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'Tell it to the Marines'

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"Q. Explain the meaning of the expression 'Tell it to the Marines.'

"A. The remark is said when one hears a far-fetched story. It means that when a doubtful tale is told, the trusted marines should pass upon its authenticity. Supposedly, in the 17th century in England, Pepys told Charles II he had heard of flying fish. The king believed when the story was verified by an officer of the trusted Maritime Regiment."

That's a new one on me. The authorities I'm familiar with tell a story less flattering to the Marines. John Ciardi, for one, quotes a longer version of the saying: "Tell it to the Marines (the sailors are too smart to believe you)." He says that 18th century British sailors scorned the Marines on board, because of their ignorance of seamanship. Eric Partridge gives a similar account, and adds, "An early variant was that employed by Byron in 1823: that will do for the Marines, but the sailors won't believe it." Everybody agrees the expression started in Britain and spread to the U.S.

Nothing secedes like secession:

"Now the Civil War was a near-run affair, and if Missouri had succeeded from the Union it might well have gone the other way."

Ray White heard Governor Beebe say that someone needed "to come to the licklog." Looking for an explanation on-line, White found a Time magazine report on the 1966 gubernatorial election in Arkansas:

"In trouble, Johnson has not only shown himself eager to shake hands with Negroes, but has also gone hat in hand to seek [Governor] Faubus' blessing. Faubus, in turn, is urging his supporters to 'come to the lick log' (Arkansas argot meaning to swallow your pride and back Johnson)."

White asks the derivation of the phrase and whether it's used only by Arkansas governors. The answer to the second question is "no." The Dictionary of American Regional English says licklog is Southern, and gives examples from a number of Southern states, including Arkansas. DARE defines licklog as "A notched log or, rarely, a wooden trough, used to hold salt for livestock."

Figuratively, DARE says, licklog came to mean "a gathering place, a point of contention," and come to the licklog, "to act decisively, to face facts." Another source suggests this meaning developed because in pioneer days, when land was unfenced, different herdsmen might want to use the log at the same time. "Give my cattle a lick or I'll give you a licking," in other words.

Jim Johnson took a licking 1966. He lost that election to Winthrop Rockefeller.

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