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Where Did That Come From? - Getting to the bottom of this
st clair

It seems that it is getting harder and harder to get the facts straight nowadays, but doing so is very important.

Getting to the bottom of something means finding out what really happened in a situation which is mysterious or sketchy as to details to determine the underlying cause or truth.

This term is very old. It came into use in the late 18th century. The earliest known printed reference to the figurative use is from “The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman” by Lawrence Sterne, 1787:

“Bridget had pawned all the little stock of honour a poor chamber-maid was worth in the world, that she would get to the bottom of the affair in ten days; and it was built upon one of the most conceivable postulatum in nature; namely that whilst my Uncle Toby was making love to her mistress, the corporal could find better things to do, than to make love to her ...”

Not an example I would have most liked to use, but the earliest printed one known.

Just remember, when somebody tells you that something happened or is about to happen, examine the facts before getting excited about what is being claimed. 

Getting to the bottom of something is much better than taking someone’s word for it, no matter how close a friend told you. If you spread an untrue story you might end up “with egg on your face.”


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.