[Ads-l] "Like taking candy from a baby/child" - 1892 Precursors - 1830s

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon May 2 22:32:24 UTC 2022

“Like taking candy from a baby” expresses how easy something is to achieve.

Barry Popik posted here an example of “Like taking candy from a baby” spoken by the ex-Sherriff of Brooklyn, New York in 1900.

There are several earlier examples, all or nearly all, from sports reporting.

The earliest example I’ve seen is from 1892, using “child” instead of “baby.”

[Begin]The score, Topeka 16, Pana 0, shows that Pana was not in the game yesterday at Athletic park.  Topeka took the game hands down and won so easily that it was almost like taking candy away from a child.[End]
Topeka Daily Capital, September 10, 1892, page 4.

An example from 1896 uses “baby.”

[Begin] Folk also fielded and batted well.  Columbus has, without a doubt, drawn a prize in this player.  He is tricky took and made Mobile give up one run yesterday in the ninth inning that seemed like taking candy from a baby.[End]
Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Georgia), June 11, 1896.
This example was found at https://wordhistories.net/2018/09/29/taking-candy-baby/

Beyond these examples, which express ease of doing something, the expression seems related to a long line of precursors, which were used to illustrate how mean or evil someone is.  The typical construction is to compare someone who did something terrible to types of people who would do more obviously terrible things.

The expressions generally followed the format, “so-and-so is so mean that they would [take/steal/rob] [something of value] from a [baby/child/vulnerable or innocent person].”

An early example from 1830.

[Begin]The effort upon Fulton would be useless; he is so immodest, and so lost to shame, as openly to praise Duff Green and Gen. Jackson, and he who would countenance them, would, in my opinion, rob a beggar of his rags, or steal rusty nails from a dead man’s coffin.[End]
The Arkansas Gazette (Arkansas Post, Arkansas), September 22, 1830, page 1.

The most popular version was “so mean that he would steal an acorn from a blind pig.”

But many of them related to cornbread, gingerbread, licorice or other sweet things, taken from babies, frequently specifically black babies, or sick babies.

The earliest that is close to “candy from a baby” is from 1847.

[Begin]Verily, there are some persons mean enough to steal gingerbread from a baby![End]
Hartford Courant (Connecticut), January 22, 1847, page 2.

More examples on my blog post.

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