Monday, September 05, 2016

Living Daylights

Scott asked about the origin of the threat, “I’ll beat the living piss out of you.” It actually started out as, “I’ll beat your daylights out” or “I’ll darken your daylights.” Over the centuries, additions and substitutions sprang up.

Somewhere in the mid-1800s, daylights (the plural form) was a colloquial expression for the eyes. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this citation with a questionable date of 1747: “I shall see my jolly old Codger by the Tinney-side, I suppose with his Day-Lights dim, and his Trotters shivering under him.”

Green’s History of Slang translates Tinney-side as fireside. Trotters was a humorous reference to human legs, though it properly designated quadrupeds.

An 1873 entry makes it quite clear that daylights referred to the eyes: “Why, hang me,” said Tom Parton, “his daylights are out!” Quite true – he was blind as a mole.

As daylights receded as slang for eyes, it was replaced by other terms, especially bodily excretions, for shock effect: “I’ll beat the tar/stuffing/hell/piss/crap/shit out of you.” Living was inserted as an intensifier. It shared the honor with many other participle forms: “I’ll beat the blinking/everloving/bleeding/living/f*cking crap out of you.”

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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