[Ads-l] pull(ing) (off) a PN (Ty Cobb) stunt

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Thu Feb 11 02:35:10 EST 2021


About "pull somebody's leg", my research into the origin was
inconclusive at best, and muddied the waters considerably. I couldn't as
easily discount the "hangers-on" (hanging) theory as I'd thought I could
before beginning the research. I thought I said that when I shared the
research.

Neither could I (pace) substantiate a nautical origin. For example, see
the 1867 "The sailor's word-book : an alphabetical digest of nautical
terms, including some more especially military and scientific ... as
well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc", at

https://archive.org/details/sailorswordbook00smytgoog/page/n687/mode/2up

The book confirms use among mariners prior to 1867 of 'stretcher' in the
sense of an elaborate falsehood:

STRETCHERS. Narrow pieces of wood placed athwart the bottom of a
boat for the rowers to place their feet against that they may
communicate greater effort to their oars. Also, cross-pieces placed
between a boat's sides to keep them apart when hoisted up and gripped.
Colloquially, a stretcher means a lie exaggerated to absurdity.

The sense of "getting it on a stretch" as relates to "pulling a leg" in
Arctic Miscellany is unclear to me, and checking prior uses of "on a
stretch" revealed no obvious connection with "pulling a leg". Nautical
uses are largely literal ("on a device to stretch it" or "while
stretching it"). The few figurative uses of "on a stretch" seemed to
have no semantic connection to "pull somebody's leg" beyond the common
sense of extension, in the former, and exaggeration, in the latter.

My failure to make a conceptual connection between "pull a leg" and the
'stretchers' in a rowed boat may be an artifact of ignorance: my
experience of rowing involved pulling the oars against the water, which
in turn involved pushing my feet against the 'stretchers' for better
purchase; if instead I pushed the oars against the water, the stretcher
I used for purchase would have pulled my legs.

On 2/10/21 12:48 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
> ....
> b) On "pull someone's leg," I suppose it has not yet been fully explained. Thanks, James Eric, but (pace) I currently do think it came from mariner use, and I don't think it came from execution by hanging, which is so remote from (OED's) "to deceive a person humorously or playfully; to tease a person."
> 
> Stephen
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY DEVCOM AVMC (USA) <0000099bab68be9a-dmarc-request at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2021 6:06 PM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Subject: Re: pull(ing) (off) a PN (Ty Cobb) stunt
> 
> 
> 15 Mar 1901 Baltimore Sun p 7 col 3
> "For the 29 Archers to practice a William Tell stunt there are 8 apples, and in case any of their engines of war are broken in stretching the long stave too far there are a couple of bows in the Directory who can be used in an emergency."
> 
> 03 Jan 1907 Washington DC Evening Star p 16 col 1
> "Will Try the Houdini Stunt" [headline]
> 
> Are you interested only in forms "[PN] stunt"?  (I assume that is "Personal Name") Or the broader use of a person's name to refer to a specific action?
> 
> 
> 20 Jul 1901 Butte MT Daily Post p 6 col 3
> "With a splash and a gurgle, the disciple of Bachus did a sudden "Brodie" into the murky element  . . ."
>   [Steve Brodie supposedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886]
> 
> 
> 
> [14 Jun 1909] ....Cruikshank pulled off a Ty Cobb stunt. The first man up in the ninth hit a short fly to right, Cruikshank rushed in in time to grab the ball and throw the runner out at first. The Courier, Waterloo Iowa 2/5]
> 
> Lots of later (and maybe earlier) "Ty Cobb stunt" usages.
> 
> Was Ty Cobb the earliest PN for such trademark stunts?
> 
> Stephen
> 
> 
> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.americandialect.org__;!!OToaGQ!_ZThuPxWJVGiZdjhO8iLIqeksgvuNPaMxA-fXBv9-c5APF4hkup5OJZhERz755uP$
> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.americandialect.org__;!!OToaGQ!_ZThuPxWJVGiZdjhO8iLIqeksgvuNPaMxA-fXBv9-c5APF4hkup5OJZhERz755uP$
> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> 

-- 
James Eric Lawson

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


More information about the Ads-l mailing list