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beat bobtail

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beat bobtail v phr [Prob orig euphem for beat the devil on the basis of Bobtail, a common name or nickname for a racehorse. The extended form beat Bobtail, who beat the Devil (and varr) is prob a later expansion. The folktale that appears to explain this form (see quots 1934, 1978) belongs to an old and widespread type, but the identification of the characters as Bobtail and the Devil in these versions is likely derived from the expression rather than vice versa.] chiefly Sth

To surpass all competition, esp, to be supremely surprising or outrageous; hence adv phr to beat bobtail to an extreme degree, “to beat the band.”
1835 Richmond Whig & Pub. Advt. (VA) 10 Apr [2]/5, Claiborne we are told will get nearly clean vote in Franklin. He can beat Bob Tail, who beat the Devil, or Jackson himself, in that county. 1836 Gift Christmas 1837 23, I heard our captain exclaim, ‘Well, that beats Bobtail!’ a favourite expression of his when anything turned up to surprise him. 1845 Richmond Whig & Pub. Advt. (VA) 1 July [2]/3, But that the venerable organ at Washington should tune his pipes in defence of Proscription, beats bobtail! 1898 Lloyd Country Life 47 AL, Blev Scroggins was mixin’ around among the various delegates . . to beat bobtail. 1908 Dallas Morning News (TX) 16 Aug 16/4, It does beat bobtail how a mother, and sometimes a father, will grieve over the absence of a son so unutterably selfish. [1934 Jrl. Amer. Folkl. 47.292, The Crop Division—The Devil and Bobtail took a notion to make a crap together. So they planted them out a crap o’ corn.] 1945 Hench Coll. eNC, A fellow-teacher and friend, raised in eastern North Carolina, told me of the proverb That beats bobtail meaning that beats the devil. Sometimes the proverb has a longer form: That beats bobtail and everybody knows what bobtail beats. When I asked my informant what bobtail meant, he said that he did not know. 1954 Ibid seVA, A native Virginian (raised in Norfolk) was speaking of something that surprised him a great deal, something that he could not comprehend. Summing up his impression, he said, “Doesn’t it beat bobtail—for him to do that!” 1978 Dance Shuckin’ & Jivin’ 196 [Black], Bobtail Beat the Devil—They had a saying: they say that “You beat Bobtail and Bobtail beat the Devil.” So the way it come about, say the Devil and the Rabbit (we call him Bobtail, you know) got to talkin’. Say the Rabbit said to the Devil, say, “I tell ya what let’s do, Mr Devil.” Say, “Let’s go in croppin’ together this year. We gon’ plant corn.” He say, “You have all the bottom; I’ll have all the tops.”
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