[Ads-l] "The whole magillah" [Antedating, 1950]

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 25 19:18:43 UTC 2021

Have we done this, "the whole enchilada," and "the whole schmeer/schmear"
recently? (I'm sending some antedatings for the latter two in a moment.) If
so, forgive me.

OED mentions that "Megillah" has been used "[w]ith allusion to the length
of the Megillah" as "[a] long, tedious, or complicated story" since at
least 1911.

It also notes that it appeared "frequently in 'a whole Megillah' [after
Yiddish 'a gantse megile']," with the earliest example provided from 1954
and/or 1957. (It's a little hard to know about how "the whole megillah" was
used in that 1954 example.)

So, I've included a 1953 usage of "a whole 'megillah," in the sense of "a
long, tedious, complicated story" and another appearance of "a whole
megillah" from 1915, though this 1915 sighting clearly reflects a
translation of the original Yiddish into English.

Importantly, though (because this is what I was after), here's also an
appearance of "the whole magillah," indicating (as the OED puts it) "the
whole business, the whole thing," from 1950.

I'm also sharing an example of an odd "a big megillah" from 1952, though I
don't think its meaning is explained correctly. (As a matter of fact, I'm
also unsure about the meaning of the last slang phrase in the piece, which
caused me to blush out loud when I first saw it, but then I recognized that
the meaning may have to do with what the OED defines as "[a] foolish,
incompetent, or contemptible person.")

-- Bonnie


BING CROSBY and Dixie are currently talking it over. Friends hope they'll
decide to forget the whole magillah ...

(In Dorothy Kilgallen's "The Voice of Broadway" column, The Middletown
[Ohio] Journal, 27 June 1950, p. 4. Her column appeared in newspapers all
over the country.)


Over at NBC henceforth anyone who puts in more than five hours overtime
must write out a whole "megillah" explaining howcum.

(In Walter Winchell's "On Broadway" column, The Courier-Post [Camden, NJ],
13 April 1953, p. 12. Again, Winchell's column appeared everywhere.)


"Dear God in Heaven." I thought to myself on the road, "what can my brother
have to write to the Rebbe's daughter? I ought to look at it, just only
give a peep. I will not hurt it by peeping at it." I opened the letter to
Esther. It was a whole Megillah.

(In Hannah Berman, "Esther; From the Yiddish of Shalom Aleichem," The
Jewish Exponent [Philadelphia], 17 December 1915, p. 1. There is a note
indicating that this has been translated for the paper.)


To the lexicography of TV, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, packagers
extraordinaire of CBS-TV's "It's News to Me," and "What's My Line" have
included such mysterious coinage as: "A big megillah," which is TV argot
for snafu; "The show's a bomb" (flop); "Everything's Tom" (things are
unsatisfactory), and "Let's try a new Schlongg" (trick or stunt).

(In "If Things Go 'Tom' Show Results in Well-laid Bomb," The Columbus
Dispatch, 1 June 1952, p. 10F.)

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

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