Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu May 21 21:54:08 UTC 2009

On Thu, May 21, 2009 at 5:35 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> Really? Thank you. That's about as transparent as "smoke someone over"
> : look at someone. A pretzel is either not twisted or it's twisted in
> a particular way that's so entirely predictable that a lab rat could
> figure it out.
> Or maybe I'm simply unfamiliar with the wide variety of ways in which
> pretzels may be twisted. If I were any more unfamiliar with pretzels,
> the word wuld be only a literary term for me.

FWIW, OED3 has a similar sense for "pretzel" as a verb:

pretzel, v.
N. Amer. (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
trans. To twist or contort, esp. forcefully; to cause to bend or buckle.

1933 Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune 22 Jan. 4/2, I sit here with legs pretzeled while
he makes cat-and-liver jokes.
1943 Marion (Ohio) Star 12 July 6/1 Old impressions are taken from the shelf and
pretzeled into new shapes by support for Boss Hague by the secretary of the
Communist party of New Jersey.
1980 Rolling Stone 12 June 34, I was hit, the car rolled, and for some reason
the seat belt broke in one of the rolls, just before the car pretzeled itself
around a tree.
1987 P. QUARRINGTON King Leary (1988) i. 6, I pretzel the mook! I twist him
around so good that his socks end up on different feet.
2000 Edmonton (Alberta) Jrnl. (Nexis) 17 Dec. C2 He cleverly twists and turns
his answers into more questions, pretzelling them into paradoxes, which he

And the noun "pretzel" has the sense "something resembling or suggestive of a
pretzel, esp. a contorted person" dating back to 1919 ("the human pretzel").

--Ben Zimmer

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

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