Blow smoke up someone's ass

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Jul 28 00:00:43 UTC 2009

Michael Sheehan wrote:
> Need to know the actual origin of "to blow smoke up someone's ass." The
> story about 18th c. tobacco smoke enemas seems highly dubious, but it's
> all over the place.

These enemas really were applied, but it's questionable whether they
have any relevance to the phrase origin in question. The sense
development is not what one would expect, since the tobacco-smoke enema
was intended for good ends, for reviving the drowned, curing intestinal
ailments, etc., not for frivolous or deceptive purposes.

It seems to me that "blow smoke" usually means "bullshit" or "speak
falsely/deceptively". Cassell slang dictionary says "confuse", "mystify
through speech", "boast","brag", "flatter".

Is the form with "up [someone's] ass" the original form of the phrase,
or was "blow smoke" alone the original form? The Cassell book dates the
short form about 100 years earlier than the lengthened 'intensified'
form with "ass", and this is plausible according to my naive notions,
but I don't know what the evidence is, if any.

Assuming that the original was simply "blow smoke", various
origin-candidates occur to me:

(1) "blow smoke" (like "produce a smokescreen") metaphoric for "confuse"
or so;

(2) "[just] blowing smoke" = "producing [only] something
useless/uninformative from one's mouth" (cf. "[just] whistling 'Dixie'");

(3) from the practice of blowing smoke to confuse/pacify bees.

Probably there are other candidates.

What does HDAS have?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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