[Ads-l] "my first ask"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 5 01:51:51 UTC 2019

A language columnist in “The Sydney Morning Herald” discussed the
phrase “a big ask” in 1986. The phrase was enclosed in quotation marks
suggesting that its use may have been unfamiliar to some readers.

Date: April 15, 1986
Newspaper: The Sydney Morning Herald
Newspaper Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Article: Words: Language just keeps rolling along
Author; Alan Peterson
Quote Page 10
Database: Newspapers.com


[Begin excerpt]
On the last day of the Sheffield Shield cricket final a Herald
journalist heard a radio commentator refer to NSWs need of so many
runs on a deteriorating wicket as "a big ask".

It was a great leap backwards. The earliest recorded use of ask as a
noun occurred about 1000. A 1230 reference was "He failed of his
as[k]." The usage is, of course, obsolete, but request and demand are
still both nouns and verbs in good standing.
[End excerpt]

The OED has an entry for “ask” as a noun with a long history.

Further below is “big ask”, the Australian slang version. OED gives a
1987 citation, so the 1986 Australian citation above is slightly

[Begin excerpt]
ask, n.1
2. A thing asked for; a request, a demand. Somewhat rare except in
uses at sense 3.

c1275  (▸?a1200)    Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1963) l. 529   Eouer axe
ich eow leue.

a1350   St. Juliana (Ashm.) (1957) 81   Þis Justice..wende hire habbe
as is spouse, ac he failede of is as [rhyme was].

1656   N. Hardy First Epist. John: 1st Pt. (ii. 1) xx. 357   God saith
concerning Christ, thou art my Son, there presently followeth an Ask
of me and I will give thee.

1781   T. Twining Let. 8 Dec. in Recreat. & Stud. (1882) 108   I
am not so unreasonable as to desire you to..answer all my asks.
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
ask, n.1
c. colloq. (orig. Austral.). With modifying word or phrase of size, as
a big (also huge, etc.) ask. Something which is a lot to ask of
someone; something difficult to achieve or surmount. Cf. tall order at
tall adj. 8d.

In early use chiefly in Sport.

1987   Sydney Morning Herald 7 May 40/2   Four measly pounds is what
the critics say. But according to his trainer..that four pounds is ‘a
big ask’.

1994   J. Birmingham He died with Felafel in his Hand (1997) viii. 177
  I'd..get him to wear the underpants consistently for six weeks on
the road. (This was not a big ask given Milo's unwashed jeans-wearing
record at King Street.)
[End excerpt]

On Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 8:02 PM Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:
> A quick search of the text string "that's a big ask" on newspapers.com
> shows hits as early as 1988.  But every single hit from 1988 through
> 2006 is either from an Australian newspaper, or quotes a native
> Australian, typically athletes.  Several examples of high-profile
> Australian tennis players and golfers being quoted in US newspapers -
> perhaps that's how it seeped into the language here.  The earliest
> non-Canadian result was from Canada in 2006.  The earliest US result
> that is apparently not from a native Australian speaker is only from
> 2010.

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

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