[Ads-l] a target on one's back

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 26 18:48:59 UTC 2021

Not in OED.

The first ex. appears to be "poetic" rather than idiomatic.

[1916 _Springfield [Mass.] Union_ (Jan. 7) 10: ["From the Brooklyn Daily
Eagle"]  WWhen the Londoner is trembling for a Zeppelin attack...the
all-heroic Bobby, minding duty, minding orders, / Bears a big and brilliant
lantern as a target on his back./ Through a scope the Zep can see it,/
Tickled is the expert man..../ He will drop a bomb upon it.]

1932 _Evansville [Ind.] Press_ (Dec. 6) 6: NOW PLAYING  Every man in line
had a target on his back  A thousand to one against freedom But Duke Ellis
took a chance! ..."Hell's Highway" Starring Richard Dix.

1951 Bart Spicer _Black Sheep, Run_ (N.Y.: Dodd, Mead) 160:  Tonight I was
just a guy with a wide target on his back. ...Any quick-triggered jerk who
burned me down would get a medal.   [Note early ex. of _burn down_, 'shoot

1963 _Grand Rapids Press_ (May 5)  36: King Hussein Feels Target On His

These are the earliest I find. The phrase becomes common in the '70s and

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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