"on general principles"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Dec 1 21:58:32 UTC 2005

My father frequently used the expression "on general principles" to
signify that something had been done for no particular reason, but
just for the hell of it.  He might say that he had bought something of
no obvious use "on general principles" or that the cops had arrested
someone "on general principles".

The OED has two quotations in this and my father's sense of the
expression: 1898 R. HUGHES Lakerim Athletic Club 246 Pretty wanted to
punch his head on general principles, but decided it would be better
to beat him at tennis. 1914 New Republic 26 Dec. 15/1 In one Spanish
village he was locked up on general principles, because the King
happened to be passing through town that day.

        Upon arriving here, and wishing to see the "sights," he
perambulated round . . . ; he had given fifty-five dollars to a friend
previous to taking his cruise.  He cruised around on "general
principles" until he brought up somewhere near Stockton street. . . .
        California Police Gazette, March 27, 1859, p. 2, col. 7


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

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