Fish or Cut Bait (1868)

Herbert Stahlke hstahlke at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Mon Dec 2 03:48:17 UTC 2002

This is what I've always taken the expression to mean, but how has it come
to mean "Get with the program or leave"?  It's used almost synonymously with
"Shit or get off the pot."


I'M FROM MISSOURI--I didn't find it in the DENVER POST from 1897 (I had
looked many years ago), but I did find a poem that results in this note.

   11 July 1868, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 8:
   Ex-councilman MERRITT was in favor of indorsing the nomination: they must
either fish, or cut bait, and as they were not large enough to fish they
must be content to cut bait for Tammany.

   26 April 1897, DENVER POST,pg. 4, col. 2 poem:
_Fish, Cut Bait, or Go Ashore._

(The online NEW YORK TIMES, with its reference to NYC politics, was the
earliest place I found the phrase, but you can check again.  I searched for
"cut bait"--ed.)

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