A piece I heard on the radio the other day about phrases meaning in next to no time, 'at the drop of a hat', that sort of thing, brought to mind a saying they didn't mention and which I haven't heard in decades.
"Two shakes of a dead lamb's tail" - ring any bells? I mentioned the term to my 91 year-old father. Yes, it was once widely used; and yes, it meant in no time at all. I have vague memories as a very young kind of waving around a wilted flower stem, or perhaps a stick of rhubarb, and pretending I was doing a couple of shakes of a dead lamb's dangly bit. Though I recall finding the phrase distinctly macabre
Looking at the web, it seems there are all sorts of variations, two or three shakes, and with the lamb not necessarily deceased. And from this comes the much more widely used 'two shakes' - as in "I'll be with you in two shakes".
Where did it come from? Well, the online dictionaries variously suggest an American or Antipodean origin - though one points to an earlier Yorkshire (that's where I grew up) or Welsh origin.
It seems to have regained currency through Uma Thurman's character in the movie 'Pulp Fiction' who apparently declares: "Just make yourself a drink Vincent and I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
But there must be more to be said about its provenance? Anyone?!!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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