[Ads-l] "Both/two/three ... seven ends against the middle"

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Fri Aug 7 18:28:22 UTC 2015

On a rerun of "Perry Mason" I heard an expression I'd not encountered before -- a character saying "[he's] playing six ends against the middle".

Upon investigation, it beats "all nine yards" all to hell.  I started with "both/two" and worked up consecutively to "seven".  "Eight" returned no hits, and I quit.

The phrase seems Protean in its variations on the basic sense, of pitting two (or more!) sides against each other, for ones own advantage.  I provide my research, from Google Books, for the benefit of anyone who has further interest or may wish to write an article..----------A.  “Both ends againstthe middle”:  In OED3: “play”, v., sense 20.a, 1887, 1986.  An issue of American Speech, perhaps 1943, page 7, apparentlydiscusses “both ends against the middle”: “TO PLAY BOTH ENDS AGAINST THE MIDDLE. A nonsense phrase used by faroplayers.”  GBooks snippet.  B.  “Two ends againstthe middle”:  (1)  1921:  “Rendall”-—Loring's voice wasangry—— “what have you been doing-—playing two ends against the middle and we the middle? What do you ——” “No, Mr. Loring, I haven't beendickerin. I merely am telling you facts.”  The Saturday Evening Post, 1921 May 21, page 55, col. 2.  Lawrence Perry, “The Holdout” (page 14).  GBooks full view.  (2)  1930:  Yet everybody is familiarenough with the principle of the combination of the two ends against themiddle — the middle in this case being the cause ofdemocracy and progress.  The Bridgemen's Magazine (International Association ofBridge and Structural Iron Workers, 1930) - Volume 30 - Page 29.  GBooks snippet.  Started in 1901, so year is consistent withvolume number.  (3)  1945:  In order for a foreman tofunction properly in his capacity, he must be respected by all those with whomhe comes in contact; and just how can he be respected, or even trusted, when heis in the position of playing two ends against the middle?  The Railroad Workers Journal (Railroad Yardmasters of NorthAmerica, Incorporated, 1945), Volume 6, page 24 col. 2.  GBooks snippet.  [Date/vol. are consistent; Harvard holds“v.5-6 (1944-45)”.]  (4)  1945:  [Exact same quotation.]  Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ...Congress, Vol. 91, Part 11.  U.S. GovernmentPrinting Office, 1945.  GBooks snippet.  From the snippet display I infer that theHon. Senator Hugh Butler of Nebraskais quoting from the Railroad Workers Journal.  C.  “Three endsagainst the middle”:  (1)  1913:  [A paper war between two journals, but I donot have the assiduousness to determine which publication was first with “three”.]  (1.a) It takes more than hot air to preventus from condemning men and publications when they attempt to become acrobats onmatters of importance to the labor movement and no publishing company trying toplay threeends against the middle need think that they can get away with that gameforever.  National Glass Budget: Weekly Review of the American GlassIndustry, December 13, 1913 (Volume 29, No. 32), page 4 col. 4.  GBooks, full view.  (1.b)  [Exactsame quotation.]  TheAmerican Flint (American Flint Glass Workers’ Union), Vol. 5, No. 2 (December 1913), page14.  Editorial.  GBooks full view.  (2)  1993:  Raymond was playing three ends against themiddle, taking his own money, then tripling it bypimping his team.  Joseph Stedino, Dary Matera, _What’s in Itfor Me_, page 238.  GBooks snippet.  (3)  2004 andfollowing.  See GBooks.  D.  “Four ...”:  1978--  E.  “Five ...”:  1965  F.  “Six ...”:  (1)  1959:  It will be a case of playing six ends against themiddle when- Monroebusinessmen stage their annual Farmers- Night minstrel show.  Monroe (Wisconsin)Evening Times, March 19, 1959, page 2, cols. 2--3.  (2)  1960:  "[he's] playing six ends against themiddle".  “Perry Mason”, S4:E6, 10/21/60.  (3)  1978:  Don'ttry to box clever, as you would with another country, playing offal! six endsagainst the middle; this only succeeds when everyone needs and values yourhelp, and Italyis likely to be almost ignored as the big boys sort each other out.  Richard Sharp, “Diplomacy”, 9: Italyhttp://www.diplomacy-archive.com/resources/god/nine.htm  G.  “Seven ...”:  1982, 2011(both John Le Carré)----------

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