Jan. 26th, 2014

xenith: (Eucalypt)

So this is the other bit of Tullah, established in the 1970s to provide accommodation for the Hydro-Electric Commission's workers during construction of their power scheme.

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xenith: (Eucalypt)
I blame my sister for this. She asked about the origin of the expression "they wouldn't know me from a bar of soap". I had a look. I discovered it's origin isn't that simple.

It is apparently addressed in a 2009 edition of OzWords, a newsletter from the Australian National Dictionary Centre. In answer to a letter they say:

The international expression that you allude to—not to know a person from Adam— was first recorded in 1784. The variant not to know a person (or something) from a bar of soap appears first in New Zealand in 1903: "Didn't know the game [of golf] from a bar of soap." It is next used in Australia, in 1918: "Don’t know ’im from a bar of soap." Thereafter it is widely used in both Australia and New Zealand, as in this passage from Kylie Tennant’s 1943 novel Ride on Stranger: "'Why doesn't she marry the child's father?' ... 'It’s my belief she doesn't know him from a bar of soap.'"

It is unlikely that hygiene was the issue that gave rise to the idiom. In this age of soaps that come in so many shapes, forms, smells, and colours, it is easy to forget that in earlier days all bars of soap looked much the same. One member of the Dictionary Centre commented: "it alludes to the anonymous nature of rectangular (yellow) bars of soap, produced by the indistinguishable thousands on production lines in factories. The allusion works well because it’s such a common commodity."

But they're wrong about the earliest date. The date matters because you need that to get some idea of where and how a phrase originated. Anyway, a quick trawl through the newspapers in Trove gives an occurrence in 1900 in a Queensland newspaper:

That the sentries at the gates to the Exhibition-ground, Brisbane, have their time fully occupied in preventing people swarming in to lines.
That, recently, a sentry called a would-be visitor to halt, and inquired his business. That the reply was, "I wish to see Sergeant Brown."
That the volunteer-man, after due consideration, answered: "Don't know Sergeant Brown from a bar of soap! You get-back !"
That, considering that the sentry was a powerful man, standing 6ft. in his socks, the would-be visitor got--quickly!

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