"Shape up or ship out"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 10 15:25:49 UTC 2009

The secret HDAS files have nothing on this phrase before OED (1958 is the
earliest).  My evidence suggests that it become common in civilian life in
the mid to late 1950s. None of my exx. seem to refer to the 1940s.  I first
heard it from my seventh grade history teacher, Mr. O'Brien, an army veteran
of WWII, in 1959.

But the "SHAPE up" version is, to my mind, almost self-evidently based on an
earlier "shape up."


On Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 10:28 AM, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      "Shape up or ship out"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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?
> --Charlie
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list