Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Dressed to kill

Yessiree, I'm attending the awards banquet for the Colorado Independent Publishers Association's EVVY awards as a finalist for A DYING NOTE, so I'm going to gussy up, don my best authorly duds, and be a low-key version of "dressed to kill."

Hmmmm. Dressed to kill. If you take that at face value, wouldn't that mean dressing in all black throw-away clothes, or maybe something water/liquid-proof? Or maybe that's the mystery writer part of my mind musing. The historical writer part of my mind wonders when/how such a phrase came to mean to dress more... upscale, shall we say.

Time for research!

My first stop, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, has this to say:
dressed to kill. Also, dressed to the nines. Elaborately attired... The first of these hyperbolic expressions dates from the early 1800s and uses kill in the sense of "to a great or impressive degree." The phrase to the nines in the sense of "superlative" dates from the late 1700s and its original meaning has been lost, but the most likely theory is that it alludes to the fact that nine, the highest single-digit numeral, stands for "best." 
 Well, that's pretty interesting. So, maybe the enthusiastic "You killed it!" uses kill in this old-time sense.

Second stop, the Online Etymological Dictionary. The entry "kill" has several definitions, including the one we mystery writers frequently employ ("to deprive of life, put to death"). At the very end is this:
... Dressed to kill first attested 1818 in a letter of Keats (compare killing (adj.) in the sense "overpowering, fascinating, attractive"). 
Of course, I had to check out "killing (adj.)" just to complete my journey:
killing (adj.) mid-15c., "deadly, depriving of life," present-participle adjective from kill (v.). Meaning "overpowering, fascinating, attractive" is 1630s, from the verb in a figurative sense "overwhelm (someone) by strong effect on the mind or senses." Meaning "very powerful in effect, exceedingly severe, so as to (almost) kill one" is from 1844.
So there you have it! I will report back on the award announcements, so stay tuned...
Now HERE is a woman "dressed to kill."
[Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), by John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London) (1856 - 1925) – ArtistDetails of artist on Google Art Project - 4QGaPNGLuGOBCw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,]


Anonymous said...

Best wishes for great trip. Leave room in your carry-on for that prize!

Ann Parker said...

Thank you!
Prize or no, I plan to bring some goodies for various folks in the Colorado clan... That frees up room to bring things home (things edible and otherwise! ;-)).