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Tub thumping

Q From Donna Marie Watson, New Jersey: In a magazine article about Australia, the term tub thumping was used. My students asked me what it meant, and I couldn’t figure it out. Any idea?

A Many americans are more familiar with Bible-thumping, which has much the same sense. The phrase originally referred to a preacher of a type still familiar: one who does so in an aggressive way and who bangs on the pulpit to give emphasis. At the time the expression was first recorded — in the Cromwellian period of English history, roughly the 1650s — the allusion was to nonconformist preachers. There may be a connection here with the literal tub-thumping of an outdoor orator using an inverted tub as an informal lectern, or perhaps the practice of converting wash-tubs into improvised drums during processions or demonstrations.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Nov. 2000

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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.

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Last modified: 4 November 2000.