Who first chewed the scenery?
July 22, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

"Chewing the scenery" -- I know what it means (Brian Blessed, Norio Wakamoto). But where did the term come from? Is it a reference to a specific notorious event, like "jump the shark" is?
posted by Chocolate Pickle to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Here is an article on the origins. As far as I can tell, it has always been metaphorical.

And I always think of Pacino when I hear this term. HOOO-AHHHHH!!
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:39 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

From worddetective.com:
"Scenery chewing" is, as you might suspect, hardly a new phenomenon, and chances are that quite a few of the plays presented in Ancient Greece were marred by over-enthusiastic performances. But the phrase "chew the scenery" itself is an American invention and apparently dates back only to the late 19th century, the first print citation found so far being from 1895. The idiom almost certainly originated on the theatrical stage, where an overly-dramatic actor's fervid antics might well have been metaphorically likened to seizing and biting pieces of the painted scenic backdrop.
I've always assumed the same thing -- it's just a funny way of saying that someone's performance was so flamboyant that one could envision them gnawing on the curtains.

On the other hand, nobody online seems to be able to agree on the earliest reference (I also saw 1891 and 1894), so maybe there really was somebody back in the nineteenth century who literally chewed scenery.
posted by Sara C. at 4:40 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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