an exercise in miscellany

Spun Out of Whole Cloth

In wild card, words & phrases on April 28, 2013 at 8:47 am
6a013487e6f7ad970c015435660b00970c-800wiThe meaning of the phrase “made out of whole cloth” appears to have begun to change in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The The Oxford English Dictionary labels the falsehood sense “U.S. colloquial slang”, and provides a citation from 1843: “Isn’t this entire story… made out of whole cloth?” The change of meaning may have arisen from deceptive trade practices. Charles Earle Funk suggests that 19th-century tailors advertising whole cloth may really have been using patched cloth or cloth that was falsely stretched to appear to be full-width.  Alternatively, the modern figurative meaning of “whole cloth” may depend on a lie’s having sprung whole ex nihilo, having no connection with existing facts. All-newness distinguishes garments and lies made out of whole cloth. This is a positive characteristic for clothes, but not for the average tissue of lies and deception.
 “whole cloth”
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