[Ads-l] pulling your leg (hypothetical legwork)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Feb 6 09:57:25 EST 2021

OED pull, verb P7.a, to pull a person’s leg
1852, the earliest example, from Arctic Miscellanies [London, available at hathitrust], reprint of an earlier, handwritten weekly “newspaper” written by mariners whose ship was stuck in ice. “A chapter [of forthcoming publication of “Nuts for the Arctic Public,” with bon mots, puns, enigmas, charades,” etc.] will also be given on the most approved method of pulling a leg, or what is generally known and called getting it on a stretch.”
This was written by and for sailors.
“getting it on a stretch” is rare generally—a googlewhack—but “get it on a stretch” appears in several mariner books, including before 1851, concerning rigging of a line, rope or yarn.
Might the antecedent of “it” here be “pulling” and/or ‘leg? With pull/stretch related”?
Might “stretch the truth” be a relevant comparandum?
Might “getting your sea legs be worth mentioning, stretching and folding as needed?
(News at the Ends of the Earth, Duke UP, commented ambiguously “copies [of Nuts…] do not survive or are held privately.” Actually or possibly held?)
1859 is OED’s second instance. “I know you are pulling my leg….” The book had another case, p.133 “…brothers commenced; “pulling his leg,” by criticizing  _his_ rig, asking him “who his hatter was?” and politely wishing those present to “twig his heels;” finishing their “chaff” by begging him to oblige them with a few of his copperplate sayings.”
This book, Always Ready, or, To Every One his Pride {London and printed Southhampton; available at Google Books] was written by a sailor, “a P. and O.” = Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, Mercantile Marine Transport Service person.
“Twig his heels,” if meaning to trip (as some take pulling a leg to mean), twigs were not at least literally abundant on ships. Another. Later (1880s) guess of tricking for money, is doubtful or not original. Another unlikely origin; from leg-tugging at a séance.
1876 added by me. Two Years Abaft the Mast [Edinburgh, London, available at GB, HT in later editions] P. 306 “Suddenly becoming conscious that somebody was pulling my leg [….]”
Ship in the English Merchant Service.
May land with additional sightings

Stephen Goranson

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

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