Sunday, March 23, 2008

I don't know him from a hole in the wall

I have just spent at least an hour trying to find the origin of this phrase. I gave up.

Today I did a bit more searching. I still can't find anything.

I get frustrated when I can't find an answer on the web or if I discover I actually have to buy a book to find the answer. Isn't that rather archaic?

Oh, but I still love the library!

Never mind that. Here's what I have found, thus far:

Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable posits that the expression "hole in the wall" was originally used in the United States, in the late 1900's, to denote places of illicit drinking. We all recognize the phrase "hole in the wall" as a shabby place, though it's often coupled with some discovery, as in "You know that awful little hole in the wall we pass by every day? A friend told me that the food is really heavenly, but don't tell anyone."

So, I'm thinking that "I don't know him from a hole in the wall" may mean that a person doesn't know someone from an illicit setting, but why would you admit having been there in the first place? So, it doesn't quite add up.

More later. And I need this like a hole in the head.


uptoolate said...

I was searching for the answer to this today and came up with your post....did you ever find the answer? Now you have me really curious :)

Ethical Paul said...

Here is the answer.

There is an old kind of rude saying, "He doesn't know his a$$ from a hole in the ground" meaning "he is foolish".

there is another saying which is "a hole in the wall" which is a small, possibly illegal drinking establishment.

People have confused and combined these two things and now incorrectly say, "He doesn't know him from a hole in the wall"

That is my story. It drives me crazy when people make this incorrect statement

Anonymous said...

it's a common expression used in Newfoundland , basically meaning you wouldn't recognize or know someone at all.

Anonymous said...

I disagree!!

I think you shouldn't interpret "from" as implying origin, as in "I did not meet the person at the hole in the wall". Rather "from" is used to compare the person and a hole in the wall: "I do not know the difference between this person and a hole in the wall" i.e. I have no idea who this person is.

Anonymous said...

Very strange!
I only found this phrase in my old schoolbook, and in Google under