Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Shoot The Breeze

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 10, 2011

In brief, to “shoot the breeze” means to chat, gab, sit around and talk.  The phrase has been around for decades.  In fact, The Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg (FL) reported on November 8, 1958 in an article entitled “TV Takes Dim View of ‘Bowery’ Chat” opened with:

Author Ben Hecht, who likes to include a little bit of everything on his nightly television chat, invited six Bowery bums to shoot the breeze with him on Friday night’s show.  But the anonymous gentlemen from Manhattan’s famous avenue of the down-and-out didn’t get close to mike or camera.  The management of stations WABC-TV was unwilling to take a chance on what they  might say.

It’s a phrase that’s been used by respected newspapers and on May 5, 1957, the New York Times ran an article about then-Senator Richard L. Neuberger’s suggestion to Congress, entitled “Congress Urged to Get, Not Shoot, the Breeze.

The Guide to U.S. Naval Academy 149 has an entry for the phrase “shoot the breeze” that states it means “to refight the Civil War, etc.”  In fact, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on April 20, 1942 that warned citizens that the new slang of the  modern Navy resembled  a completely separate language — a new and almost unintelligible jargon — a mixture of technical terms, abbreviations and sailorese.  To give readers a taste of the new jargon, the article included this line:

When two old seagoing friends get together again they’ll shoot the breeze but they won’t be hitting the shore until things are squared away.

Vic Bourasaw was aboard the U.S.S. Ramsay and stationed in Pearl Harbor at the time.  He wrote in his diary that his ship had the “Ready” duty beginning at 0800 on December 7, 1941 and then:

Our liberty was up at 0730. I came aboard about 0735 and went down to our (chief petty officer) quarters. There were eleven of us CPO’s. We were sitting around shooting the breeze and having our morning cup of mud (coffee).  There was some blasting as one of the chiefs remarked, starting at 0755. I got up and looked out from the forward hatch and what I saw caused me to say: “fellows man your stations we are being bombed by the Japs!”

Almost three weeks later, on December 26, 1941, he wrote the following:

Quite a few hours afterwards, while away aboard ship, shooting the breeze about our youngsters — seems like most of the men, older ones have kids or one at least. A Hawaiian girl that lives next door to us sure got a drag with me. Brought me over a shot of Alky. The liquor stores have been closed since Dec. 7th.

The phrase “shoot the breeze” is very likely a variation of “talking into the wind” which was recorded in an Ohio newspaper, The Portsmouth Times on March 26, 1932 when an article entitled “Dreamer’s Delayed Recognition” reported the following:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the hundredth anniversary of whose death was marked with fitting ceremonies last Tuesday here and abroad, would have said the same thing.  A half hundred other searching dreamers would have sold it.  And they, like Doctor Hauptman, would be talking into the wind.  Deep and endless pondering produces prophecies sand criticisms for which there can be no understanding audience until the world closes the gap between the moss mind and the scouts who run centuries before it.

Idiomation was unable to find any published version of “shoot the breeze” or “talk into the wind” prior to 1932 however the ease with which it was used in the Portsmouth Times story indicates that “talk into the wind” was an idiom that was understood in the 1930s.  It is, therefore, reasonable to believe that the phrase “talk into the wind” was part of every day language in the 1920s.

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