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Where Did That Come From? - Going to town
Stan St. Clair

Going to town is an old expression that folks my age grew up hearing. It means doing something with wholehearted gusto, or excessive fervor. 

It was coined in the 19th century in reference to going from a rural area to the nearest center of activity for an outing, and meant engaging in a very jubilant event. It has changed somewhat in meaning. It became very popular in America in its present figurative form by the 1950s. As early as January 1938, the term was being re-invented as seen in this authoritative citation from the Reader’s Forum of The Rotarian:

“Goin’ to Town”

“I fear that some of your readers will accuse Dr. Vizetelly and me of ‘not knowing our onions’ on current American slang in the inadequacy of the expression ‘going to town,’ as used in your November issue [q.v. footnote to “Goin’ to Town, Vocally by James L. Waller]. Slang terms just won’t ‘stay put.’ A new expression comes into being today, receives immediate approbation, and tomorrow has acquired a dozen shades of meaning. 

“Hence, my interpretation of ‘going to town,’ though basically correct as a synonym with ‘making good,’ is not quite that intended by Mr. Waller in his article. He uses it, as the article indicates, to mean ‘getting across; being there with the goods; bringing home the bacon’ or in common prose, creating a highly favorable impression.”

Down a bit further, the letter states:

“Hence, going to town not only indicates ‘making good,’ but usually ‘making good in a big way;’ highly favorable, highly satisfactory or agreeable—‘something to write home about.’”

So if anyone ever tells you that someone is really going to town, you will know where it came from!


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