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Hammer and tongs

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.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 Jul. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ham1.htm
Last modified: 18 July 1998.