in a pickle

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in a pickle

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jul 02, 2012 5:07 am

<2012 “Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is ‘in a pickle’ arguing against the president's health care bill because he passed a similar version in Massachusetts.”—CBS News, 1 July>
A common expression, but where did it come from? It sounds to me like it is the English version of a Yiddish phrase, but it’s not.

IN A PICKLE colloquial: In a disagreeable, embarrassing, or awkward situation; in a sorry plight; in trouble; in a predicament; in hot water.

Etymology: It is said to come from a phrase we borrowed from Dutch (about five hundred years ago), in de pekel zitten—‘sitting in the pickle,’ with ‘pickle’ originally being the brinish, vinegary liquid used to preserve meats and vegetables. So, anyone sitting in the pickle – in pickle juice – would be mighty uncomfortable. The expression was formerly used in more serious situations: “In the pickle lyeth man by nature, that is, all we that be Adam’s children.”—Sermons (1585) by John Fox. Shakespeare was also fond of it (see circa 1616 quote below).

(Oxford English Dictionary, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, and Picturesque Expressions by Urdang)

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<circa 1616 “Alonso: How cam'st thou in this pickle? Trinculo: I haue bin in such a pickle since I saw you last, that, I fear me, will never out of my bones . . .”—The Tempest (1623), Act v. Scene i>

<1711 “I am ashamed to be caught in this Pickle.”—R. Steele in The Spectator, No. 302, §11>

<1893 “I could see no way out of the pickle I was in.”—Catriona by Robert Lewis Stevenson, xxiv. page 291>

<1955 “ Leicestershire would have been in a pretty pickle without their captain . . .”—The Times (London), 24 May, page 4/7>

<1986 “Mother Nature is fickle. She saw the Phillies in a pickle last night against Cubs reliever Frank DiPino . . .”—Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois), 2 August>

<2005 “The Medici dynasty found itself in a pickle in 15th-century Florence: its vast fortune, procured through banking, violated Catholic Church precepts forbidding usury.”—Washington Post, 15 May>

<2012 “The PM is in a pickle here as he has a pool of only five Quebec MPs from which to draw.”—Winnipeg Free Press (Manitoba, Canada), 23 June>

Ken G – July 1, 2012

Re: in a pickle

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:51 am

.. being, as everyone here would know, a person who subscribes to the theory that many popular figures are credited with "inventing" sayings and words that were in fact in common usage, sometimes for 100s of years, prior to some leading light using them, I took the time to google to see if our old mate Bill was credited with being the "inventor" of in a pickle and sure enough there it was listed on hundreds of sites (remembering of course that google is a network and 10 000 ghits can often be sourced to a single original posted error) .. some even gave etymologies for where/how the saying originated ..
The earliest pickles were spicy sauces made to accompany meat dishes. Later, in the 16th century, the name pickle was also given to a mixture of spiced, salted vinegar that was used as a preservative. The word comes from the Dutch or Low German pekel, with the meaning of 'something piquant'. Later still, in the 17th century, the vegetables that were preserved, for example cucumbers and gherkins, also came to be called pickles.

The 'in trouble' meaning of 'in a pickle' was an allusion to being as disoriented and mixed up as the stewed vegetables that made up pickles. This was partway to being a literal allusion, as fanciful stories of the day related to hapless people who found themselves on the menu.
Source: The Phrase Finder
.. but there was one site that dispelled the Bill myth ..
To help prevent embarrassment, Macrone kindly provides a list of "faux Shakespeare" for his readers, including the following familiar sayings:

• All that glisters (glistens) is not gold
• To knit one's brow
• Cold comfort
• (To) give the devil his due
• To play fast and loose
• Till the last gasp
• Laughing stock
• Fool's paradise
In a pickle
• Out of the question
• The long and the short of it
• It's Greek to me
• It's high time
• The naked truth
While Shakespeare probably made these phrases better known, writes Macrone, they all have earlier documented references.
Source: National Geographic News, 28/10/10
.. WoZ never misses a chance to beat his favourite drums .. boom boom boom boom ............

WoZ the drummer
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: in a pickle

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jul 04, 2012 6:39 am

I'm not particularly surprised at the existence of that list.

As with most much-quoted bons mots and snappy remarks, speakers make themselves seem smarter when they decide they can attribute a resonant phrase or impressive-sounding quotation to the likes of Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde or Yogi Berra rather than to their postman, their yoga instructor or the last taxi driver they rode with.

Likewise, if a particular expression was apparently coined by Shakespeare, many people find that more satisfying than having to come to terms with a first-documented appearance from the pen of some anonymous monk or scribe.

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