Too rich for my blood
Posted: 16 January 2009 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Phrase finder has nothing about origins and googling was no help. Anything in the big dict?

I can’t really even parse the allusion. Dr. T is a master of allusion… what say, Doc?

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Posted: 16 January 2009 10:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not in the OED, and I can’t find any credible information about the origin.  Although today it’s used with respect to money (expressing unwillingness to spend or hazard too large an amount), the “for my blood” makes me suspect that the “rich” originally referred to (or was a play on) the idea of rich food.  Folk ideas about the health effects of foods are frequently expressed in terms of their supposed effect on the blood (e.g. Satchel Paige’s “Don’t eat fried food, it angries up the blood.") Rich (fatty) foods are regarded as thickening the blood (and indeed, high triglyceride (fat) levels in the plasma do increase its viscosity). So “too rich for my blood” is something that one might say literally in declining, say, a second serving of cheesecake.  One can then imagine it being used as facetious wordplay in declining to see a large bet in a poker game, etc. 

I have no evidence of the literal use, and obviously this is just speculation, though I think it reasonably plausible.  It is, at least, a way of parsing the phrase, which you requested.

Edit: actually, I have found what seems to be a literal use, even though, oddly enough, it comes in the context of a poker game.  At Making of America I found a passage in The log of a cowboy; a narrative of the old trail days, by Andy Adams (1903), in which a group of 15 men have found a clutch of 16 turkey eggs and are playing poker to determine who gets the extra egg. After a while, one man, suspecting cheating, leaves the game saying, “Turkey eggs is too rich for my blood.” This is from 1903, but I found even earlier uses of the “too expensive” sense.

[ Edited: 16 January 2009 10:52 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 19 January 2009 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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If you do a Google Book Search for the phrase “too rich for my blood” and limit it to 1800-1889, you get six hits which you can read in their entirety.  One hit says something to the effect that it’s a Western(U.S. West) expression.

I’m not pimping for this explanation, but it’s possible.

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Posted: 19 January 2009 08:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Interesting, but even if it’s true, I don’t think that constitutes an “explanation”: it doesn’t seem to help connect the words to the meaning.

[ Edited: 19 January 2009 08:48 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 20 January 2009 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dr. Techie - 19 January 2009 08:10 PM

Interesting, but even if it’s true, I don’t think that constitutes an “explanation”: it doesn’t seem to help connect the words to the meaning.

I responded too quickly. 

I have no explanation as to connecting the words to the meaning. 

I was only offering the possiblity that it was a phrase which originated in the Western part of the US, nothing more. 

That, and the fact that it appears in print many times prior to 1903, and in non-literal meaning phrases.

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Posted: 20 January 2009 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yeah, it would be great for my speculative explanation if the possibly literal, food-related use I found (which is Western, FWIW) was the earliest, but that’s clearly not the case.

The figurative use isn’t always about cost or high-stakes bets, as I implied earlier.  Looking through a lot of uses in Googlebooks I find examples where it means too fancy, too high-falutin’, too “intense” or “heavy”, and so on.  These don’t invalidate by speculation, but they don’t support it either.

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Posted: 20 January 2009 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I think Dr. Techie’s hypothesis seems reasonable but I’m unable to substantiate (or refute) it.

Barrère & Leland, _ Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant_ (1890) [at Google Books]: //That’s too rich for your blood (American), too good for any one. / [example] You go a visitin’ Miss Perkinblower! You makin’ calls on a judge’s daughter! _That’s too rich for your blood_ — why, they’ll jest tell the servant to carry you out on a chip and heave you into the barn-yard. — _Newspaper Story: MS. Americanisms, by C. Leland Harrison._//

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Posted: 21 January 2009 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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FWIW, Partridge’s Dictionary of Catch Phrases (accessible at Googlebooks) supports the notion:

From the literal sense of the phrase (orig., I think, too high ...): food or wine too rich for one’s digestion.

But as far as I can see he’s just guessing too.

Might be worth searching early text for the “too high...” version, though.

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Posted: 22 January 2009 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Having searched for the “too high...” version, I came up with recent instances only.  It has also occurred to me that the suggestion that “high” was the original form is not very consistent with the idea that the phrase derives from literal application to food. Too high would mean “too spoiled”, “too rotten” to be eaten, not easily connected to the current sense, and if we interpret “high” as meaning, from the start, “high in price,” it leaves us no wiser as to how “for my blood” enters into it.  I don’t think Partridge was thinking clearly there.

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Posted: 22 January 2009 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It occurs to me that the “Miss Perkinblower” example is consistent with “blood” having the sense “breeding”, and that the quotation may have meant that the judge’s daughter was too rich (wealthy) for [a person of] the interlocutor’s [presumably lowly] breeding to address?

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Posted: 22 January 2009 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t think Partridge was thinking clearly there.

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

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Posted: 23 January 2009 12:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I used to hear the phrase “s/he’s of good stock” (ie bloodline) when the middle or upper class were discussing or disecting potential matrimonial partners.  “Blood” could mean breeding in the context we’re discussing, as a hangover from that sense, so I agree with SL that it’s a possibility.  Nobody here, however, seems to have recognised that, so that sense either died out or never existed in the States.

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Posted: 23 January 2009 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The interpretation of “blood” as breeding or “station in life” makes sense with the “too high” variant and just sounds right to me. “Too rich for my blood” = “too rich for my station in life” makes literal sense without the need to go down the rich food path. That doesn’t mean it’s the correct origin, but it does have a certain Occam-ish appeal.

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Posted: 23 January 2009 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Note that based on what’s been found so far, the “too high” variant seems to be comparatively rare and recent, making it a poor explanation for an origin.

Using Googlebooks, for instance, “too high for my blood” gets three hits, the earliest being 1973.  “Too rich for my blood” gets over 600, going back to at least the 1880’s (note that it’s in a slang dictionary from 1890).

Edit: “Too much for my blood” seems to be far more common than high (49 googlebook citations, though some go on to say “pressure").

[ Edited: 23 January 2009 03:42 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 24 January 2009 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Just possibly relevant is this late 15th-century drinking song:

Bring us in no browne bred, fore that is mad of brane;
Nor bring us in no whit bred, fore therin is no game:
But bring us in good ale.

(Burden: Bring us in good ale, and bring us in good ale,
Fore our blessed Lady sak, bring us in good ale.)

Bring us in no befe, for ther is many bones;
But bring us in good ale, for that goth downe at ones,
And bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat;
But bring us in good ale, and give us inought of that,
And bring us in good ale.

Bring us no mutton, for that is ofte lene;
Nor bring us in no tripes, for they be seldom clene:
But bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no egges, for ther ar many shelles;
But bring us in good ale, and give us nothing elles,
And bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no butter, for therin ar many heres;
Nor bring us in no pigges flesh, for that will mak us bores;
But bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no podinges, for therin is all gotes blod;
Nor bring us in no venison, for that is not for our blod:
But bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no capon’s flesh, for that is ofte der;
Nor bring us in no dokes flesh for they slobber in the mer:
But bring us in good ale.

The point about venison is that, the deer being a protected game animal, only the nobility were entitled to hunt and eat it. That line means “because it’s not for the likes of us (commoners)”; which is very close to “too high for my blood”.

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