"no strings attached"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Apr 22 18:37:35 UTC 2005

Douglas G. Wilson says, in part:
"After 1900 I see the expression applied to a gift or offer rather than
to a man: I suppose maybe the idea was that one could make a gift to
(e.g.) a politician without making any claim on him; i.e., accepting
the gift would not cause him to come under the giver's control or to
become obligated to further the giver's interests. And that's about
what it means now, I believe."

A theme in early 20th century cartoon humor was that boys would put a
seemingly full wallet on the sidewalk, "with a string attached", so
that when a passerby noticed it and stooped to pick it up, they, hiding
behind a fence, could pull it away.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

----- Original Message -----
From: "" <douglas at NB.NET>
Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2005 0:02 am
Subject: Re: "no strings attached"

> I surely doubt it.
> "No strings attached" in the usual application does not mean
> "without flaw"
> or anything like that, it means "without obligation" ... I think.
> Quick newspaper search shows ca. 1890-1900 several instances of
> "no strings
> attached" referring to a person such as a politician: it would
> seem to mean
> "independent" or "not bound by obligations". I suppose the
> metaphor may
> involve a puppet with strings: the man without attached strings
> would be
> one who is his own man, not the stooge of another (such as a financial
> backer).  If it also refers to flaws in fabric
> either it's a
> coincidence or the tailors etc. borrowed the phrase intact and
> used it with
> a different meaning ... I think.
> Like other "amazing but true" etymology tales, this one of course
> comeswithout any paper trail or even any reasoning to convince the
> reader: it's
> "self-evident" or "well-known", right?
> -- Doug Wilson

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