Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Like White On Rice

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 20, 2013

When you hear someone say it’s like white on rice, what they mean is that the situation is as close as anything can be.   In other words, you’ve got it covered the way rice is covered in whiteness (unless it’s wild rice or brown rice or even red rice).

It should be noted that white rice evolved from wild red rice 10,000 years ago according to the Public Library of Science Genetics journal.  White rice was preferred for a number of reasons, the main ones being that white rice cooked faster than rice that retained color, and it was easier for farmers to spot insects and disease on white rice than on rice that retained color.

Whodini‘s 1984 dance hit “The Freaks Come Out At Night” used the expression thusly:

Now the party’s jumpin’, the place is packed
And when the crowd’s like this, I’m ready to rap
But before I could bust a rhyme on the mic
Freaks are all over me like white on rice.

Brent Checketts, sports writer for the Deseret News used the expression in an article published on June 7, 1976.  The story reported on what happened at the game between the Salt Lake Gulls and the Spokane Indians.  A comment was made about Spokane’s manager, Frank Howard that read:

Friday night Howard was all over ump Bill Lawson like white on rice, and at one point it seemed the 320-pound manager was going to literally chew up and spit out the 145-pound arbiter.  However was not thumbed, however.

American author, Lloyd L. Brown wrote “Iron City“ which was published in 1951.   The story was based on an actual court case and told the story of a black youth who was falsely convicted of the murder of a white businessman, and sentenced to death.  In the story, the following passage is found:

“Boy, you should have seen them!” And now Lonnie could laugh about it.  “Old Rupp damn near fell out of his chair and Big John jumped like I stabbed him.  But then the marshals were all over me like white on rice and I couldn’t see anything.  I’m telling you it was really something!”

While the expression was used in the book in 1951, like white on rice doesn’t seem to appear in any newspaper articles before this time although the expression like gravy on rice does appear in some stories published in the 1930s.

To this end, Idiomation is unable to secure a date earlier than 1951 for this expression with the codicil that its use in Iron City indicates that readers would understand its meaning and therefore, it’s pegged to a generation prior to the book’s publication, putting it to some point in the 1930s.

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6 Responses to “Like White On Rice”

  1. Hoot said

    I was under the impression that “…was all over me like white on rice” was shortened from the long used “…white gravy on rice”. Southern white gravy is much thicker and stickier than a thin brown gravy, even during the depression.

  2. […] Well you know me and gorgeous stationary – I was on that like white on rice!! (What a curious expression, non?!) And what perfect timing too, I want to send some summer letters to friends before getting […]

  3. […] 80’s. Why? because that’s a very comfortable outfit. Extremely comfortable, and I was all over it like white on rice. My big ol’ shirts came down nearly to my knees and I wore undershirts in case of any […]

  4. […] Of course, they weren’t the only ones to have a hit with the song.  Chubby Chalfont and the Chafers also  had a hit when they recorded and released the song, and the Rugby fans were all over it like white on rice. […]

  5. […] primarily staffed by people of East Asian descent, and I said, ‘I think I’d fit in here like white on rice‘, it really doesn’t matter that the origin of the phrase and its typical usage are […]

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