Posted in Personal on August 8th, 2012 by byronkho

The history of phrases can be kind of cool.

I ran into the phrase “off the chain” in a Josephine Tey novel, “Miss Pym Disposes.” That book, while definitely “of the time”, is one of my favorites. It’s set at a girls Physical Training school and is narrated by a friend of the headmistress who happens to have written a popular psychology text. She’s attentive to the psychology of both the students and the staff, and minutely aware of the stresses of both, especially when dealing with examinations, the final gymnastics routines and the contemplation of future plum posts. Apparently, these institutions existed in the 1940s, along with dancing lessons and voluble manners and vaguely Italian gigolo-types with twee moustaches. This happens to be a crime novel, but no crime happens for a great deal of the book. In any case, the crime may be interesting, but it’s the analysis of the mundane and everyday and how it can affect an entire life that makes the book infinitely more interesting. A surprising twist right on the last page always helps, and with it a definite sadness. After the fall, one realizes that the title is sparse, effectual and right on the money.

That’s not the point, however. I was trying to discuss the phrase “off the chain.” Let’s look it up.

“off the chain” – free from work or direct supervision. in reference to slave labor, where workers are chained, or to the figurative chain of workers of an assembly line.

First written use: 1912, The Windsor Magazine, an Illustrated Monthly for Men and Women. ‘

“Here,” said Wigmore, “no bickering tonight, and no politics either. I’m off the chain, and we’re going to take you out to dinner at Oddy’s, and a theatre.”’

Previous to this, my impression was that the phrase was a development off of the late 90’s “off the hook.” Apparently, there’s nothing new under the sun. So much so that Urban Dictionary and even many other sources believe it’s a modern phrase. The phrase may be (like) SO 90s (foshizzle), but that centenarian got the drop on you (son) for this one. (off the heezy! word.) For the nitpickers – yes, the usage is very slightly different these days. It used to mean “fun because we were not watched” and now it’s just more of a generic “super fun,” but the intent is markedly similar. Personally, I’m gonna go with “they’re the same, so just live with it.” Nice to know that old things can get reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes. Off the chain, yo!

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