"bring it on!"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jun 14 21:29:21 UTC 2008

On Sat, Jun 14, 2008 at 4:55 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sat, Jun 14, 2008 at 12:42 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
> >
> > from Bruce Webster, who suggested this as a topic for Language Log.  i
> > don't have the answer to his question, and tracking phrase origins is
> > not my thing.  but ADS-L would be an appropriate place to pose the
> > question.
> >
> > as it turns out, Grant Barrett asked about the phrase here on 2/2/04:
> >
> > http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0402A&L=ADS-L&P=R1958&I=-3
> >
> > but i see no record of his getting a response.  anyone have any fresh
> > insights?
> >
> > Begin forwarded message:
> >
> >> Irregular Webcomic (which, despite the name, is published daily)
> >> carries on several separate stories -- all in different settings and
> >> time periods -- using Legos. One story is an "Indiana Jones" parody,
> >> modeled roughly after "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". Here's
> >> today's strip:
> >>
> >>   http://www.irregularwebcomic.net/1966.html
> >>
> >> The author's notes below the strip state:
> >>
> >>   I initially wrote Monty's line in the second panel as, "Bring it
> >> on!"
> >>
> >>   Of course I doubt anyone ever said, "Bring it on," before the 1990s.
> >>
> >> So, how old _is_ that phrase?  ..bruce..
> Just as a WAG, I'd say that's it's been around at least as long as
> I've been able to fathom the English language, ca. seventy years. It's
> a common "wolfing" threat.

Seventy years looks about right. From ProQuest's Historical Black
Newspapers Collection:

1938 _Atlanta Daily World_ 15 Oct. 4/5 Morehouse versus West Virginia,
bring it on!
1939 _New York Amsterdam News_ 28 Oct. 4/6 (caption) A native of
Birmingham, Ala., she doesn't care for publicity but, as she said: "If
this helps me to get a better job, bring it on."

> Are you serious that this is new to you? Or is it your point that it
> has only recently appeared where Northern(?) white academics have
> heard it or read it, there being no reason for me to suspect that its
> use has heretofore been peculiar to the speech of blacks?
> BTW, how can anyone claim that some word or phrase has never been used
> before, simply because he himself has never heard or read it?

To be fair, Arnold was simply passing along a query from Bruce
Webster. I highly doubt that Arnold, who has written extensively about
the Recency Illusion, would make any such claim.

--Ben Zimmer

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

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