Get the lead out

In the ESL class we were reading sentences that contained words that look the same but sound different (homographs), and saw this sentence: "He could lead if he would get the lead out."

I thought it was just a silly sentence until an American asked the class if they knew what that phrase meant. It was actually a phrase? I thought it was nonsensical. I had never heard it before. (It means "hurry up.") When I asked another American if they knew it, they said it was common. Really? Why hadn't I heard it before? I am a native speaker, after all, and thought I had encountered a lot of varieties of English.

Does anyone else think the phrase "get the lead out" is common?


Jon Konrath said...

It's somewhat common, although most every occurance in google is sort of re-using the cliche to talk about lead removal from paint, schools, etc.

I have this dictionary of cliches (James Rogers, Wings Books, 1985, impossible to find and usually fairly useless except to settle the occasional bet) and it's in there, although they refer to the longer form of "get the lead out of your feet", and that it has something to do with having lead weights in your footwear, which was probably pre-Nike by a few centuries.

If you have any more cliches like that, mail them to me, and I can look them up. I'm also guessing that with some hunting, you could find that book for less than a dollar on Amazon.

mj said...

Would it be considered a cliche, or an idiom?

"Pre-Nike by a few centuries"--funny! Maybe you can be another Metrolingua Language Consultant. My online friend Nev is the Metrolingua British English Consultant.

Arrogant Polyglot said...

MJ, I frequently find myself in the same boat as you with respec to coined expressions, proverbs, adages, etc. Many of my friends 'claim' to know or actually use these ridiculously cutesy idiomatic expressions and other maxims, whereas I often never have heard tell of them. So I've come to the realization that if your parents or perhaps grandparents never use(d) such and such expression, then you were likely never exposed to it.

mj said...

The chick who said the "lead out" was common is from the South, where I guess a lot of people say it. At least her family says it. Which means that location has a lot to do with it.

But the important question is: do you say "about" or aBOAT?

Arrogant Polyglot said...

Y'know, I think there's a common misconception regarding the US vs Canadian pronunciation of 'about'. Personally, where I am, in Western Canada, I say /uh.bowt/. But many think we say /uh.boot/. I think the latter is much more common in the Maritime provinces.

And how about that inSURance thing vers INsurance? Now that's a strange one.

And yes, MJ, I pee in a washroom, not a bathroom :)

mj said...

My husband says INsurance but I say it the other way. Americans say washroom, restroom, and bathroom. Bathroom is usually used at home, but in a public place people will use restroom or washroom. I think of bathroom as a private-space word.

I still think Canadians say aBOAT. ;)

jayhawkb4ever said...

The phrase "Get the lead out" started back in the 1800's on Mackinac Island. The army would have target practice and with lead being in very short supply the Commander would order the men to "Get the lead out" The men then had to dig the lead out of the sand. This was done at the end of the day and the men could not eat untill the job was done, the saying soon came to mean "hurry up"

mj said...

Interesting story, though I can't verify whether it's true.

DJ said...

The phrase "get the lead out" may refer to the old Testement Jeremiah, 6:29. This verse references the removal of lead (contaminant) from silver ore (paydirt). It draws an analogy of with over-zealous attempt to purge all sin from society.

mj said...

Interesting...I found the context for that verse from Jeremiah:

27 "I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways.

28 They are all hardened rebels, going about to slander. They are bronze and iron; they all act corruptly.

29 The bellows blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire, but the refining goes on in vain; the wicked are not purged out.

30 They are called rejected silver,
because the LORD has rejected them."

But I have no idea if that's the source of the phrase.

MManda2u said...

When I was touring Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), the guide said "Get the lead out" came from the old races. The jockeys have to weigh the same to keep the race fair, so they would add lead to the pockets of underweight jockeys. But, the jockeys figured out that the judges could not see them on the backstretch and they would throw the lead out of their pockets, so that they could be faster. Made sense to me that was how the term came to be associated with "hurry up." Of course, the cheating was discovered and now weight is added to the saddle.