What Is The Origin Of (24)….?



As right as

There are a number of variants of this phrase – as right as rain or as right as ninepence being the most common – and it is used to suggest that something is neat, tidy or well-ordered.

The first variant of the “right as” formulation can be traced back to the early 15th century where the phrase, right as an adamant, was used in the Romance of the Rose. An adamant was a hard stone such as a diamond or a lodestone and so the expression conveyed the sense of certainty and straightness.

Variations of this formula began to appear in the 16th and 17th centuries with as right as a line which was quoted as a proverb in 1546, as right as a gun which is found in John Fletcher’s play, the Prophetess, of 1622, and as right as my leg which is found in Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’ novel, Gargantua and Pantagruel of 1664.

In the nineteenth century Charles Dickens records another variant in his first major novel, Pickwick Papers, published in 1837, when Bob Sawyer is given the line,”I hope you are well, sir.” “Right as a trivet, sir,” A trivet was a stand for a pot or a kettle which was placed over an open fire to lift the utensil above the flames and to allow the contents to heat.

The phrase “as right as ninepence” first makes its appearance in a slight variation, as neat as ninepence, in James Howell’s English Proverbs of 1659 when he records the proverb, “As fine as fippence, as neat as nine pence.” There was a ninepence coin in circulation in the 16th and 17th centuries and its use here in conjunction with a fivepenny piece suggests that it was coinage that the phrase referred to rather than the alternative – that it was a corruption of the word, ninepins, a form of skittles in which the pins were set out in a neat square.

As right as rain which is the phrase we would most commonly encounter these days is a rather late entrant to the list of variants. It first appears in printed form in Max Beerbohm’s book, Yet Again, which was published in 1909. He writes, “He looked, as himself would undoubtedly have said, ‘fit as a fiddle'”; or “right as rain“. It is not quite clear why rain is used to convey the sense of security or comfort – perhaps it is just a question of being a pleasant form of alliteration or acknowledgement of the importance of rain to successful farming. Whatever the reason as right as rain became the etymological equivalent of the grey squirrel thereafter and usurped all other variants.

So now we know.



2 thoughts on “What Is The Origin Of (24)….?”

  1. I love to learn about words, phrases, linguistics…so I found this particularly interesting. Thanks so much! I think I may just about be hooked (on your blog) 🙂

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