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Pulling one's leg
When does meaning trump actual word usage?
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The topic or a variant of it is first in print in 1888 or 1867, respectively. But, Genesis 25:26 says, “After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel [and, by word picture, pulling Esau’s leg]; so he was named Jacob.” NIV. The NIV also has a footnote, “26 Jacob means he grasps the heel (figuratively, he deceives).”

Ignoring shades of meaning between deceive and fool, it seems perfectly logical to me that while the words are slightly different, the real origin of linking pulling one’s leg and fooling someone is much older than the link above indicates.

Does this cast doubt on the real origin of pulling one’s leg?


New River, AZ, USA
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Interesting question. Ngrams validates your time frame. The etymology may have its origin in Genesis, but popular use of the metaphor emerges ca. 1900.


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They are far too quick with the word ‘originated’ in that link, because at best what they have there are some early known uses, and only printed ones at that.
What you’re suggesting, though tantalizing, seems somehow unsatisfying, what with the ‘heel’ seeming not like a ‘leg’ at all, and then how strenuous the association to deceiving, going from the infant to the adult, that is, if one will first subscribe to that attribution of the biblical Jacob (which a great many don’t, who also will readily point to other plausible symbolisms to account for the ‘heel’).
But without a source to explain it, the idiom seems that much more forced, even borderline nonsensical– defeat, mistreat, tease, any suchlike, should come to mind far ahead of deceive. Which makes the biblical proposition that much more tantalizing.
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