Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Take a Powder?

I recently read this, and while I may have heard it before, it's not deeply familiar to me, if you know what I mean.

I get from context that it means to leave abruptly.

What I'd like to understand is what the metaphor derives from.  I find the origins of idioms absolutely fascinating, and I'm wondering about this one.  Thoughts?

(I love "shot my wad," for example, the origins of which I learned in a most embarrassing way during a grad seminar.)

9 comments:

  1. I was never sure if it was feminine like the powder room or masculine like gunpowder. Now I must ask google.

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    1. saucyturtles6:24 AM

      I assumed it was a headache powder.

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    2. The internet says it's either a laxative powder or the powder room, but they don't know for sure. The internet is really into diarrhea jokes.

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    3. The laxative powder would make some sense with the "run out" use the OED cites. Now I think I'll never want to use the phrase!

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  2. Looks like the internet ate my comment!

    As an English-English speaker and reader, I think of the phrase in the context of telling someone else to "take a powder!", and as implying some sort of soothing, calming dose - a bromide, a sleeping medication perhaps. Essentially it means "you're over-wrought". Which would also make sense with a purgative, since 'costive' (or constipated) is often used to imply intensity and choler as well as terse, and the metaphorical use of constipated brings to mind anger, frustration, a cross red-faced worked-up person, so that kind of powder would ease the mood too!

    Words are interesting...

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    1. That would make some sense with the "run out" use the OED shows first.

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  3. The OED shows a 1909 entry in the San Francisco Chronicle for its first use:
    1909 San Francisco Chron. 4 Feb. 9/2 Senator Cockey O'Brien of Bernal Heights..made Senator McGluke take a run-out powder. ("Powder" OED n.1, p3.)

    Notably, most of the uses the OED shows are specifically about men taking a powder. That may be something about sources, or it may be that it's primarily associated with men.

    The use of "powder" for cosmetics (in the sense of "powder one's nose"), the OED says is first used in 1616. Early uses have a lot of powdering of hair. (Yet another reason to be glad I don't have to powder my hair or wear a periwig!)

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    1. Ah, but one internet source indicates that it may be that the speaker is trying to emasculate the person to whom the comment is addressed. Thus not ruling out more feminine origins of the phrase.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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