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Where does that come from - More than you can shake a stick at
Stan St. Clair

I thought this old saying would be interesting to use for my column. It is one that my dear mother used to use a lot while I was growing up. It seems like I have had more to do than you can shake a stick at lately.

Today meaning “abundance,” its origin is uncertain, and what specifically was meant by shaking a stick. But it seems to have arisen from a term of hostilities. 

Shaking a stick at something would indicate scolding. The earliest known version of it appeared in print in 1818 in the Lancaster Journal (Pennsylvania): “We have in Lancaster as many taverns as you can shake a stick at.”

In March 1830, in “The Casket, Flowers of Literature, Wit and Sentiment,” had the following: “His slang curses were ultra-Kentuckian on a ground of Yankee; and he had, says my informant, more of this than you can shake a stick at.”

Both of these references have to do with subjects toward which some would have harbored resentment in the areas indicated during the 19th century. Lancaster was settled by the Amish, and many Kentuckians resented Northerners. Also, as I discovered while doing research for my upcoming American Revolutionary War novel, “They Call It Treason,” in the 18th century a lot of Scots Irish immigrants came into Lancaster, then traveled down the Great Wagon Road into Southwest Virginia to obtain farm land. I just threw that in for free.

So if you feel like you have more to do than you can shake a stick at, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger!

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