Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

I’ll Be Swizzled

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 28, 2011

Idiomation first heard the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” while watching the 1950s movie, “Harvey” based on the book of the same name by Mary Chase.  The movie, shot in August 1950, starred Jimmy Stewart in the main role.  The following humourous scene appears in the movie.

VETA – Well he hustled me into the sanitarium and dumped me down in that tub of water and treated me as though I was a —

MYRTLE – A what?

VETA – A crazy woman. But he did that just for spite.

JUDGE – Well, I’ll be swizzled.

In searching for the origins of the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” Idiomation found a review by the American Record Guide dated September/October 2009.  The reviewer had this to say about David Matthews’ Dutton Vocalion CD:

His music is freely tonal, which means that his symphonies take from the structure of the great romantics, but his language moves in and out of standard tonality where the mood suits him… If one is to apply a label to Matthews, it must be that the man is a new sort of romantic; but I’ll be swizzled if I know what kind. I can’t stop playing this.

Although the phrase is rarely used these days, it appears to have been a staple in years gone by.  In the Milwaukee Journal of January 24, 1939 the following can be found in Richard S. Davis’ column “And So It Goes” as he reports on one gentleman’s bitter complaint against the dictates of fashioneers:

Another of these “exquisite creations” is entitled “coast to coast” which garbs the male physique in “a map of the United States, showing all the state capitals and representing the major industry of each commonwealth.”

All I can say to that it “whew!” (faintly).  I suppose on thrusts a leg into California and another in Florida while the head emerges from the depths of Lake Erie.  Somehow, I have a feeling that I would probably find myself in Rocky Mountain National Park the next morning — with a St. Bernard licking my face. No, I’ll be swizzled if I’ll become a sleeping travel bureau.

In the book, “The Idyl Of Twin Fires” written by Walter Prichard Eaton and published in 1914, the phrase appears in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker, which leads readers to believe that it was a common phrase during that era.

“Don’t you worry,” said Bert. “I’ll see he treats yer right.”

“It isn’t that,” I said sadly. “It’s that I’ve just remembered I forgot to include any painters’ bills in my own estimate.”

Bert looked at me in a kind of speechless pity for a moment. Then he said slowly: “Wal, I’ll be swizzled! Wait till I tell maw! An’ her always stickin’ up fer a college education!”

A generation before that, the Camden Democrat newspaper ran a story in their “Scraps of Humor” column on March 28, 1874 that read in part:

He said, “I did it, mother, with my little hatchet, but I’ll be swizzled if I can tell the whole truth about this little affair.”

Now most mothers would have kissed that brave, truthful lad on his noble brow, and kept right on using the meal out of that barrel just the same, but this one didn’t.  She said, “Come across my lap, my son; come across my lap.”

He came, and for a while there rose a cloud of dust from the seat of his trousers that effectually his the son from view, and the old woman now sports goggles and is lavish in the use of Pettit’s eye salve.

In Alfred B. Street’s book, “Woods and Water: Summer In The Saranacs” published in 1865, the phrase appears again in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker as follows:

“Ef he’d a gone down there, nothin’ could ha’ saved him, I bleeve, fur that aire hole was jest one bed o’ sharp p’inted rocks and he knowed it. Well, I’ll be swizzled ef that aire critter, jest as that aire log was a pitchin’ down that aire cobumbus like o’ water, didn’t reach out and ketch hold on a branch o’ hemlock a growin’ from a pint o’ the bank, and swing himself up jest like a squirrel. Didn’t we hooray!”

While Idiomation could not trace the phrase proper back further than 1865, Idiomation can confirm that the first use of the word swizzle is from 1790 and is in reference to a intoxicating drinks made from rum.  It is believed that it is most likely a variant of the word switchel which is a  drink of molasses and water mixed with rum.

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4 Responses to “I’ll Be Swizzled”

  1. Hi Elyse,

    I enjoyed the above post.”I’ll be swizzled.”
    Your research was great research.

    Thanks!

    Phil E.

    • Hello Phil and thanks for the kind comments about the research. If there are expressions and sayings you’d like researched, please feel free to send them along to me for inclusion at Idiomation.

      Elyse

  2. Slava said

    As a switch is also a small branch used in whippings, could there be a tie-in between switchel and swizzle? Also, does the swizzle of the rum drink have any connection with the standard tiny stirring straw one gets with mixed drinks in a bar? That is to say, the swizzle stick?

    • While there is certainly a tie-in with swizzle sticks, I had focused on the comment “I’ll be swizzled.” That being said, I believe that “swizzle stick” should be researched by Idiomation, Slava, so please watch for it at a later date. Thank you for the suggestion.

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