pulling my leg

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pulling my leg

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:04 am

<2012 “And Mayor Bloomberg [[New York City]] invited us to participate in the competition. I must tell you, at the beginning I thought somebody was pulling my leg. I called them, and I found out this was for real.”—Newsweek, 6 August, page 49>
I don’t hear this one around as much as I used to, although it was once very common. I think it’s now mostly an ‘older-folks’ expression.

PULL SOMEONE’S LEG: To mislead a person harmlessly; to tease, fool, play a joke on, trick in a jocular manner. <Are you serious about moving back in or are you pulling my leg>

Etymology: Some phrase dictionaries say that for a time it was thought the term alluded to the gruesome early English practice of having friends, relatives, or a hired hand pull on a hanging victims legs to shorten his agony – that is, before some wise hangman realized that a longer rope would solve the problem. But why this would have anything to do with ‘trick in a jocular manner’ is beyond me. However, the modern meaning didn’t come into existence until the late 19th century. Most authorities now seem to believe that the expression alludes to tricking a person by tripping them. British muggers worked in pairs, including a specialist known as a ‘tripper up’ who would use a cane or foot or some other object to hold back one of the victim’s legs causing him to fall, while the accomplice relieved him of his wallet. And so, supposedly, this ruse gave rise to the expression. Again, I don’t see how this fits in with ‘jocular,’ but who am I to say?

(American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, and Picturesque Expressions by Urdang)

The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1883 “It is now the correct thing to say that a man who had been telling you preposterous lies has been ‘pulling your leg.’ The latter expression conveys the idea so much more clearly and elegantly, you know.”—Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio), page 4>

<1925 “I suspected that he was pulling my leg, but a glance at him convinced me otherwise.”—The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald>

<1960 “. . . Paul, if you keep pulling my leg I'm going to be as lopsided as a side-hill bear.”—Milwaukee Sentinel (Wisconsin), 2 April>

<1992 “You're pulling my leg because you think I am a gullible hick, . . .”— Washington Post (D.C.), 1 March>

<2003 “My pal says there were supposed to be more than seven dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Is he pulling my leg (yet again)?”—Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), 5 April>

<2012 “That anyone living in a New York City apartment could raise a pig was interesting enough, but that they wanted it to be certified as a service animal to help the wife was so intriguing I couldn’t refuse them, although I did ask some questions to make sure they weren’t pulling my leg.”—New York Times, 3 August>

Ken G – August 12, 2012
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Re: pulling my leg

Post by Wizard of Oz » Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:04 am

.. Ken maybe the following quote will answer your query >>
Source: "The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins," by William and Mary Morris (1967)

"pull one's leg. When you pull a person's leg you are spoofing or making fun of him, usually in a good-humored way. But that wasn't always the meaning of the expression. When the expression first turned up in Scotland about a hundred years ago, it was lacking the lighthearted touch it has today. In those days 'pull one's leg' meant to make of fool of him, often by outright cheating. The best theory of the origin of the phrase is that by tripping a person -- pulling his leg -- you can throw him into a state of confusion and make him look very foolish indeed."
.. thought it might add to the mystery ..

WoZ a leg puller from way back
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: pulling my leg

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Aug 13, 2012 3:47 pm

Wiz, By Jove! I think you’ve got it. That sounds sensible and it’s a plus to their credibility that they didn’t bother to even mention that hanging baloney. Thanks.

Ken – August 13, 2012
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Re: pulling my leg

Post by Phil White » Thu Mar 03, 2016 3:03 pm

I was watching a documentary on capital punishment in the UK a couple of nights ago and they talked about friends tugging on the victim's legs to shorten their agony, "which is the origin of the phrase 'pull someone's leg".

Immediately I thought "Oh god, folk etymology touted as fact again!". So I thought "Ken must have done this one...".

Odd how some things just stink of folk etymology. Well done, Ken and Woz.
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: pulling my leg

Post by trolley » Thu Mar 03, 2016 5:58 pm

They could've gone with "obscure military slang". That's the Swiss Army knife of etymologies.
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