Query: ten-foot pole

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Apr 28 14:18:00 UTC 2008

"Barge-pole" has never been used within my hearing in the States.  Always "ten-foot pole."


Damien Hall <halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Damien Hall
Subject: Query: ten-foot pole

In British English, I've only ever heard the variant "I wouldn't touch that/it
with a barge-pole". Ten feet seems about right for such a pole (which are used
on barges to push off from the banks, other vessels or other obstacles). The
Wikipedia entry


claims that "[it] appears that the association with barge poles came after the
phrase was in use", and cites the _Online Etymology Dictionary_ as evidence
that "the earliest instances in print involve a forty foot pole"; but neither
the _Online Etymology Dictionary_ nor the rest of the Wikipedia article gives
any evidence for these claims, merely making them. I also reserve judgement on
the Wikipedia article's further claim, intended to be all-inclusive, that
"modern usage uses a _ten foot_ pole"; not my modern usage, anyway. But,
FWIW, the barge-pole does seem like a plausible possible origin for the
ten-foot pole of the modern (for some people) saying.

It's struck me, while writing this, that the _Online Etymology Dictionary_ may
well have chosen that precise formulation for its name so that its acronym
would be _OED_. I wanted to abbreviate it to save myself writing it out a
second time and realised that I couldn't. Sneaky!

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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