According to Dictionary.com the phrase, ‘Not touch (something/someone) through a ten-foot pole’, dates back to the mid-eighteenth century:

This expression dates from the mid-1700s, once it began to relocation the previously not to be handled through a pair of tongs. In the 1800s barge-pole was occasionally substituted for ten-foot pole, however that variant has died out.

But wright here does it come from?


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The British identical, though developing later on than the American ten-foot pole, is “not emotional s.o. or s.th. with a barge pole”:

The British gain dog sick, leave footmarks and also they wouldn’t touch some points through a barge pole. Americans acquire sick as a dog, leave footprints and wouldn’t touch some things with a ten-foot pole. — Catherine McCormick, British-American/American-British, 2001.

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One of the earliest attestations for the British usage says a reasonably current coinage:

…he would certainly not touch him via the finish of a barge pole—(roars of laughter). — Oxford Times, 7 Oct. 1876. BNA

The initially instances include the end of the barge pole, which would be dropped on its method to a frozen expression. More telling, however, is that the metaphorical barge-pole can elicit roars of laughter, as if it were some novel witicism quite than a famous cliche. Sir Randolph Churchill can still usage it as a laugh line in 1884.

In America civilization had far even more suffer with a common measuring device than they did with barges, which after the development of the railroad redelivered in commercial and also cultural prestige.

The ten-foot pole in this expression is not a pole that happens to be ten feet long, yet an open up compound denoting a measuring tool just as yardstick is a closed one. With the wide availcapacity of cheaply made pocket metal tape steps in the 1920s, ten-foot poles were no much longer advantageous or convenient — except in the metaphor which created the expression in the initially place:

The early farmer had to develop a cabin and barn or stable. Structures were built making use of a 10-foot pole, thus the old saying, “I wouldn’t touch it through a ten foot pole.” — George Wanamaker, “Measurement on the Farm,” June 2011, farmcollector.com

A ten-foot pole, along with a sixteen-foot surveyor’s pole, equipped an exploration in 1728 to survey the boundary in between Virginia and also North Carolina, which William Byrd (check out all about his sex life in the Secret Diaries!) described in a book publimelted a decade later:

At the exact same time, we uncovered the Ground moist and also trembling under our feet prefer a Quagmire, insoa lot that it was a basic matter to run a Ten-Foot-Pole as much as the Head in it, without exerting any kind of unwidespread Strength to carry out it. — William Byrd, Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, 1738 (repr. 1929), 62.

I have actually been unable to verify a mid-18th c. origin for the expression, however no 1ninth c. usage of ten-foot pole noted below would be a novelty — other than, of course, the patent notification for one that conveniently folds up:

Having thus explained my creation, I insurance claim as brand-new and desire to secure by Letters Patent as a new article of manufacture, a ten-foot pole made in 4 sections, the 2 middle ones hinged together and also gave with slide E... — Specifications and also Drawings of Patents Issued from the U.S. Patent Office for June 1875.

Clever before farmers could quickly make their own:

Among the things which are discovered convenient in eextremely farmer"s work-shop is a ten-foot pole, made thus: A piece of hardwood, one and a quarter inches square and also ten feet long, is nicely smoothed with the aircraft, and then marked as follows ... —Amerihave the right to Agriculturist 49 (1890), 259.

Ten-foot poles could be provided in surveying, laying out a area or a big flower bed, measuring out a court for lawn tennis, experimentation the depth of flood water, for any kind of number of jobs in the building trades:

He as necessary measures off eight feet from the finish of one sill, and also there makes a mark; he then steps off six feet on the sill lying at appropriate angles through the first, and also renders one more mark; he then lays on his ten foot pole… — The Farmers" Cabinet, and also American Herd-book, 1840.

and even a sign of celebration:

He stood upon the hardwood to be elevated, swung his ten foot pole, and cried out, “Altogether, Altogether, ALTOGETHER, lift altogether;” and hence the huge front was put up, and also there it stands to this day, as the result of joined initiative. — The Well-Spring, 3–4 (1846), 180.

Waving around a modern retracting metal tape measure — also in bbest Stanley yellow — simply wouldn’t have the exact same impact.

One of the initially appearances of a ten-foot pole measuring a metaphoric distance in an Amerideserve to newspaper discusses a political issue of the day:

Last year, once running for the Legislature, the “whigs” would not touch Clay via a ten foot pole ; yet many kind of now declare they will not vote for any type of one that is opposed to Clay. — The North Carolina Standard (Raleigh), 12 June 1839.

See more: English Less On The Go Vs On-The-Go, Go With Vs Go For

Now a bland narrative that basically says “It was a large yardstick” has much less currency than a macabre tale of dispatching decomposing corpses in New Orleans — all folk etymologies, no matter exactly how outlandish, are always entertaining — but I’m afraid a measuring tool from the 18th and also 1nine centuries that was component of daily life for many kind of is a far more most likely, though dull, scenario.