On the lam
Posted: 29 August 2007 12:44 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Was watching a film with Nick Nolte in it last night for my sins, and at one point the expression ‘on the lam’ was used.

In my dictionary, it says the verb ‘lam’ is a Scotticism, derived from a Norse word meaning ‘to hit, thrash’ (16th C).

There is a separate listing for the noun ‘lam’, as used in the title of this thread. Only a date is given there (1897).

Does anyone have more details on the noun as used in ‘on the lam’?
I know the expression means ‘on the run’ but no idea if it is the same word.

Thanks

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Posted: 29 August 2007 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Interestingly lam (lam, n, 3 in the OED) is from Old Norse lamja, beat, thrash, literally to lame, which is from exactly the same root.

First cites in OED show the progression of the various forms of the phrase.

1897 Appleton’s Pop. Sci. Monthly Apr. 832 To do a lam, meaning to run. 1904 ‘NO. 1500’ Life in Sing Sing xiii. 263 He plugged the main guy for keeps and I took it on a lam for mine. 1931 [see area-way s.v. AREA 2b]. 1935 A. J. POLLOCK Underworld Speaks 118/2 Take it on the lam, to run away; escape.

The verb form has an earlier cite:

lam, v

1886 A. PINKERTON Thirty Yrs. a Detective 41 After he [sc. a pickpocket] has secured the wallet he will..utter the word ‘lam!’ This means to let the man go, and to get out of the way as soon as possible. 1901 Smart Set Oct. 3/2 Well, when he [sc. Uncle Remus] was just driven to desperation he ‘lammed aloose’, and so shall I. 1932 Evening Sun (Baltimore) 9 Dec. 31/5 Lam, run away from the police.

[ Edited: 29 August 2007 01:29 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 29 August 2007 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I thought this one was on the Big List. And indeed I found the entry in my notes, but strangely it was not uploaded to the server. Anyway, I just added it (back?) to the Big List. Nothing to add to the OED entry, however.

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Posted: 30 August 2007 01:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks for the info.

Makes you wonder what the word meant just before it seems to have become an alternative for ‘beat’ as in ‘lam it’.

The 1886 Pinkerton quote suggests it still meant something near the old sense before becoming thieves cant...?

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Posted: 30 August 2007 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Interesting parallelism between ‘beat it’ and ‘take it on the lam’, lam once having the meaning beat. Hit the road, is another ‘beating’ figure.

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