Down and out
Posted: 16 July 2007 12:11 PM   [ Ignore ]
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re-reading George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London”, I find myself wondering about the origin of the phrase “down and out” (often “down-and-out"), which seems to be in common use (and to mean much the same) throughout the English-speaking world. None of the authorities I am able to consult has much to say about the origin, or attested age, of the phrase. Is anyone here able to throw further light on the subject? On the face of it, it is suggestive of prize-fighting, and several bloggers seem to have the same idea; but nowhere do I see citations.

Anyone?

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Posted: 16 July 2007 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OED:

down and out, adj. phr.

[DOWN adv. 5, OUT adv. 19c.]

Completely without resources or means of livelihood; absolutely ‘done’; also transf. (see quot. 1934). Also absol. (‘the down and out’) and as n.

1889 Kansas Times & Star 28 Nov., The brewers, saloon-keepers and sports will meet.. to provide a turkey feast for the ‘down and outs’ in their line. 1901 ‘H. MCHUGH’ John Henry 31 Say! I was down and out—no kidding! a1910 ‘O. HENRY’ Trimmed Lamp 183 I’m down and out; but I’m no traitor to a man that’s been my friend. 1917 J. FARNOL Definite Object vi. 49, I don’t want ‘em to think I’m floatin’ around with a down-an’-out from Battyville. 1921 H. WALPOLE Young Enchanted III. vi, Everybody over forty is tired and down and out, and everybody under thirty has swelled head. 1922 G. M. TREVELYAN Brit. Hist. 19th Cent. xxiii. 375 France was down and out. 1923 H. L. FOSTER Beachcomber in Orient x. 215 Nowhere in my travels had I ever found a city so full of the down-and-out as was Singapore at that particular moment. [...] 1933 ‘G. ORWELL’ (title) Down and out in Paris and London. [...] 1968 T. PARKER People of Streets 31 The assistance is for the poor people really, the ones who they call the down-and-outs. Ibid. 159 Billy Costello, down-and-out dosser, twenty-four years old.

“DOWN adv. 5” is “Into or in a fallen, sitting, or overthrown position or posture”; “OUT adv. 19c.” is “No longer in the game, or in the active or leading position denoted by in (IN adv. 6d)”

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Posted: 16 July 2007 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’ve never associated it with prizefighting. (And the OED has “out” in the boxing sense as coming a few years after “down and out”; not so much later as to conclusively rule out a boxing origin, but it does call the hypothesis into question.) To me, the social implications, being lower down on the social ladder and an outcast, suffices.

That said, I’m not sure the OED has the right references in the etymology. I’d say it was down, adv. 17, “To or in a lower or inferior condition, a state of depression, subjection, humiliation, inaction, restraint, defeat, discomfiture, annihilation.” And out, adv. 16.c., “Not in office; removed from a post; out of work, unemployed.”

[ Edited: 17 July 2007 05:55 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 17 July 2007 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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thanks Dave, thanks lh --- seems of more recent origin than i’d thought.

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Posted: 18 July 2007 12:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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being lower down on the social ladder and an outcast, suffices

Could it be a double contraction i.e of “downcast and outcast”?  maybe some cluse on that in the OED?

Also “downcast and out of spirits” (e.g. True Stories from History and Biography by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1850).
Not a commin phrase as such, but maybe how it arose.

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Posted: 18 July 2007 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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“downcast and out of spirits”

Describes this wretched soul exactly!

(with trembling fingers, makes note to stumble down to neighborhood grocery for a renewed supply of cheap rotgut)

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