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Blizzard of horseradish

Q From Kate Schubart: At the office yesterday I said to a younger staff member, you’re off in a blizzard of horseradish. This was a familiar phrase in my family when we were off on a jaunt. I’ve always thought it went back to my parents’ youth in the 1930s or 1940s. My colleague was amused, but said the expression was new to him. A quick Google search finds few instances and no etymology.

A I’d never come across this one either and felt rather at a loss. So I consulted Garson O’Toole, who runs the Quote Investigator site. Between us we’ve found out a little more.

Most examples from newspapers imply that a blizzard of horseradish is a torrent of unhelpful or irrelevant political verbiage:

All the righteous indignation which drifts down Capitol Hill like a blizzard of horseradish is simply partisan politics.

The News and Tribune (Jefferson City, Missouri), 3 Feb, 1974.

Horseradish is on record from the 1920s meaning arrant nonsense or rubbish, a relative of horsefeathers. Both terms are euphemisms for horseshit or bullshit. It’s possible that an unbowdlerised alliterative form blizzard of bullshit could already have been in use around that date; it’s recorded only within the past decade, but that doesn’t mean a lot as it would have been considered too rude to print much before then.

You noted in a later message that for you the expression referred to a familiar combination of anxiety and euphoria just before setting out on a trip. I’ve found some examples in blogs that imply muddle or confusion attending such preparations. Garson O’Toole put that rather more strongly on the basis of his own research as implying a poorly motivated or nonsensical quest or task.

You sent me an example from 1931, which Garson O’Toole also found and which turns out to be the first one we know about. It’s from a review of Nikki, a Broadway musical that failed after six weeks:

To convey the impression that they are just too world-weary, author [John Monk] Saunders has arranged that they reply to all efforts at normal human communication with a stock set of irrelevancies: “I’ll take vanilla,” “It seemed a good idea at the time,” and “We’re off in a blizzard of horseradish.”

Time, 12 Oct. 1931.

A few sources suggest where it comes from:

The death of Ho Chi Minh has left policy-makers at the State Department, and the men who convey their thinking to the public, lost in what Groucho Marx once called “a blizzard of horseradish.”

Naugatuck Daily News (Connecticut), 10 Sep. 1969.

It sounds like a Groucho-ism (not least because one of his films had the title Horse Feathers) and the date of the first example fits, but I can find no link between him and it. Unless a reader knows more?

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Page created 29 Jun. 2013

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Last modified: 29 June 2013.