits, and does not miss[,] its object or aim; in a manner that fits or agrees to a nicety with the purpose or occasion; . . . appositely, aptly; in the very nick of time, opportunely; so as to be ready for any occasion, readily, promptly." Some of the OED's examples: "Haue I not hit your meaning patte in this comparison?" ; "He . . . had the whole story pat enough" .