push comes to shove (1924)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Feb 26 16:14:10 UTC 2010

The latest OED draft entry for "push" has "if/when push comes to
shove" from 1940. Some earlier cites (the first three are from "The
Week," by Defender columnist Roscoe Simmons):

1924 _Chicago Defender_ 9 Aug. II1/2 "Defense day," backed by
President Coolidge, will be used to show you what you could do in a
pinch and, also, to show Europe what Uncle Sam can do if push comes to
1924 _Chicago Defender_ 4 Oct. II1/2 Hope that this matter will blow
over, but if push comes to shove and you are called, don't make a
1926 _Chicago Defender_ 20 Feb. II1/2 He may even give the register of
the treasury to some dark American if push comes to shove.
1932 _Chicago Defender_ 23 Jan. 14/2 Indeed, American sailors, like
all Americans, are tough on ladies, all outside of their "race" first,
and then their own if push comes to shove, at sea, on land, home or
1935 Arna Bontemps _Black Thunder_ 53 And, let push come to shove, He
going to fight them down like a flock of pant'ers, He is.
1937 _Atlanta Daily World_ 9 Mar. 2/6 It would be better, when push
comes to shove, for you to put all of them out and after they are out
a little while and realize what it is all about, they will be glad to
come back and be good.

And M.J. Devaney sends this one along:

1931 _Baltimore Sun_ 5 Dec. 36 "It's got to be one or two [whites],
but if push come to shove, they're not going to do no better'n keep
quiet." (in: "Mob Took Negro from Her Custody," quoting Snow Holden
from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, regarding the inability of blacks
to trust whites in the wake of the Matthew Williams lynching in 1931)

--Ben Zimmer

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

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