Etymology (Meaning of Words)/phrase origin

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Question
What is the origin of phrase " are you pulling my leg?" Does it have anything to do with biblical twins Esau and Jacob?

Answer
Dear Frances:

The phrase has nothing to do with the Bible. The best guess about its origin comes from the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins," which I have cited below.  If you trip a person intentionally, you throw him off balance and he falls.  Such falling brings about laughter from observers, so you have made a fool of the person your have tripped.  The phrase originated in the United States during the late 19th century.  Its first appearance in writing [although it may have been said orally for many years] was in 1883.


FROM "MORRIS DICTIONARY OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS" --

"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." From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollinsPublishers).

FROM "THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY" --

a. to pull a person's leg : to deceive a person humorously or playfully; to tease a person.
1883   Wellsboro (Pa.) Agitator 20 Feb. 1/5   The Chinese giant once told me he had half a dozen wives at home, but I think he was pulling my leg.
1888   W. B. Churchward ‘Blackbirding’ in S. Pacific 216   Then I shall be able to pull the leg of that chap Mike.
1905   Athenćum 22 July 122/3   We..suspect that some Irish harper was ‘pulling the author's leg’ when he gave it.
1948   C. Bush Case of Second Chance i. 8,   I tried to pull his leg about the grave loss he had suffered when the Army had called me up.
1976   F. A. Hoffmann in V. Randolph Pissing in Snow (1977) 18 (note) ,   Everyone harbors the wish that he can be ready with an appropriate rejoinder when someone attempts to pull his leg or make him the butt of a joke.
2000   I. Welsh in N. Hornby Speaking with Angel 174   He punched me lightly on the shoulder.—C'mon Joe, I'm only pulling your leg,..he said.

These two sources are the BEST for finding the meanings and origins of words and phrases.

Ted Nesbitt

Etymology (Meaning of Words)

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Ted Nesbitt

Expertise

I have an interest in the meanings of words and phrases, as well as how and when they became part of the English language. I enjoy researching idioms, colloquialisms, dialects, and obscurities of all kinds. I prefer short questions on a particular subject, and I will not accept lengthy research projects or term papers. NOTE: ALLEXPERTS CLAIMS THAT I TRANSLATE FROM ENGLISH TO LATIN AND FROM LATIN TO ENGLISH. I DO NOT. ALLEXPERTS REFUSES TO DELETE THE LATIN-TO-ENGLISH SERVICE -- ONE THAT I DO NOT PROVIDE. TRUST ME ON THIS: ALLEXPERTS IS WRONG. I DO NOT TRANSLATE FROM ENGLISH TO LANGUAGE. LOOK FOR A LANGUAGE EXPERT INSTEAD. ETYMOLOGY AND TRANSLATING SERVICES ARE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. ALLEXPERTS SHOULD KNOW THAT. ALLEXPERTS DOES NOT KNOW THAT. I HAVE TRIED FOR MANY YEARS TO GET THEM TO CHANGE. THEY WILL NOT. SORRY, BUT I DO NOT TRANSLATE FROM ENGLISH TO LATIN.

Experience

I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public
college. My master's thesis concerns William Faulkner's tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.
I have been a member of the grammar and writing section of Allexperts
for more than a year.



Education/Credentials
Masters degrees in English, philosophy, and library science.

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