Sunday, July 11, 2010

Snakes Alive!


Where did the human race dredge this one up from?

With 101 search engines at my disposal, I suppose I could find out right now, satisfy my curiosity as to the origin of this smirk-generating idiom.

Because, yes — that’s what I’m doing now.

I can’t say why I’ve just spontaneously uttered, snakes alive! — all you need to know is that I have. And now I’m smirking.

You have to think pants, don’t you? Some prehistoric pair of skimpies into which a snake (or snakes) once slithered.

Or maybe it was a bunch of Egyptians having a picnic by the Nile whose hamper got invaded by a trio of surly pythons. Or eels. Maybe the original snakes weren’t snakes at all. Maybe they weren’t even alive. So now I’m thinking of a blind man, lost amongst the saplings of a Rowan forest. Or perhaps he isn’t blind at all and he chances upon a beach where a dead octopus floats in the water.

A tribe of naked warriors waggling their willies in unison before battle?

OK, I’m going to check Cyber Snoop now.

Back in a minute...

*

Hours later...

How bizarre.

I’d presumed the internet would be awash with a million and one hits about snakes alive, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

The only references I can find relate to bingo halls and the number 55.

All the fives! Snakes alive!*

* By the by, the little old lady in a wooly hat in me wants to cry out, ‘house!’

The snakes alive, it seems, are the curly S shapes of the twinned 5s.

But I don’t believe it for a minute. I think it was the Egyptians. Or the beachcomber and the octopus. Possibly even the willy warriors.

As this is my 300th post, a special personalised blogger award is on offer to anyone who can dig out the original origin of this phrase — or come up with an amusing alternative to my suggestions.

As soon as I see the one I’ll let you know.

11 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Isn't this a film with Samuel L Jackson? He plays a pilot and snakes are let lose on his plane. Did I just invent that plot? I'm sure it's a film!

Have fun snake surfing!
x

McKoala said...

That would be the awesome 'Snakes on a Plane'. Snakes very much alive; most passengers very much dead. Great movie.

Anyway, I've had a quiet night, with boys off to bed early in preparation for getting up at 4am to watch soccer. so I did some googling and re-googling, and found out that 'snakes alive' is a relatively modern phrase, coined just after that other famed snake phrase, 'the one-eyed trouser snake'. Heaven forbid I should get too gross on your blog, Whirl, and I suggest those of a delicate nature stop reading right here, but 'snake's alive' was coined to indicate that the 'one-eyed trouser snake' was, um, stirring.

fairyhedgehog said...

There, and I thought it was a mis-hearing of "sake's alive", which is apparently much older and comes from phrases like "Land sakes alive", which were to avoid saying naughty things like "for the Lord's sake".

Snakes never, ever make me think of trousers. They just don't!

maybe genius said...

Well clearly it's from back in the day when St. Patrick was doing all that snake sheleighly-ing. It was what the locals called out when he missed one. Or seven.

Bernita said...

McKoala must be right. I checked a number of slang dictionaries for stuff prior 1900 and it doesn't show.

Whirlochre said...

Just checking in — on a day when I inadvertently began hosting an insect bite the size of a walnut — to confirm my surprise at the

a) relative newness
b) direct willy link

of this phrase.

Even 1920s Hollywood would have seemed too recent.

Meanwhile, Maybe Genius is the one to catch...

Aerin said...

Rubbish to all of you. 'Snake's Alive' is a direct reference to the first Harry Potter tome, in which Harry unknowingly makes the glass in front of the South American asp disappear. Now, whenever a young witch or wizard comes into powers suddenly, Muggles use the phrase "snake's alive," particularly when said child wasn't expected to have any powers to begin with.

Whirlochre said...

After new developments, I can now officially confirm that the field is wide open...

Scarlet Blue said...

Ahhh... I have read somewhere that snakes alive started out as saints alive... it morphed...
I have been googling this for the last 15 mins!!!
Sx

sylvia said...

I'm chiming in late to say that I've always thought that people WERE saying Saints Alive! and that I just misheard. I'm slightly dismayed to find out that the entire time they were being rude and I had no idea...

fairyhedgehog said...

There's a lot of spam getting through into my inbox these days!