history of can't beat it with a stick?
January 16, 2006 8:35 AM   Subscribe

What's the origin of the phrase "couldn't (can't) beat it with a stick"?
posted by dial-tone to Education (8 answers total)
Response by poster: My girlfriend and I were discussing this and couldn't come up with a possible story as it is used as a positive. My guess was that it had to do with cooking.
posted by dial-tone at 9:19 AM on January 16, 2006

I always assumed it was just a pun. "Can't be beat" means number one, but "beat" can also mean "physically assault" so it's just saying it REALLY can't be beat. Probably someone else here will come up with some more nifty historical goodness.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2006

It's combining two definitions for the word beat. You start with a phrase like "Our waffles can't be beat!", in which beat means to best or triumph over. Beat can also mean bludgeon, as in "beat with a stick." The two definitions are thus humorously combined--the waffles cannot be bested and cannot be beaten, even with a stick or the like.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 9:28 AM on January 16, 2006

or what dagnyscott said.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 9:28 AM on January 16, 2006

Which reminds me of the motto for Culver City Meats: "Nobody beats our meat!"
posted by GarageWine at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2006

As far as the origins of 'can't be beat', I wouldn't be surprised if it came from the 19th century credit rating industry. It's where we get other terms like 'first-rate,' 'good-for-nothing,' or 'a good egg.' These terms started as descriptions of an individual's credit and then semantic shift moved them into moral descriptions. For more on this, check out the excellent book Born Losers.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2006

It mmay have been derived from the practice of bear baiting.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2006

Yes, it's just a joke that has devolved into a ubiquitous phrase.
posted by occhiblu at 11:19 AM on January 16, 2006

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