Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Subscribe

  • Meta

Fit To Be Tied

Posted by Admin on December 17, 2010

If someone is fit to be tied, then that someone is angry, furious, agitated … almost to be the point of needing to be restrained. 

The definition certainly fit the mood described in a news article in the Miami News on Thursday, June 16, 1960 when a third inning run kept the Yankees from an eighth straight victory.  The subtitle to the article “Hector Lopez Too Eager; Yanks Miss League Leader” read:

New York Fit To be Tied

Undoubtedly, not only was the team fit to be tied, but the New York Yankees fans as well one would imagine.  In fact, that sentiment seems to be a running theme for sports teams as the Bridgeport Herald reported on June 21, 1903:

If somebody kicked Terry Rogers till he was black and blue he would not feel any more pain than he did when Bridgeport defeated Norwich the other day.  Terry was anxious to win and while his team was in the lead his spirits were high, but when Bridgeport scored the winning run in the tenth, Terry’s spirits left him and he was fit to be tied.  ‘That Bridgeport bunch is lucky,” was his parting comment.

However, sports weren’t the only ones to use the phrase “fit to be tied.”   In the popular quarterly magazine, The Century, in Volume 58, Issue 3 published in July 1899 there was a story entitled “The Pianos of Killymard” written by Seumas McManus.  This amusing passage certainly adds flavour to the story:

Father Tom: sit on this wan.  I have been naggin’ at Connell these three months to take it to Farrell a-Byrne an’ get somethin’ done till it. — ‘Oh, mammy’ says wee Jimmy, says he, when he looked out, ‘it’s another new pee-anna for Maggie Mary Cassidy.’ Iv course I knew it wasn’t but I watched to see who was going to be the second fool in Killymard.  An’ oh! Lizie Jan McClenaghan, I wouldn’t have evened it to ye! Up at Lizie Jan McClenaghan’s  doore it pulls, an’ — that was enough for me, yer reverence!  I don’t know, Father Tom McShan, what we’re goin’ to turn till in Killymard.  Two pee-annas!  It’s two wash-tubs them two women should ‘a’ got for their daughters.  Did ye iver know the likes of it? I never did.  An’ Lizie Jan McClenaghan, too!  Lizie Jane, I used to credit you with a wee grain o’ sense.  From Mrs. Cassidy I couldn’t expect better; nothin’ she’d do would astonish me.  But Lizie Jane McClenaghan!  A pee-anna!  For Ruth!  Oh, Lord! Lizie Jane McClenaghan, that was fit to be tied, an’ her tongue didn’t stop goin’ for a fortnight when Ellen Cassidy got home a pee-anna!  Oul’ fools, I see, ever an’ always is the worst iv fools.  Father Tom, I’m tellin’ you, an’ — me apron’s as black with the dirt of pots an’ pans as that I’m heartily ashamed of it, yer reverence; but how else could I be?

Obviously, the phrase “fit to be tied” was used comfortably in every day conversations by people from all walks of life, regardless of their social class.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says that the phrase is from the mid-19th century.  The straight jacket was invented in 1790 (18th century) by an upholsterer named Guilleret for L’Hôpital Général Bicêtre located near Paris in France.  It was well-known for its asylum for the chronically mentally ill.  

By the early 1800s, the straitjacket was commonly used to restrain mental patients.  By the mid 1800s, the concept of needing to tie a mental patient in a straightjacket due to a fit was established practice.

Since the mid-1400s, the word “fit” meant “suited to the circumstances.” One can certainly see how a straightjacket would be “suited to the circumstances” of a mental patient’s aggressive physical outburst back in the day, and so it makes sense to believe that the phrase “fit to be tied” dates back to the mid-1800s and no further.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: