[Ads-l] "take the wall" of someone; not in OED

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Sun Oct 11 04:06:02 UTC 2015

If one searches the OED for "take* the wall" (quoted and with a wild card), the result is nine quotations (none of which happen to be under the "wall n.1 entry).  I concede that rather than only meaning a more general "stand up to, oppose", as I initially thought, they can be read as "take (in some of the quotations, more like "usurp") the better position against" - which is "wall" n.1 sense 16.b.


      From: Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM>
 Sent: Saturday, October 10, 2015 9:31 PM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "take the wall" of someone; not in OED
Relevant is _Romeo and Juliet_, Act 1, Scene i, a snatch of dialogue between 
two Capulet servants:

    GREGORY:  That shows thee a weak slave, for the weakest goes to the 
    SAMPSON:  'Tis true, and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are 
ever thrust to the wall. Therefore I will push Montague's men from the wall, 
and thrust his maids to the wall.

This demonstrates the original, literal sense of take/give the wall -- OED 
16a -- while walking along the pavement/sidewalk [as the relevant part of 
the street will come to be called in the UK and the USA, respectively] , to 
insist on having the better (cleaner) position, close to the wall [take the 
wall], or to allow someone else to take this position [give the wall].

In extended or metaphoric use -- OED 16b -- the term means to assert [take] 
or allow [give] precedence, generally.

As an aside,  while following through on Joel's post, I came on an enticing 
anecdote of the poet/parliamentarian/controversialist Andrew Marvell taking 
the wall of an opponent and tipping him into the gutter.

Andrew Marvell, _The works of Andrew Marvell,_ vol. 3 (1776), pp. 473-474:


Robin Hamilton


-----Original Message----- 
From: Joel Berson
Sent: Wednesday, October 07, 2015 9:46 PM
Subject: "take the wall" of someone; not in OED

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Sender:      American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:      Joel Berson <berson at ATT.NET>
Subject:      "take the wall" of someone; not in OED

The expression "take[s] the wall" (sometimes with "of <someone>") seems to =
mean "stand up to, oppose" something or someone, sometimes associated with =
a quarrel.=C2=A0 See the nine quotations yielded by the online OED.

Is this not a metaphoric use of "wall" that should be in the OED?=C2=A0=20

Perhaps it comes from the notion of "storming someone's defenses", his "wal=
l"?=C2=A0 See wall n.1, sense 3.=C2=A0=20

Or is it 16.b, fig. of 16.a =3D "to have the wall, to take the wall (of a p=
erson), to have, take the inside position"?=C2=A0 The six quotations don't =
seem to have that sense, unless "inside position" in 16.a is not always lit=
eral but sometimes means "stronger position".

(In passing, I am puzzled that there are four quotations containing "take* =
the wall" in 16, but they don't show up in my Quotation Text search for tha=
t phrase.=C2=A0 E.g., 1757=C2=A0=C2=A0 S. Foote.


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