When did you need to get off my lawn?
October 17, 2008 10:30 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the phrase "[you] damn kids get off my lawn!"

After running across another variant for the 87,342nd time today, curiosity got the better of me. Is there a specific origin for this phrase? Anything else about its history? (Googling gets me lots and lots of uses, mostly political, but nothing useful.)
posted by epersonae to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe an old Dennis the Menace strip?
posted by resurrexit at 10:52 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: Well, it was something that was actually said. When I was kid. On some old person's damn lawn.

Even as a kid, my friends and I would mockingly use that phrase. It's going to be tough to find a first usage from which it spread, because it's a common childhood experience.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:57 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've been hearing and/or saying this from the late 1980s at least, and it was pretty widespread even then.
posted by the dief at 11:15 AM on October 17, 2008

My earliest recollection of it being said to me in the late 1970s by a crotchety old geezers. Probably, like Fuzzy Skinner, because I was a damned kid and I was on their lawn.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:45 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: I'm going to suggest that this phrase's origin is literally legion.

Wherever there are lawns kept by crotchety older people, and kids to potentially damage them with their hijinks and shenanigans, this phrase will continually and spontaneously recur, unto the end of time and/or lawns.
posted by Aquaman at 11:59 AM on October 17, 2008 [8 favorites]

It's probably as old as the hills. I remember it being said to me in the 80's. Some mean old lady said it to me right around this time of year as I dropped a banana peel on her lawn (come on, it's biodegradable). Since it was trash night, her cans were out. I asked if I could put it in her trash then, she yelled "no!" I vowed revenge. Since that's a dish best served cold I waited a good 12 years later when I was visiting from out of town. I drove my rental car by, stopped and went to drop a candy bar wrapper on her lawn, on the little strip between the sidewalk and the street. Then I looked up and realized I couldn't really remember which house it was, and the lady was probably dead or something.

So when you are to get off somebody's lawn, you can't go back and change history. Also, revenge is a dish best served cold, but you might end up serving it to a dead person.
posted by cashman at 12:10 PM on October 17, 2008

First I heard it was on a Cheech and Chong album back in the 70's. It was the Pope saying "Hey alla you wops get offa my lawn" as a way of dispersing the crowd.
posted by Gungho at 12:25 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid thought it was a reference to that Hans Christien Andersen (?) story about that old guy who's all grumpy about kids getting in his apple tree until he discovers they're kind of awesome. And then one of the kids dies, or something? I could be making this up.

However that was my personal folk etymology - I'm sure that has nothing to do with it.
posted by bettafish at 12:57 PM on October 17, 2008

Isn't its recent use attributable to this story?
posted by Neiltupper at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2008

Bettafish, are you thinking of this story by Oscar Wilde?
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:46 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cashman, you can't drop trash on the same lawn twice.

The lawn is different. You are different.
posted by Naberius at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I remember the line being in the 95 South song, Whoot There It Is which came out in '93. The line kicks in at about 4:05.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:47 PM on October 17, 2008

Isn't that like asking the origin of "Dinner's ready"?
posted by Linnee at 3:11 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Neiltupper: ye gods. I hadn't heard about that. How horrifying.

Lieber Frau: thank you. I haven't read that story since I was a kid, and it was delightful (but weepy!) to read it again.

So if a humorous variant was in circulation in the 70s, that means it dates (whether in multiple or singular origins) to some time well before that.

IIRC, lawns are really a feature of the post-war suburban environment. (I read a book about the history & ecology of lawns last summer or maybe summer before last.) So it sounds like it spontaneously emerged at some point in the 50s? Hmmmmm.
posted by epersonae at 3:13 PM on October 17, 2008

I know as a kid in the [decade deleted] I was yelled at for sledding on a neighbor's lawn. Except it wasn't on the lawn, it was the, um...public easement for foot traffic (sidewalks? not in my neighborhood).

Years later, I was in a high school musical group with one of the kids from that family (they had moved in the interim) who confessed to mortification over those events.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:28 PM on October 17, 2008

Maybe an old Dennis the Menace strip?

I, too, have heard a variant attributed to Mr. Wilson yelling at Dennis the Menace: "stay off my lawn."
posted by ericb at 5:57 PM on October 17, 2008

It always makes me think of this E.E. Cummings poem (although the phrase doesn't actually appear or anything).
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 6:51 PM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: Google News has this 1912 NYT article where someone yells, "Get off my lawn or I'll beat your brains out!" he threatened the photographer. Google Books also shows instances dating back at least to the 1940s, when it appeared in an Ernie Bushmiller cartoon. Interestingly, though, most of the earlier usages are directed at adults.

The "Hey you kids, get off my lawn" construction must have been entrenched by 1992, when George Allen, Jr., was writing a column at UP. The string "kids get off my lawn" does not appear on USENET prior to 2000, though, which apparently minimizes its pop-culture penetration -- but here's a 1986 hit from Google News.

So the phrase has some basic castle doctrine origins, but the pop-culture association with geezers is 1980s in origin.
posted by dhartung at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had assumed that the fad for this phrase originated on The Simpsons, but I haven't figured out when "Get off my lawn!" was first used on the series.
posted by lukemeister at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2008

There's a variation of this for every environment. I'm sure there's an Iranian version, and a rural Chinese version.

There used to be a car commercial in the early 70s, featuring a bunch of teenage hoods in greasy pompadours and jeans and tshirts with rolled up sleeves hanging out on the steps in front of some New York City brownstone, admiring a sparkling new edition of the target brand of car parked in front of the building. The guys gradually move out to the street, running their hands over the finish and pointing out the cool headlights and all the other features, then sit down on the last step and sigh with frustrated desire. Finally, some fat old dude in a wifebeater comes out, takes his cigar butt out of his mouth, and screams "HEY YOU PUNKS, GET OFF MY STOOP!"
posted by willibro at 11:47 PM on October 24, 2008

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