Chew the fat
Chew the fat
Although some sources attribute the phrase "chew the fat" to sailors, who during a period of resting and conversing, or while working together, would chew on salt-hardened fat, there are no reliable historical recordings of this practice. It has even been suggested that the phrase is derived from a practice by North American Indians or Inuit of chewing animal hides during their spare time, and even of British farmers chewing on smoked pork, but again, there remains to be no evidence supporting these claims, and would require accepting a great deal of uncertainty in connecting the phrase from nautical origins to its modern metaphorical use.
There are also claims that the phrase is synonymous with the action of chewing fat, or simply an allusion to the movement of the mouth during chewing. Noting that fried fat is appealing in taste, it was regarded as a treat that someone could chew on for as long as possible to gain the most out of it.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "Chew the fat" first appeared in 1885 in a book by J Brunlees Patterson called Life in the Ranks of the British Army in India. He implied it was a kind of general grumbling and bending of the ears of junior officers to stave off boredom, a typical part of army life. Patterson also uses "chew the rag" in the same sentence he used "chew the fat", but it is not the oldest occurrence. Prior to the adoption of metallic cartridges, most ammunition was composed of powder and a ball wrapped in paper or cloth soaked in animal fat, which was bitten open during musket drill. Soldiers were known to chew on these ends to pass the time and reduce nerves, and in some cases to stave off cravings for chewing tobacco. Though long-since replaced by 1885, the idea of biting or chewing on fat-soaked rag ends may well have entered military parlance in this fashion prior to Patterson's recording.
Chew the rag
Appearing first in print from 1875 in "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang", the excerpt reads:
"Gents, I could chew the rag hours on end, just spilling out the words and never know no more than a billy-goat what I’d been saying."
The first appeared synonymously as early as 1885, in J. Brunlees Patterson's "Life in the ranks of the British army in India and on board a troopship", which listed the terms in succession:
"..whistling, singing, arguing the point, chewing the rag, or fat, or other voluble and noisy inflictions, such as the screeching and gabbling of parrots and yelping of canines.."
It was used as a way to describe complaining or grumbling, typically by the military.
It was not until 1907 that the phrase "chew the fat" was used to express partaking in idle conversation, for a friendly talk, or a gossip session. It has also been used to a way to define telling tall tales.
Chew-The-Fat.com is a UK-based website (now moved to chew-the-fat.org.uk) hosting a web forum, described as "The chat forum your mother warned you about", devoted to chat, gossip, and humorous banter and cartoons.
In 1999, a widespread hoax called "Life in the 1500s", false information was circulated through email regarding "chew the fat". Among offering explanations for many phrases, the email stated:
"When company came over, they would bring out some bacon and hang it to show it off. It was a sign of wealth and that a man "could really bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat.""
The false email spurred a reexamination of popularly sourced etymologies of many folk phrases and idioms. Although it has been widely accepted as accurate, this misinformation has since been dispelled.
|Look up chew the fat in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up chew the rag in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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- Ammer, Christine (1997, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). "chew the fat." The American Heritage dictionary of idioms. Retrieved 2010-08-11
- Patterson, J. Brunless (1885). "...spirits and others who indulge in the various diversions of whistling, singing.." Life in the ranks of the British army in India and on board a troopship. Retrieved 2010-08-11
- Wilton, David (2004, Oxford University Press). "Chew the fat." Word myths: debunking linguistic urban legends. Retrieved 2010-08-11
- Rag Chewers Club
- Mikkelson, Barbara (2007-07-12). "Life in the 1500s." Snopes.com Retrieved 2010-08-11
- "Life in the 1500s." Virtual Teachers. Retrieved 2010-08-11
- Lederer, Richard (2003, MacMillan). "Spook etymology on the Internet." A man of my words: reflections on the English language. Section regarding this article available here Retrieved 2010-08-11