Questions about "in the soup"

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Fri Oct 4 15:24:49 UTC 2002

At 8:45 PM, 10/3/02 Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
>    OED has April 1889 for "in the soup."
>    1 September 1888, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 8:
>    McLaughlin won with King Crab in the easiest possible fashion,
>and Speedwell finished "in the soup."
>    28 October 1889, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 4:
>    A Yale student returning from abroad is disgusted with the slow
>appreciation of the English people.  He says that on the trip home
>he had occasion to make use of the phrase "in the soup."  As it was
>new to British ears, it provoked the curiousity of one old
>gentleman, who begged an explanation.  The embarrassed young man
>began with a cheerful and homely example.  "If," said he, "I started
>for America, and my trunk by some inadvertence was detained in
>Liverpool, I should be sadly inconvenienced, would I not?  Well,
>then, my trunk would be in the soup, and so would I."  "But," broke
>out the Englishman, "I cannot see what your trunk has to do with an
>article of diet."--_New-Haven Palladium_.
>    3 November 1889, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 4:
>    Slang interprets slang.  It is easy to see the force of the
>remark "Don't be a clam," when you reflect how frequently the clam
>is in the soup.--_Toronto Globe_.

    A few questions arise:

1) What is the origin of slang "in the soup"? Is it connected with
the cartoons  showing a captured white man sitting in a pot of
boiling water with the savage natives standing around? (I'm assuming
these cartoons existed already in the 19th century). OED2 doesn't
give the etymology. Jesse, does HDAS perhaps have something on this?
Would there be perhaps a still earlier attestation?

2) The earliest examples of "in the soup" are now clustered in
1888-1889. Did something happen in 1888 or shortly before to bring
"in the soup" to public attention or into print?

3) Do any other languages have a similar slang expression?

4) Have any articles been written analyzing slang expressions which
denote being in a  difficult or hopeless situation, e.g., "in the
soup," "in a pickle," "your goose is cooked"? Btw, why do we say
"Your goose is cooked"? Why not a duck or a chicken? And if one of
these birds *is* cooked, how does this cause anyone to be in a
hopeless situation?

Gerald Cohen

P.S. For easy access, here is OED2's treatment of "in the soup"
("soup," nn. meaning 2b):

in the soup, in a difficulty. orig. U.S.

   1889 Lisbon (Dakota) Star 26 Apr. 4/2 After collecting a good deal
of money, the scoundrels suddenly left town, leaving many persons in
the soup.
1898 Pall Mall Mag. Nov. 420 Of course he knows we're in the
soupbeastly ill luck.
1915 J. BUCHAN Thirty-Nine Steps ii. 37, I was in the soup that was
pretty clear. 1917 LLOYD GEORGE Let. 31 July
(1973) 184 Henderson has now put us into the soup & there is no
knowing what will happen. 1925 [see EYEBROW 1d].
1939 H. G. WELLS Holy Terror I. ii. 38 We're in the soup... We've got
to do 1914 over again.
1968 Listener 23 May 660/3 You find you may want to move a group of a different part of the building, and if the rooms over
there are
designed for quite a different kind of picture, you're rather in the soup.
1977 C. MCCULLOUGH Thorn Birds xvii. 455, I do
feel very sorry for her, and it makes me more determined than ever
not to land in the same soup she did.

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