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Where did that phrase come from - Taking them to the cleaners
Stan St. Clair

Well, the election is over and we need to move on to other topics. We still live in the greatest nation on earth, and we need to be kind to one another and attempt to show love to everyone, regardless of our political affiliation.

Recently in the Business Pulse in the Southern Standard, editor James Clark said he felt a local dry cleaning business which closed its doors after decades had been “taken to the cleaners” and said that he ought to ask me how that saying originated. Well, here is your answer, James.

This expression is used to mean obtaining all of someone’s possessions, particularly in a dishonest or unfair way. It really is derived from dry cleaners which made their appearance in the late 19th century. It infers that someone has been cleaned out, so to speak. The metaphoric saying didn’t come until early in the 20th century. The earliest known citation is from The Electrical Worker, April, 1914, in a letter from Portland, Oregon member W.H. Emrick to the Editor:

“At present we are not in a position to say what the outcome will be but have high hopes of taking the Employers’ Association to the cleaners.”

At times a lot of us, I suppose, have felt like this has happened to us sometime in life; maybe not totally, but at least partially. Someone else has unfairly taken advantage of us, whether in business or personally. When this happens the victim feels drained and used.

Treating others in a manner which they would like to be treated is the focal point of a good society and what enables us to trust those with whom we live and work. In Middle Tennessee, we can be proud of our heritage and our strong, healthy atmosphere to live and work. Let’s keep this going for our posterity.

If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at