What's the etymology of "Tall Drink of Water"?
August 14, 2006 2:06 PM   Subscribe

What's the origin/etymology of the phrase "Tall Drink of Water", usually in reference to an attractive southern woman?
posted by SpecialK to Writing & Language (21 answers total)
"As refreshing as a tall drink of water on a hot afternoon" is how I always heard it.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2006

I don't know, but I've heard it used to describe men, too.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2006

I've heard it more in the context of describing men than women.
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:15 PM on August 14, 2006

This doesn't answer your question, but following from this AskMe question from today, this Yahoo answer is hilarious. As is this thread.
posted by meerkatty at 2:15 PM on August 14, 2006

I've only used it heard for men. For women I've heard a "cool drink of water," not "tall".
posted by Miko at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2006

I've never heard it used to describe a southern woman. Maybe more in the past? But as others have said, I have heard it used many times describing a male.
posted by justgary at 2:17 PM on August 14, 2006

I have heard it used to refer to a woman, for whatever that is worth. She was tall, and a looker.
posted by caddis at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2006

posted by evariste at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: caddis - Yep, that's the context it's in. I hadn't heard it before I moved to Texas, and I've heard it a few times since.
posted by SpecialK at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2006

SpecialK-after a long, hot and humid day in the South, there's nothing like a tall cold glass of water. I think that's the long and the short of it: when a woman is so outstandingly good-looking that she evokes that same feeling. It's a matter of contrast: hot day, thirst, then a tall glass of water. Normal looking people, working with sweaty men all day, then you see a beautiful woman.

youcancallmeal-I've only heard it in reference to women...
posted by evariste at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2006

I've heard it in reference to men and women: someone tall, slender, and attractive in a cool, laid-back way.
posted by scody at 2:41 PM on August 14, 2006

Gonna be 'puter-deprived fer a spell, but y'all might try searching for the phrase "long drink of water," which is how I've always heard it.
posted by rob511 at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: The term exists in two forms: long drink of water and tall drink of water. Most dictionaries do not have the expression and no dictionary I checked has any speculation about the etymology of the term. The Historical Dictionary of American Slang defines the term as "a tall man" and has a first citation of 1936, but with minimal effort I've been able to antedate it possibly to 1904, though it's not a strict use of it in metaphor:

1904 Daily Huron (South Dakota) "Makes a Big Hit" (May 7) p. 3: Then there is baby Patti, who is not much larger than a long drink of water and who is a marvel for a child.

The earliest for certain citation I have is this.

1924 Times (London, England) "The Speaker Defied" (May 10) p. 12: Mr. Kirkwood addressed his reproof to Lord Winterton, who, along with his colleagues, had protested against the defiance of the speaker's ruling. "Ye are not treating with Indians, ye big long drink of water," he shouted. Immediately the Speaker reproved the member for Dumbarton.

Another newspaper that quoted the same thing indicates that the speaker, Kirkwood, is a Scottish Labor party member, as also indicated by the "ye." There's nothing about the expression in the Dictionary of Scots Language.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:20 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

A brief look at Google images suggests the phrase is more often used to describe tall, built men, than attractive, possibly tall women.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:36 PM on August 14, 2006

I first heard it applied to a male anthropomorphic mouse on Pinky & The Brain:

-You're a tall drink of water, aint'cha darlin'?
-Actually, I'm a lab mouse on stilts.

posted by Iridic at 5:59 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and a modern usage that I stumbled across:

Rascal Flatts, "Dry County Girl":

A tall drink of water
in a cotton dress
That preacher's daughter
She sure is blessed
As sunlight passes
through the fabric so soft
you can imagine
what goes through my thoughts
She says,
There'll be a time
for all of that
When my dress is white
and your suit is black.
posted by SpecialK at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2006

Maybe John Crowley would know.

She was tall.

She was nearly six feet tall, which was several inches taller than Smoky; her sister, just turned fourteen, was as tall as he. Their party dresses were short, and glittered, hers red, her sister's white; their long, long stockings glistened. What was odd was that tall as they were they were shy, especially the younger, who smiled but wouldn't take Smoky's hand, only turned away further behind her sister.

Delicate giantesses. The older glanced toward George as he made debonair introductions. Her smile was tentative. Her hair was red-gold and curly-fine. Her name, George said, was Daily Alice.

He took her hand, looking up. "A long drink of water," he said, and she began to laugh. Her sister laughed too, and George Mouse bent down and slapped his knee. Smoky, not knowing why the old chestnut should be so funny, looked from one to another with a seraphic idiot's grin, his hand unrelinquished.

It was the happiest moment of his life.

It had not been, until he met Daily Alice Drinkwater in the library of the Mouse townhouse, a life particularly charged with happiness; but it happened to be a life suited just right for the courtship he then set out on. He was the only child of his father's second marriage, and was...

posted by bleary at 8:37 PM on August 14, 2006

Ohmygosh, bleary, thank you for the quotation from "Little, Big." The phrase defines Daily Alice just perfectly. Gonna have to read that novel again (for about the fifth time).

I've heard the term before, btw, usually in reference to, well, a tall person (don't remember it being particularly male or female oriented, just someone tall).
posted by lhauser at 9:03 PM on August 14, 2006

(I thought of Smoky and Alice first thing for this question! I want to reread LB too. and I just reread all of his Aegypt books because of this.)
posted by bleary at 9:33 PM on August 14, 2006

In Scotland, a long drink of water is an ineffectual, gormless, glaikit person.
posted by the cuban at 9:01 AM on August 15, 2006

Follow-up: Ben Zimmer uncovered many other early uses of the term.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2006

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