"Boardinghouse reach” (also “boarding house reach") is when someone reaches across the dinner table for an item, rather than politely asking for it. In boarding houses in the early 1900s, boarders ate at large tables. “Boarding house reach” is cited in print in 1907 and might have been popularized at actors’ boarding houses at that time. Those boarding houses have mostly disappeared, although the term “boardinghouse reach” is still used.
“Boardinghouse reach” has gone beyond the dinner table and is used when someone reaches far out to grab something, such as a baseball player reaching for a baseball or even a country invading another country.
“Cut up like boarding house pie” (many small pieces) is another boarding house expression.
boardinghouse reach (plural boardinghouse reaches)
1. The ability to reach a long distance across a table to get desired food.
He developed his boardinghouse reach in the oil fields.
2. The inconsiderate act of reaching across a neighboring diner to retrieve a distant item at the table (considered poor etiquette).
Reaching across fellow diners for food instead of asking them to pass it. For example, At holiday meals when the whole family is gathered, Dad always scolds at least one child for his boardinghouse reach. This term alludes to the formerly common boardinghouse practice of seating all the residents at one large table and to the rudeness of those who simply reached across others to help themselves. Heard less often today, it is not quite obsolete. [c. 1900]
Wikipedia: Boarding house
A boarding house, also known as a “rooming house” (mainly in the United States) or a “lodging house”, is a house (often a family home) in which people on vacation or lodgers rent one or more rooms for one or more nights, and sometimes for extended periods of weeks, months and years. Years ago the boarders would typically share washing, breakfast and dining facilities; in recent years it has become common for each room to have its own washing and toilet facilities. Such boarding houses were often found in English seaside towns (for holidaymakers) and college towns (for students).
(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
boardinghouse reach n. (see 1992 quot.)
1947 in Botkin Sidewalks 241 [ref. to ca1900]: The “boardinghouse reach” at the dining room table was supposed, in the popular idea of humor, to be necessary to overcome restrictions as to food in boarding-houses.
1960 N.Y.C. woman, age ca70: He’s got a boardinghouse reach.
1992 N.Y.C. woman, age ca 60: My family use boardinghouse reach in the 1930’s. It meant when you reach rudely across the table to take something instead of requesting someone politely to pass it. They’d say, “Look at that boardinghouse reach.”
At the Actors’ Boarding House
And Other Stories
By Helen Green
New York, NY: Brentano’s
He also foraged, having a true boarding house reach, and gathered in four dill pickles, some potatoes and the bread, which he shoved across to the little soubrette.
7 January 1908, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “A Municipal Ownership Joke,” pg.II4:
So-called reformers who have a “boardinghouse reach” for all the municipal pie in eight, object to the term “half-baked.” Its application to themselves makes them boil and thus they accomplish a cooking impossibility. No wonder they get heated and finally land in the stew as “come-backs.”
22 August 1909, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, sporting section, pg. 9, cols. 2-3:
EGGS JUMPING BEYOND
BOARDING HOUSE REACH
Advance in Price may Make Eggnog More Ex-
pensive Than Champagne, or More Costly
Than Canvasback or Terrapin.
10 October 1909, Washington (DC) Times, pg. 10, cols. 2-3:
When Wagner attempted to steal third in the sixth inning Schmidt made a miserable throw to third, but Moriarty pulled it out of the wilderness of left field by a boarding-house reach and tagged the astonished Dutchman.
19 April 1910, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 7 ad:
“The Boarding House Reach”
is developed in various ways—principally in reaching for
16 July 1921, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette, pg. 8, col. 3:
BUNNY ALLEN brought the boarding house reach into play in the eighth when he raced across the foul line and grabbed Brownlow’s fly with his gloved hand.
Human Nature in the Bible
By William Lyon Phelps
New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons
In Chapter XXXI we receive a lesson in behaviour at meals, in which greediness and the famous “boarding-house reach” are both condemned. No woman should marry a man until she has seen him eating.
Google News Archive
19 July 1923, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, pg. 1, col. 4:
One of the 12 with a boarding house reach grabbed for the pot of money in the center of table.
15 July 1933, Washington (DC) Post, “18,000 Meals Served Daily a St. Elizabeths Hospital” by John J. Daly, pg. 3:
Instead of the old “congregate” dining room, with hundreds of patients making one grand rush for seats, and using the old boarding-house reach for their foodstuffs, usually served to them cold as a landlady’s heart, the men and women now go into those cozy little dining rooms that surround a main kitchen…
16 September 1933, Washington (DC) Post, ‘Return of Training Table Aim of Big Ten Football Coaches,” pg. 17:
The football training table, banned by the Big Ten grid officials after causing a storm that nearly shattered the conference, may come back with all its trimmings and boarding house reaches.
22 November 1935, Christian Science Monitor, “Washington and Tulsa Strive to Remain Unbeaten,” pg. 15:
The Cowboys may have as hard a time as the Tigers did in stopping bounding Bob Hudgens, Bear halfback, when scores are within boarding-house reach.
3 May 1942, New York (NY) Times, pg. E3:
BOARDING HOUSE REACH.
(An editorial cartoon, from a Pittsburgh newspaper, is given this title—ed.)
Monday, Aug. 05, 1946
The Red Army’s sweep through Manchuria swept up, among other industrial loot, a Japanese optical-goods factory at Mukden.