bow and scrape

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bow and scrape

Post by JerrySmile » Thu Feb 06, 2014 3:50 pm

Hello,

What would be the origin of "scrape" in this idiom?
Could it be scraping the ground with the toe of one's boot in embarrassment?

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bow and scrape

Behave obsequiously or too deferentially, as in
In this fashionable store, the salespersons virtually bow and scrape before customers.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
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Thanks.
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Re: bow and scrape

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Feb 06, 2014 9:39 pm

With absolutely no proof whatsoever I always thought that the poor sod was bowing so low that s/he was scraping the floor with the forehead.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: bow and scrape

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Feb 06, 2014 10:53 pm

Jerrry, Nice idiom. I’ve never heard it before. I like it! My immediate impression was the same as Bob’s – a headscrape.

But, from above, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms continues: “This term alludes to the old-fashioned custom of bowing so deeply that one’s foot draws back and scrapes the ground. A cliché for a century or more, it may be dying out. [Mid-1600s]”
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American Heritage makes it sound as though if you bow deeply enough one foot involuntarily draws back and scrapes the ground. I tried a deep bow and experienced no such effect. My feeling is that it is just a practiced ballet-like maneuver (see #1 below).

WIKTIONARY

BOW AND SCRAPE verb:

1) To make a deep bow with the right leg drawn back (thus scraping the floor), left hand pressed across the abdomen, right arm held aside.

2) (idiomatic, by extension) To behave in a servile, obsequious, or excessively polite manner.
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THE FACTS ON FILE DICTIONARY OF CLICHÉS

TO BOW AND SCRAPE: To behave obsequiously, to show too much deference. The term literally means to bow one’s head and draw back one foot, which then scrapes the ground. A cliché since the mid-nineteenth century, it is becoming obsolete as the custom of bowing has, at least in the Western world.
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The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1646 “Have you not known some in a low condition, to bow and scrape?”—The Danger of Greatnesse by J. Whitaker, page 24>

<1867 Bowing and scraping and rubbing his hands together.”—The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope, I. xxxv. Page 301>

<1987 “It comes down to whether the Senate will also bow and scrape, or can summon the courage to vote no.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 3 December>

<1997 “. . . and then you come home and you've got two kids who don't exactly bow and scrape, and a wife who makes you take the garbage out, . . .” .”—Washington Post (D.C.), 2 May>

<2005 “It's intriguing, in this age of virtually universal bowing and scraping to the whims of political correctness, to see a dramatist apparently getting away with doing nothing of the sort.”—The Birmingham Post (England), 26 January>

<2009 “He also knows just how to bow and scrape in his rubber-bodied portrayal of a fawning yes-man.”—Winnipeg Free Press (Manitoba, Canada), 10 January>

<2014 “I've noticed, however, that these same friends are not averse to putting CBE or DSO or MFI in emails and on their business cards, as if by doing so doors will automatically open and maitre d’s will bow and scrape to them like the unctuous factotums employed by the monarch and her hangers-on.”—The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), 1 January>
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Ken – February 6, 2014
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Re: bow and scrape

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Feb 07, 2014 6:05 am

Wikipedia has an 17th-century illustration of a man bowing and scraping here -- though I notice that this man is scraping with his left foot instead of his right, which is contrary to the method prescribed in the accompanying written description.

Then again, some entire countries drive on the wrong side. It just goes to show how the effects of getting off on the wrong foot may be more far-reaching than you'd think.
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Re: bow and scrape

Post by JerrySmile » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:00 am

Erik_Kowal wrote:Wikipedia has an 17th-century illustration of a man bowing and scraping here -- though I notice that this man is scraping with his left foot instead of his right, which is contrary to the method prescribed in the accompanying written description.

Then again, some entire countries drive on the wrong side. It just goes to show how the effects of getting off on the wrong foot may be more far-reaching than you'd think.
Great pic. I know this custom very well, but I didn't know the idiom :-)
Mind you, the pic it's mirrored: left for the right in the description and vice versa.

Nice excerpts, Ken.

Thanks, everyone.
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