Just the other day an old friend of mine, and I say that in the most respectful way, asked me about this old saying. I knew Frank Dillon when I worked with him in Atlanta in the early 1970s right before moving to Tennessee. Frank was a singer-songwriter, and had been a member of the pop-rock group The Chartbusters out of Washington, D.C.
They had a big hit with a song titled “She’s the One,” which was so much like the Beetles that I think some people thought it was them. They played in shows with many of the best known artists of their day. Since both Frank and I wrote songs (though mine were just for fun) we had a lot in common and became good friends. We lost track of one another and only in the last couple of years reconnected on social media.
The first thing I did is look to see if it was one of the 4,000-plus phrases featured in my books, and what do you know? It wasn’t! So, “back to the old drawing board” for answers.
We all know what this means and have probably used it a bunch of times in our lives. Someone has done something worthy of recognition and we want them to know that we realize it, like giving credit where credit is due. It is especially applicable when what the person has done was unexpected.
But how long has this been in our jargon? That information won’t just pop out at you online. It is uncertain who first used it. I know it has been around over 100 years, though. In Metropolitan Magazine, Volumes 45–46, page 59, published in New York in 1916, we find this snippet:
“I’ve got to hand it to you again, you little red-head you! Nothing small about you!”
Wow! 1916? Yes, 1916!
The saying picked up steam during the 20th century and appeared in more books and magazines than you could shake a stick at. It was included in a dictionary titled American Slang by Robert Chapman in 1986. It has been in other such publications since.
If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at email@example.com.