[Ads-l] "hard as Chinese arithmetic": HDAS 1977, antedating

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 17 15:58:36 EDT 2017

Below is a non-metaphorical phrase with "hard' and "Chinese
arithmetic" in 1963. The use suggests (to me) that the journalist was
referencing an established figure of speech.

Date: August 8, 1963
Periodical: Jet
Quote Page 57
Publisher: Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois

[Begin excerpt]
Arrest Negro Writing Policy Numbers In Chinese

Police found it hard as Chinese arithmetic to catch John Singleton,
Philadelphia numbers suspect. Singleton, 44, was observed taking bets
inside a laundromat, but officers couldn't figure out the strange
markings on the pad of paper. After hurried trips to local Immigration
and Customs houses and a Japanese doctor, police were finally referred
to a Korean student, who identified the numerals as Chinese. The
accused was held in $300 bail.
[End excerpt]

Date: July 28, 1970
Newspaper: Aiken Standard
Newspaper Location: Aiken, South Carolina
Quote Page 1
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Why no one has won I can't understand
For a puzzle so simple, a puzzle so grand
I've heard people say and it makes me sick
It's harder than Chinese arithmetic
But that's not so and I tell you the truth
It's easier than losing a baby tooth.
[End excerpt]

There are matches for "Chinese arithmetic" going back to the 1800s,
but the connotations are variable.


On Sat, Jun 17, 2017 at 1:01 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> The old man and lesser mortals - Page 135
> https://books.google.com/books?id=E78eAAAAMAAJ
> Larry L. King - 1974 - ā€ˇSnippet view
> ... companion in Odessa (except for his affectionate new wife, Ann) is
> Norman Childress, a used-car salesman and free spirit given to such shotgun
> observations as "Just dancin' with that ole girl made my dingus _hard as
> Chinese arithmetic_.
> In my experience, this dates back to at least 1949." Some others of this
> type from that era are:
> harder than a molunk chunk
> hard as times was in '32
> so hard, a cat couldn't scratch it
> so hard, it could scratch diamond
> In 1961, I heard from a fellow St. Louisan attached to my unit on
> T[emporary]D[ut]Y,
> ". . . so hard, I didn't have enough skin left to close my eyes"
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list