From the thread we had the other day about origin of English phrases.
I was curious enough about this to do some further research. My own
dictionaries of word history didn't have anything interesting, and the
Internet had numerous theories but nothing authoritative.
So I asked for help from my lady wife, Milica, who is a librarian in the
modern world. Here's what she had to say:
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Subject: Chewing the fat
Date: Wed, 4 Jun 2003 14:00:02 -0400
From: Katherine Courtney <courtnka@...
Barb and I put our heads together and came up with the following print
Christine Ammer. Have a nice day - No problem! a dictionary of cliches
chew the fat/rag, to.
To converse, or to chatter in informal fashion. In Great Britain chewing the
rag originally (late nineteenth century) was a colloquial term for
complaining or grumbling, although one source holds it was an army term for
persisting in an argument, and another believes the rag in question was a
piece of cloth used when soldiers ran out of tobacco. Chewing the fat, more
common in America, may have meant chewing on salt pork or fatback when
supplies were low. Today both are colloquial cliches that simply mean talking
in a relaxed manner.
Marvin Terban. Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms
Chew the fat
"My friend and I sat up half the night just chewing the fat."
Meaning: to have a friendly, informal talk; to chat in a relaxed way.
Origin: In the late 1800s this expression was popular in the British army and
then it came to the United States. One possible origin might be that military
and naval people were given tough meat to eat and they had to chew the fat of
the meat as they talked. The action of chewing is like the action of speaking
(see "chew someone out"). At any rate, if you're just hanging out, talking
with your friends in an easy, relaxed way, you're "chewing the fat" (or
"rag"). A similar expression is to "shoot the breeze."
It seems that even the authoritative sources consider the origin of this
phrase to be uncertain. We kept encountering phrases like "one possible origin"
and "one theory", suggesting there might be alternatives. This was true on the
Internet as well; the only "sources" that seemed sure of their "facts" were the
ones like personal home pages that really aren't authoritative. The authorities
are less certain.
I wish I could provide something definitive, but it apparently doesn't exist.
I do thank Milica and her friend Barb (non-SCA) for trying. The explanation
Milica provides, which is very similar to the one from Snopes, appears to be
the prevalant accepted theory.
Maistor Iustinos Tekton called Justin (Scott Courtney)
Gules, on a bezant a fleam sable, on a chief dovetailed Or, two keys
fesswise reversed sable.
Marche of Alderford (Canton, Ohio) http://4th.com/sca/justin/
PGP Public Key at http://4th.com/keys/justin.pubkey