Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama (with an update!): Paint the town red

Hey hey! Get ready to have some fun, because we're gonna paint the town red! (Why? See my update at the bottom of this post.)

But... why red? Why not a nice shade of blue? And the whole town? Really?

Time to dig into this expression and see if we can identify what's going on behind the words...

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer has been mighty handy lately. Here's what it says for this bit of slang:
paint the town red. Go on a spree... The precise allusion of this term is disputed. Some believe it refers to setting something on fire; others point to a vague association of the color red with violence. [late 1800s]
A disputed allusion? Late 1800s? (Yikes! Have I used that phrase in my books? And if I did, was I being anachronistic?) Well, let's dig a little more...

The Online Etymological Dictionary has a brief notation under the "paint" entry as follows:
To paint the town (red) "go on a spree" first recorded 1884
Uh oh. 
Am I in trouble here? 
I turned to Ngram next (if you haven't come across Ngram before, it's a wonderful way to track the frequency of words and phrases in print over time). 

Eureka!... I found the following reference for "paint the town red" in a July 1882 publication: Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries for Teachers, Pupils, and Practical and Professional Men (N.B. Webster, editor).

What a relief! Finding this reference reassures me that this expression was in use before 1882—and in the West, at that. I am in the clear, and Inez is free to paint the town red, should she so desire!

...Where are they hiding the paintbrushes?
[Zogbaum, R. F. (illus).
New York. Harper's Weekly. 10-16- 1886.]

I'm leaving this post up for an extra week, because I definitely have reason to "paint the town red!"

Specifically, A DYING NOTE won two EVVY awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association:
  • First place (gold) award in the Mystery/Crime/Detective Fiction category
  • Second place (silver) award in the Historical Fiction category.
Mystery and history. Gold and silver. Definitely worth celebrating!

To view all the CIPA EVVY award winners, go here and scroll.


Liz V. said...

Welcome home. Are we to assume Colorado, or parts thereof, have been painted red, by those appropriately dressed to kill? Hope your visit with friends and family was great!

Ann Parker said...

Hi Liz!
Had a great trip to Colorado, visiting relatives and going to the CIPA EVVY awards ceremony (where A DYING NOTE picked up a couple of awards!). Definitely good reasons to paint the town red! :-)
Only problem is, I'm very slow in trying to catch up after all the festivities and travel... :-/

Liz V. said...

Congrats on A Dying Note awards!

Ann Parker said...

Thank you, Liz! I think I'll "paint the town red" here on the blog for another week... ;-)