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Where Did That Come From? - Nature of the beast, stuck in one's craw
st clair

I received an email from a gentleman in Coffee County asking me to use two interesting clichés in my column. I am happy to oblige, and encourage others to suggest phrases for me to research. Since they can both be explained in a relatively short space I will use them both. 

“The nature of the beast” usually means that a specific trait is normal for a person of a given group, or in a certain position or circumstances. 

It is derived from the fact that animals have certain characteristics which hold true of their species. It had long before been a literal phrase, but it has been used figuratively of people since at least the early 19th century. The earliest known figurative citation is in the London political publication, The Examiner, Sunday, March 7, 1819 in a letter:

“Mr. Hazlitt has got him fast by the ribs, forcing him with various ingenuity of grip, to display unwillingly all the deformities of his moral structure. They now see ‘the nature of the beast.’”

Note the use of placing the phrase in quotation marks, indicating the phrase is relatively new, but known. It may also refer to professions or things with set characteristics.

Stuck in one’s craw means annoyed by something unpleasant but forced to accept it, this saying comes from food which is collected in a fowl’s preliminary stomach, called a craw, where it is predigested through use of grit and stones swallowed before going on into the gizzard to finally dissolve into either usable form or be separated into waste.  

The earliest known citation is from Old Times in Tennessee by Josephus Conn Guilt, 1878, page 114: “This remark stuck in my craw, and I meditated how I should be revenged.”

I love it when I find earliest printed examples from right here near home!


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.