Q From Lee Haas: I am interested in the phrase hammer and tongs because it is used by our fraternity (Theta Tau, a professional fraternity for engineering students). We are of the belief that this is a very old English phrase.
A Well, oldish. It’s first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1708, though it had probably been around in the spoken language for some time before then. It derives from the blacksmith’s forge, where to go at something hammer and tongs is to work hard at shaping the metal.