If I rub dirt on it, it'll get infected!
October 5, 2009 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What if I just want to walk it off?

Over the last couple weeks, I have heard several friends use the phrase "just rub some dirt on it and you'll be fine" as a joking response to someone that had an injury, and I myself have used this phrase a lot throughout my adult life.

I love it, but I realized the other day that I have absolutely no idea where this originated. I always heard it in a baseball context as a kid, but was this something that came from a movie/tv show, or is it just one of those great-yet-probably-apocryphal pieces of folk wisdom whose origins are lost to the mists of time at this point? I would love to know where this phrase got its start.
posted by pdb to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have any hard evidence, but as far as I know this just something baseball/football etc coaches used to actually say. It's since developed into kind of a parody of that 1950s mentality that thinks serious injuries will go away if you just tough it out.

"King of the Hill" did a funny variant where they talked about their old football coach telling them to take a "salt pill" for every injury. It turned out the salt pills were amphetamines.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the Quran:

"If you get dirty (by touching a woman or something), and can't find any clean water around at prayer time, you can clean up by rubbing your face and hands in some clean dirt. 4:43"
posted by torquemaniac at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2009

[4:43] O you who believe, do not observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) while intoxicated, so that you know what you are saying. Nor after sexual orgasm without bathing, unless you are on the road, traveling; if you are ill or traveling, or you had urinary or fecal-related excretion (such as gas), or contacted the women (sexually), and you cannot find water, you shall observe Tayammum (dry ablution) by touching clean dry soil, then wiping your faces and hands therewith.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:27 AM on October 5, 2009

If you had a scrape or cut this might have some sort of caking effect that might at least appear to stop or slow the bleeding? That's where I've always assumed it came from.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:34 AM on October 5, 2009

I've never heard that myself, but it probably originated in the idea that putting a little dirt on a wound will clump the blood and speed up clotting, thus stopping the bleeding. Not that it's a good idea medically, but I guess it's a metaphor for "just shake it off".
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:35 AM on October 5, 2009

I have heard this said by all my coaches and camp counselors since 1967. I think it is originally a baseball saying, but my middle school gym teacher, crew cutted ex-marine and hockey player used to tell us this all the time. I think it has to do with distracting little kids. I coached a lot of little kid soccer and baseball and they tend to get scared and upset if they get hit or bumped into too hard. I think it was a way to distract them just like when your mom wants to kiss your booboo. My high school trainers used to just tell us to put some ice on it; no matter what "it" was.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2009

You can also put some butter on it.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:18 PM on October 5, 2009

torquemaniac, what does any of that have to do with the question?
posted by mulligan at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2009

mulligan, he's referencing a source written in the early 600's CE. Clearly "just rub some dirt in it" is a long-standing idea that at least I've never heard of before today.
posted by Xoder at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2009

I think it's related to folk remedies of various kinds, like treating a bee sting with a mud patch, or treating wounds with poultices. They can be effective in certain instances. I can attest that putting mud on a bee sting did actually help a bit, but that's anecdotal and I'm not really recommending it here.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2009

You can actually wash your hands with dirt. If you get the dirt on them and then rub them together to generate a lot of heat, little grains of dirt will appear that brush right off, taking whatever was on your hands in the first place with them.

Definitely not a *clean* method. It's for appearances in a pinch only. Like when you're a kid and don't want your mother to nag you about being dirty and there isn't a water source near by.

I've always taken the saying to mean "work it off" rather than literally though.
posted by jwells at 5:45 PM on October 5, 2009

I always thought it was because the dirt would conceal a bruise or other minor injury, and out of sight = out of mind for Little-League–aged kids.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:48 PM on October 5, 2009

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