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The meaning and origin of the expression: Not by a long chalk

Not by a long chalk

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Not by a long chalk'?

Not by any means; a good distance away from being true. It is used for emphasis when something a described as being far from its mark. For example, "£100,000 isn't enough to buy a house in London - not by a long chalk".

What's the origin of the phrase 'Not by a long chalk'?

"Not by a long chalk' is a 19th century expression that originated in Canada but first became commonplace in England. It is the equivalent of the variant that is more used in the USA - 'not by a long shot'.

Not by a long chalkThe chalk that is referred to is that used to mark up scores in pub games and at horse races.

The first person to put the expression into print was the Canadian writer Thomas Chandler Haliburton in The Clockmaker, 1835:

The there's the great Daniel Webster, it's generally allowed he's the greatest orator on the face of the airth [Earth], by a long chalk.

The phrase is used several times in the book. Haliburton was an enthusiastic coiner of street slang expressions and there's every reason to believe this was his own invention. He emigrated to England about twenty years later and it may be that the usage of 'by a long chalk' came with him or, more probably, the English began reading his books.

'By a long chalk' now only ever appears in the negative, like 'laughing matter', 'rest for the wicked' and 'all the tea in China'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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