Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Fit The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 6, 2016

When someone finds something that fits the bill, that person has found something that, or someone who, is suitable for a specific purpose.   The person or object doesn’t have to be perfect for the situation, but the person or object has to do the job for which he/she/it has been selected.

Just last month, Headlines and Global News (HNGN) reported on the break-up between Zayn Malik (former member of boy band One Direction) and Victoria’s Secret model, Gigi Hadid.  Supposedly Zayn’s mother was behind the break-up, and going with that rumor, the headline read, “Zayn Malik’s mother to Gigi Hadid: She Doesn’t Fit The Bill.”

Back in 1986, when technology was ramping up in the music industry, Electronic Musician published an article in their May edition that talked about the Mac computer.    The editors informed their readership that if they wanted their “introduction to computers to be absolutely painless” the Mac would “probably fit the bill.”  As it was, back in 1986, the Mac did just that and revolutionized a large part of the live performance and recording aspects of the industry.

In 1890, the idiom was used in an article on page 426 of “The Kansas City Medical Record: Volume VII, No. 11.”  The magazine began publication in 1884 and continued through to 1911.  In all, there were twenty-eight volumes with illustrations published by the Kansas City (MO) publishers, Ramsey, Millett & Hudson.

Thus one writes in making his application: ‘I am a graduate of the Medical College of, and I think I can fit the bill. Is there any vacancies now? Is the examination as rigid as reported? I am a lover of surgery and hope I will fit the bill.

SIDE NOTE:  Ramsey, Millett & Hudson was a business owned by John H. Ramsey, H.S. Millett, and Frank Hudson, and they promoted themselves as printers, lithographers, binders, wood engravers, and book publishers.

While the idiom fit the bill was published in 1890, prior to this date, Idiomation has found many references to filling the bill with the same sense as fitting the bill, but fit the bill was conspicuously absent in newspapers, magazines, and books.

Fill the bill was an expression modified in the space of one generation, where fill was replaced with fit to become the expression we use today.  It would seem the idiom isn’t as old as one might think, but perhaps fill the bill will fare better next Tuesday on Idiomation.

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