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Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole

Arthur_itus 02 Nov 10 - 07:30 AM
Crane Driver 02 Nov 10 - 07:54 AM
Bainbo 02 Nov 10 - 07:55 AM
Emma B 02 Nov 10 - 08:02 AM
bubblyrat 02 Nov 10 - 08:39 AM
Emma B 02 Nov 10 - 12:13 PM
open mike 02 Nov 10 - 01:05 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 02 Nov 10 - 01:34 PM
Arthur_itus 02 Nov 10 - 01:46 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 02 Nov 10 - 02:35 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 02 Nov 10 - 03:20 PM
Arthur_itus 02 Nov 10 - 04:52 PM
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Subject: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Arthur_itus
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 07:30 AM

Just heard somebody mention this "Don't touch them with a barge pole" and whilst I know what is mean't, I would like to know where and when it originated?

Why do we use it to suggest that we shouldn't use a company or person?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Crane Driver
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 07:54 AM

The thing about a barge pole is that it is very long. It might be felt that something suspicious floating in the water could be safely touched with a very long thing, but some things shouldn't even be touched with a barge pole. Possibly a naval expression - the large rowing boats used to ferry officers out to their ships were called barges, and would have been equipped with barge poles to fend them off from crashing into ship or dock sides. Barges were also used for river transport, but the craft used on canals were known as narrow boats, not barges. So many naval expressions came into general use after the Napoleonic war, when huge numbers of men were released from the navy.

Presumably before the introduction of the barge pole, people had to say 'I wouldn't touch them with a very long thing' instead.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Bainbo
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 07:55 AM

Barge poles are quite long, so using one to touch something or someone might humorously suggest they are so unpalatable that you're only prepared to touch them at a distance. If thety're even more unpleasant, then you wouldn't even be prepared to touch them with a barge pole. That's how I've always understood it, anyway.

I imagine it's one of those phrases that, when it was coined, conjured up such a startling image that it was seized on and repeated until it became so familiar that any originality was lost completely.

Another one I can think of is "thick as a plank", which later became "thick as two short planks." I remember being delighted the frst time I heard that second one, but now it's become so commonplace as to convey nothing special.

On the barge pole, though, its familiarity has at least proved a bonus in that peopple now use it as a base for other images. Uncharitable - but funny - phrases I've heard, meant to convey that a woman isn't very attractive, include:

"Mate, I wouldn't touch her with yours."

and

"She was covered in little round bruises where blokes had been touching her with 10-foot barge poles."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Emma B
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 08:02 AM

A quant (pole) is a pole about 4 metres long and made from either wood or a hollow metal so that in either case it floats if left in the water used to propel a barge (or punt) through water or to manoeuvre them
(I used one myself a few weeks ago to get a narrow boat off a bank)

However the saying 'I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole' seems to have predated the use of 'barge pole' being used in the expression by 1758, the latter by 1877" according to "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: bubblyrat
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 08:39 AM

A quant (I called mine "Mary",obviously) is also used by lock-keepers on the Thames,for fishing things out of the water,giving the odd log or raft of weed a helping hand out of the chamber,or,most importantly,for opening / closing the gates on manually operated locks (ie those above Oxford) when on one's own ; it saves walking all the way down the lock,crossing the other gates,and walking back down to open /close the gate opposite the one that one has just opened / closed !

          Roger ( ex-relief keeper,Abingdon,Iffley and mainly Buscot ).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Emma B
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 12:13 PM

Got me thinking - and searching for a possible 'origin'

One contender is William Byrd, American politician, statesman and writer who joined an expedition in 1728 to survey the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia
In his 'History of the Dividing Line', published in 1738, is possibly the earliest reference to a 'ten-foot pole' used as a simple surveying instrument

"We found the ground moist...insomuch that it was an easy matter to run a ten-foot pole up to the head in it."

Later it seems to have been employed as a more metaphorical measure of social, political, or legal distance.
"Can't touch him with a ten-foot pole" was in an 1848 list of "Nantucketisms."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: open mike
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 01:05 PM

it would be easier to manuver a 10 foot pole than a 4 meter one!
that would be about 12 feet...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 01:34 PM

'Barge' has been used for a variety of vessels since 1300 (See Oxford English Dictionary). Word possibly derived from Greek and Latin words for boats used on the Nile.
Many types of vessels

The first use of the name was for small sea-going vessels with sails.
By 1480, used for flat-bottomed boats, with or without sails, and for a bridge made of barges and planks. Thames barges had one mast.
In 18th C., used for flat-bottomed boats used to load and unload cargo ships.
Also the second boat of a man-of-war, for use by officers (in print, 17th c.).
In the U. S., used for a passenger of freight vessel without power, towed by steamboat; later a freight vessel, usually multiple, handled by tugs or ships.
Also an ornamental houseboat or large rowing boat (England, 17th C. and later).
All these and more usages in quotations from Oxford English Dictionary. Thus several possible origins of 'barge pole'.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Arthur_itus
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 01:46 PM

So how come it is a derogatory comment.

I wouldn't touch her/him with a bargepole

A similar type expression I have heard but never used is:-

I wouldn't touch her with your d**k - which has a similar conotation and would be offensive as such and much more than using bargepole.

Comments back from that expression would be -

Why not, what's wrong with her?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 02:35 PM

A Barge pole is simply something to keep an object, or a person, at a distance. When applied to a person, usually derogatory. 'Ten-foot pole', mentioned above, seems to be an earlier usage, as Crane driver and Bainbo remark.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 03:20 PM

From Oxford English Dictionary:

barge-pole. A long pole with which a barge is propelled... freq. in colloquial phrases and variants "I wouldn't touch him (it) with (the end of) a barge-pole" 1890, slang at Winchester College.
1893. Lady Monksell Diary"It will be a long while before any political party touches Home Rule again with the end of a barge pole."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Don't touch them with a barge pole
From: Arthur_itus
Date: 02 Nov 10 - 04:52 PM

Ok Bargepole seems to be a softer comment, like "take care". Would that be correct?


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