on the lamb [on the lam]

This formerly read-only archive of threads dates back to 1996, but as of March 2007 is open to new postings. For technical reasons, the early dates shown do not accurately reflect the actual date of posting.

Feel free to add new postings to any of the existing threads in the archived forums, but please create any new language-related threads in one of the Language Discussion Forums.
Post Reply

on the lamb [on the lam]

Post by Archived Topic » Wed May 05, 2004 6:29 am

I was watching an old gangster movie and the expression he's "on the lamb" was used meaning he is a fugitive. How did this expression come about?
Submitted by ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Topic imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 6:44 am

Unless the desperadoes escaped on sheep, the expression is "on the lam." Virtually every source I checked traces lam back to the 16th Century, to the Old Norse word "lamja," which means to beat, to thrash, or to make lame. ("Lambaste" is a related word.) But all the explanations for how "on the lam" evolved out of "lamja" are pretty weak. "On the lam" is an American expression that dates from the late 1800s. Most sources speculate that the connection is the expression "beat it," but they're all a little vague on why that should be. (Related to "beat it"? As believable as Michael Jackson's face, I'd say....) So I'll hand this off to others who may have found more likely explanations.
Reply from Linda Nevin (San Diego, CA - U.S.A.)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 6:58 am

Given that even the experts appear to have run into quicksand with this expression, on this occasion I'll speculate that the connection is 'limb' (while still maintaining my usual scepticism regarding folk etymologies). Thus 'on the limb' would mean 'on the move'.

A lame theory? I sheepishly admit it!
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 7:13 am

I looked, but came up with what you did, Linda. Modern day Norwegian still uses "lemje" (lem, lamde, lamt) 1. paralyse. 2. beat, drub soundly. 3 roar, thunder. So I think that it is very likely that it came out of Old German "lähmen"(vt) to paralyse; to Old Norse: "lemje/lamja" to lame; Old English: "lama" to lame or beat. Ultimately it "limped" its way into modern English as "lam" meaning to "beat feet" or "beat it" meaning to leave hastily. Even if it isn't quite correct, it sure sounds good! *G*
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 7:27 am

From Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1995) by Robert L. Chapman:
lam underworld by 1886 1 v To depart; go, esp hastily in escaping: "lammed for Cleveland" - H Witwer 2 v To escape from prison [ultimately fro British sense "beat," found by 1596, hence the same semantically as "beat it"]
From A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Vol 1 (1951) by Eric Partridge:
lam, v.; lamb; old spelling lamm(e). To beat, thrash: 1596, though implied in 1595 in 'belam'.... Cognate with Old Norse 'lemja,' lit., to lame; fig., to flog, thrash.
----------
After he has secured the wallet, he will utter the word "lam!" This means ... to get out of the way as soon as possible. (Allan Pinkerton, Thirty Years A Detective, 1886)
Two of the touts had to take it on the lam and were lucky to get out of town. (Variety, June 30, 1922)
This car's hot, and I'm on the lam. (Lewis Edward Lawes, Meet the Murderer!, 1940)
Reply from Susumu Enomoto (Shiraokamachi - Japan)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 7:41 am

According to "Murder, Inc." (A Mystery Reader's Companion), it comes from a 20's era Prussian-born bank robber named Lamm who first came up with the tactic of draping the running boards of the getaway vehicle with hostages to deter pursuit.
Reply from Shay Simmons (Colfax - U.S.A.)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 7:56 am

on the lam

This one is completely trivial ... in Hebrew.

nun-aiyin-lamed-mem Ne3eLaM means
whereabouts unknown; to be hidden, be concealed;
to vanish, to disappear

Anyone who goes "on the lam" has these characteristics.

Israel Cohen
izzy_cohen@bmc.com

Reply from Israel Cohen (Petah Tikva - Israel)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

on the lamb

Post by Archived Reply » Wed May 05, 2004 8:10 am

preceded by " what are you doing " of an evil shepherd
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Topic » Mon Oct 11, 2004 8:10 pm

What is the origin of the phrase "on the lamb"?

Steve
Submitted by ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Topic imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 8:25 pm

Steve, You’ve got the wrong lamb. The expression is ‘on the lam’ and there is a very good discussion of it in Ask the Wordwizard. The only thing I would add is that the word ‘lam’ is a little older than is indicated there, was used in Shakespeare’s time, and actually dates back to Old English where it meant ‘to leave.’ (Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins)
_____________________

Ken G – November 8, 2003

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 8:39 pm

THANKS

Steve
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 8:53 pm

On the lamb is where you put mint jelly after it has been cooked.

It can also be the response to someone who is asked, "Where is the wool?", when they have no sheared their lamb yet.

But I think Ken's response will yield a more fruitful result.

Sam 09/11/03
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:08 pm

.. is the Kiwi equivalent slang term for "craddle snatching" ..
WoZ of Aus, with apologies to those on the other side of the ditch. 10/11/03
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:22 pm

For shame Ransom! protecting a practitioner of bestiality.
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

On the lamb / lam

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:37 pm

Listen (-) lay off the bestiality. We lambs need some lovin
too.
Ewe Hoo
Reply from ( - )
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Reply imported and archived

ACCESS_END_OF_TOPIC
Post Reply