"Shape up or ship out"

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Mon Aug 10 14:28:05 UTC 2009

For the expression "Shape up or ship out," the OED cites Arthur Norman's "Army Speech and the Future of American English," _AS_ 31 (1956) 108, where the saying is said to exemplify "more or less ephemeral idioms."  Bad guess!

Slightly antedating Norman's aritcle is this:  Hanson W. Baldwin, "The Pentagon's Changes," _New York Times_ 14 May 1953 / 17:  "In Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe--better known as SHAPE--there had been a witticism, 'SHAPE up or ship out.'  This meant that officers must conform to the philosophy and doctrine of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters or transfer elsewhere."

I surmise that the "witticism" plays upon a saying that was already current--not that the saying itself is based on the acronym "SHAPE."  Opinions?


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