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Adam’s off ox

  • The phrase Adam’s off ox is mostly used in the idiom don’t know someone from Adam’s off ox. This is considered a regionalism of the United States, though its origin is unknown. We will examine the meaning of the idiom Adam’s off ox, where it might be derived from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    The phrase don’t know someone from Adam’s off ox means the speaker is not acquainted with the person, that the person is a stranger to him. The idea incorporates the imagery of Adam, the first created human according to the Old Testament of the Bible, and an off ox. An off ox is the draft animal in a team that is situated on the right, the farthest away from the driver. The driver places the most experienced draft animal closest to his guiding leads, hoping that the off ox will simply follow what the lead animal does. The off ox’ habits and idiosyncrasies would not be as well known to the driver, as it would be harder for him to observe the off ox. The off ox often does not have the best footing in a situation, and may stumble. Also, the off ox is not as prized as the near ox, and the idiom poor as Adam’s off ox was popular for awhile. The idiom don’t know someone from Adam also means that the speaker is not acquainted with the person, and the phrase seems to be older than the idiom don’t know someone from Adam’s off ox. The adding of the expression off ox seems to have been a colorful emphasis tacked on to the phrase don’t know someone from Adam. Other regionalisms that embellish the original phrase include don’t know someone from Adam’s house cat, and don’t know someone from Adam’s grandmother. Though the idiom don’t know someone from Adam’s off ox has been in use since at least the latter 1880s, it did not emerge into popular culture until Bill Clinton used the term in the 1990s. Today, the idiom don’t know someone from Adam’s off ox is losing popularity, but the phrase don’t know someone from Adam is still strong. Note that the word Adam’s is capitalized, as it is a proper name, and is spelled with an apostrophe, as it is a possessive noun.

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    Examples

    “Mr. Mann, you don’t know me from Adam’s off ox,” Sample began. (The Los Angeles Times)

    The next year, reporters rang DARE when President Bill Clinton said a critic didn’t know him “from Adam’s off-ox.” (The Wall Street Journal)

    At one point, Mary is called an “idiot” by her mother, which is hilarious, and we finally understand what Nick the Bartender (future TV mogul Sheldon Leonard) says when he doesn’t recognize George, “I don’t know you from Adam’s off ox.” (Hollywood Chicago)

    “I didn’t know this group from Adam’s house cat when they approached me, but they have been a great business to work with and they have bent over to try to accommodate the neighborhoods around them,” Defoor told a Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce gathering Tuesday to mark the groundbreaking for the $30 million development. (The Chattanooga Times Free Press)

    I am doing that in solidarity with Akinwunmi Ambode, and, will very soon, transfer that allegiance to his likely successor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, even though I don’t know him from Adam. (The Sun News)


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