October 29, 2003

Shake A Stick

Last night...a conversation:

Her: I wonder. What do they mean by 'more something than you can shake a stick at'?
Me: Hmmm.
Her: And why do you want to shake a stick at something anyway?
Me: I'm not sure. Doesn't really seem to make sense does it?
Her: No.
Me: And its not necessarily more of something. I mean, if you had 2 elephants, they'd cover a pretty big area. Like, more than a bunch of penguins.
Her: Yeah. And I guess I need to know what kind of stick.
Me: That's true. I mean, if it were a small stick, you could probably shake it at a lot of stuff.
Her: But if it was big, that would take some effort.
Me: And it wouldn't so much be that there were too many things to actually shake the stick at. It would be that your strength or coordination or whatever ran out because of shaking the stick, not necessarily as a result of the number of things you were shaking the stick at.
Her: Exactly.

And then we fell asleep.

Now, if you've ever actually wondered where that idiom came from, apparently The Lancaster Journal in Pennsylvania first used the phrase to describe the number of local taverns around 1818. It is surmised that the stick in question actually had its origins in livestock herding as a means of counting.

There. You learned something. Never let it be said that this is not an educational blog!

Posted by Chris at October 29, 2003 1:54 PM

Given that the 1818 reference refers to shaking a stick at taverns and, given that Davy Crocket's reference in 1835 refers to a temperance house as not having enough drink in it to shake a stick doesn't that suggest that shaking a stick applied to protesting against the demon drink at a time when the temperance movement was very strong?

Posted by: Janet Couzens at January 26, 2004 8:27 PM