WOW #53

Hillbilly Couple

Englishman Umbrella

The smartest British archeologist on the Time Team talks like an American redneck. Lost letters, missing punctuation, and strange pronunciations (even for a Brit) litter his speech patterns, which were already set, in up-country Yorkshire, before he got an amazing education.

If he and his trusty trowel happen upon a particularly interesting/significant find, he is apt to burst out with


An exclamation of incredulity or annoyance.

There are some words and phrases which dictionaries just cannot prove the origin of, like “rule of thumb.” That problem interests me, because this one is so new. The British OED claims that it is an American culturalism. Merriam-Webster insists that it is a British phrase. When they can’t fault each other, they blame it on the Australians.

There have been a few attempts to explain the origin of this odd phrase. A croze is the groove at the end of a wooden barrel that holds the end plate in place. It has been suggested that the expression was previously stow (or stove) the croze, that is, break open the barrel. I can find no supporting evidence for that idea though and have to consign it to the realms of folk-etymology. The more prosaic suggestion – that it alludes to the practice of throwing stones at crows – is much more likely.

I’ve found mid-20th century references from England that describe it as an Americanism and American newspaper articles that call it ‘an old English phrase’. The dates of those are more or less right but not the locations – the phrase appears to have originated in Australia. Most of the early citations in print come from down under. It has a sort of Australian twang to it and is in common with several other similar phrases, all with the same meaning: starve the bardies [bardies are grubs], stiffen the crows, spare the crow.

Crows were unwelcome guests at sheep farms as, given the chance, they will kill and eat newborn lambs, so the association with annoyance isn’t hard to see. The link in meaning to surprise isn’t obvious, but then there’s no particular reason to expect to find one. Stoning crows was a commonplace enough activity and calling it up into a phrase could have been done for no reason other than that the person who coined it just liked the sound of it. There are other expressions of surprise or annoyance like I’ll go to the foot of our stairs, strike me pink, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle or if that don’t take the rag off the bush. None Most of these don’t have any sensible literal meaning and stone the crows is another to add to that list.

Take the rag off the bush” actually dates to before households had laundry dryers, or even outdoor lines to hang it on. Large items like bed sheets or blankets were often draped over shrubs or bushes to dry in the sun and breeze. If a strong-enough gust of wind came along, it could blow the ‘rag’ off the bush, and down the street, into the dust or mud, and it would have to be washed (by hand) all over again.

15 thoughts on “WOW #53

  1. Rivergirl says:

    The poor crows. I find them much less annoying than the blue jays. Why doesn’t anyone want to stone them?


  2. aFrankAngle says:

    Love the Archonian explanation of the phrases! … but I’ve never encountered “Stone the crows” … oh well … I learned something today.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Other than this British show, I’ve never personally heard anyone use this expression, although I have seen it in a couple of novels. Phil the Bredneck is infectious. The little civilian announcer has taken to dropping it occasionally, along with ‘manky.’
      When the son read the beginning of the file for this post, he volunteered the info about the blowing sheets. I’d ask him where he got that arcane knowledge, but he’s busy doing a victory lap with Ken Jennings, Holtzauer, and Rutter. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t remember this expression, although I lived in England for three years in the 1960s. Here in Yorktown, Virginia, we have some massive crows and blue jays that come to our bird feeder, and nestle way up in the pine trees. They have similar calls, but now I can easily distinguish them.


    • Archon's Den says:

      You’d have been a babe-in-arms, even toward the end of the 60s. I doubt that you’d remember much of speech patterns. And I doubt that you’d live in a region where it might be heard. You were probably in the civilized section – London-ish. Upcountry is a little less refined 🙂

      How do I find your music on YouTube. ‘Big John Hamilton’ is a negro, twice your size, who did a cover of Jimmy Dean’s Big Bad John. Another John Hamilton is a wild-haired young beatnik who doesn’t look or sound like you, unless you uploaded your songs 30 tears ago. Another result for “John Hamilton” is an actor named John, who was in the musical Hamilton. 😳

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, I didn’t explain how to find my songs, because I didn’t think anyone would actually look for them. My songs are performed by my Facebook friend Douglas Haines, who has been Number One eight different times on the ReverbNation Americana Chart, for the entire country. I am deaf in my right ear, so I am never really satisfied with my own singing voice. Go to Youtube and type “Father’s Day – Americana Song – Douglas Haines” to hear one of them.


      • Archon's Den says:

        That’s a very nice song, and a great tribute to your father. There are more?? Do I just keep looking for Haines.
        The fact that you are deaf in one ear explains certain aspects of your speech, posture, and delivery on your videos. There are other causes for them, but that ties them together. Don’t be offended, but I have a cat, recovering from a serious sinus infection who’s apparently now deaf in one ear, and exhibits some of the same – cocked head, slightly nasal Meows. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • It doesn’t help either that I have bad asthma and allergies. I have turned blue more than once in my lifetime. Yes, I think I am going to do a video describing what it is like to be deaf in one ear. I am like Brian Wilson and Rob Lowe, only less talented. I am glad you like my song. Isn’t he a great singer? A couple of the other songs tend to be patriotic American songs, so I’m not sure you would like them. Type in “Chicago Cubs – Americana Song – John Hamilton” to hear another song. Douglas Haines is a fan of that team too.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Dick Stein says:

    Stone the flamin’ crows is as Australian as it comes. The rotten bastards wake me up by hopping on the bedroom roof tiles and sharpening their beaks at sparrow’s fart but they scarper when I get out there to see them off. The cat is terrified of them.


  5. Archon's Den says:

    Well…. it looks like English. 😉
    I don’t know what to say. I’ve been so busy learning Northumbrian English, that I have trouble translating Down-Underese. Thanx for the visit and comment. Feel free to stop by any time. Could you please explain the sparrow’s fart section? It looks like Cockney rhyming slang, but I don’t get reference. 🙂


  6. After some work on my ancestry, direct relatives in the 14th century, the Corbet family, had on their family crest ‘deus pascit corvos’, which means ‘God feeds the ravens’. Apparently, not too uncommon of a phrase at the time, of biblical provenance. Taken in context, it means something like ‘God feeds the ravens, and consider how much more important humans are than the raven!’.


  7. […] same extinct British TV show which brought us the word manky, as well as the more recent phrase, ‘Stone the Crows,’ also recently taught me why I am an old codger.  I have accepted (bitched about it – but […]


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