[Ads-l] Ain't got no clue

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 6 20:26:37 UTC 2022

Interesting topic, JL. The 1854 and 1865 citations below might match
the OED sense for the colloquial phrase "not to have a clue". There
are several earlier matches, but the domain of the clue might be
overly specific. See the 1816 and 1819 citations.

[Begin OED excerpt]
clue, n.
 e. Colloquial phrase not to have a clue: to have no idea; not to
know; to be ignorant or incompetent.
[1870   E. C. Brewer Dict. Phrase & Fable 171/2   Clue. I have not yet
got the clue; to give a clue, i.e. a hint.
1924   A. E. W. Mason House of Arrow ii. 20   That doesn't bring us
any nearer to finding out what is Boris Waberski's strong suit... We
haven't a clue to it.]
1948   E. Partridge et al. Dict. Forces' Slang 43   ‘He simply hasn't
a clue’—he is completely ignorant of his job, or of what is going on.
1950   J. Cannan Murder Included iv. 59   As I believe they say
nowadays, I haven't a clue.
[End OED excerpt]

Year: 1854
Title: The Dodd Family Abroad
Author: Charles Lever
Volume 2, Chapter: Letter 20, Quote Page 176
Publisher: Chapman and Hall, London

[Begin excerpt]
I'll not tax your patience with the recital, but frankly confess to
you that I have not a clue, even the slightest, to the mystery; nor,
from the manner in which I have learned its existence, can I venture
to ask Lord George to aid me.
[End excerpt]

Date: December 9, 1865
Periodical: The Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine
Story Installment: Tracked At Last
Chapter 30
Start Page 504, Quote Page 506
Publisher: William Stevens, London

[Begin excerpt]
"I can't make it out, sir; positively I can't. Detective as I am, I am
forced to acknowledge myself for a time stumped," said Mark Seyton,
rising up from his chair, and walking up and down the long room at the
centre table of which sat Everard Effingham and his mother.
"How--in what way?" asked Effingham.
"How!" repeated Seyton; "in every way! I have not a clue; I cannot
tell which way to turn. You know that image-seller whom I met at the
cricket match?"
[End excerpt]

Year: 1816
Book: The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period
to the Year 1803
Section: Debate in the Commons on the East India Company's Relief Bill
Volume 26, Date of Bill: A.D. 1786
Author: "W. Hastings", Column 166
Printed by T. C. Hansard, London

[Begin excerpt]
I guess the purport of the effaced letter to be a commission to me to
deliver the letter to the King, and most probably the bulse with it,
the contents of which I have not a clue to conjecture.
[End excerpt]

Year: 1819
Book: A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High
Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors
Section: Trail of David Maclane for High Treason
Trial Date: A.D. 1797, Column 782
Publisher: For Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, London

[Begin excerpt]
We were landed about a quarter of a mile from the Fort, I did not know
that it was necessary that I should give in my name at any place, and
I shunned St. John's, that my creditors might not have a clue to find
[End excerpt]


On Sat, Nov 5, 2022 at 10:13 AM Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> OED has "not have a clue" (to be completely ignorant) from 1948, with
> bracketed exx. from 1870 and 1924.
> None of its exx. are from the U.S.
> 1932 Bartlett Cormack _The Phantom of Crestwood_ (film): Well, I grilled
> the servants. They ain't got no clue, so I locked 'em up.
> Set in a California mansion.
> JL
> --
> "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

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

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