"Shape up or ship out"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 10 15:54:25 UTC 2009

Earlier still:

1951 _Binghamton (N.Y.) Press_  (Nov 24) 6: President Truman from time to
time adds another name to the long list of those in his administration
scorched by scandal. He possibly has told others to shape up or ship out.

1953 _Syracuse Post Standard_ (April 7) 6 (ad): Top kicks are neither
swearing off - nor off swearing. Read "SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT!" ...in
Collier's, on sale now.

I don't have access to Collier's, but it was such a popular mag that the
article probably had a lot to do with the spread of the phrase.


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
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