A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

Recent entries:
“How does gold get your attention?"/"It shouts Au!” (6/18)
“How do you get gold’s attention?"/"You yell Au.” (6/18)
“Why did man invent curling?"/"To convince women sweeping was a sport.” (6/18)
“Astronaut 1: I can’t find any milk. Astronaut 2: In space, no one can. Here, use cream” (6/18)
Jersey Italian Gravy (6/18)
More new entries...

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


Entry from February 05, 2009
“In the soup”

"In the soup” means to be in the thick of troubles; the slang phrase achieved nationwide popularity in the fall of the election year of 1888.

The phrase was popularized in New York City, and various theories have been proposed about the phrase’s origin. One theory is that “in the soup” began at a Polo Grounds baseball game in June 1888; another theory is that it began when a Hoffman House waiter spilled soup; another theory had it that when the fighter Kilrain’s ship was denied entry into New York harbor, some toughs took a tugboat to meet him, with one falling off the tug into the river or “in the soup.” There are various German phrases that are similar to “in the soup.”

The November 16, 1888 explanation (below) claims that the term “in the soup” had been used in a variety sketch. This is difficult to verify, but the details of this explanation make it a serious contender for the true origin of the “in the soup” phrase.


(Oxford English Dictionary)
in the soup, in a difficulty. orig. U.S.
1889 Lisbon (Dakota) Star 26 Apr. 4/2 After collecting a good deal of money, the scoundrels suddenly left town, leaving many persons in the soup.
1898 Pall Mall Mag. Nov. 420 Of course he knows we’re in the soup—beastly ill luck.
1915 J. BUCHAN Thirty-Nine Steps ii. 37, I was in the soupthat was pretty clear.
1917 LLOYD GEORGE Let. 31 July (1973) 184 Henderson has now put us into the soup & there is no knowing what will happen.
1939 H. G. WELLS Holy Terror I. ii. 38 We’re in the soup… We’ve got to do 1914 over again.
1968 Listener 23 May 660/3 You find you may want to move a group of pictures..to a different part of the building, and if the rooms over there are designed for quite a different kind of picture, you’re rather in the soup.
1977 C. MCCULLOUGH Thorn Birds xvii. 455, I do feel very sorry for her, and it makes me more determined than ever not to land in the same soup she did.

1 September 1888, New York (NY) Times, pg. 8:
McLaughlin won with King Crab in the easiest possible fashion, and Speedwell finished “in the soup.”

8 November 1888, Trenton (NJ) Times, pg. 3, col. 2:
Editor TRENTON TIMES
Will you have the kindness to explain to several curious young ladies jsut what the meanings are of the phrases “In the Soup” and “In the Blivvy”? We have observed them frequently of late in the newspapers, and also on the transparencies carried by the political clubs, but, after failing to elicit their meaning from the professors, we have decided to take this bold step, and appeal to you to gratify our curiousity.
A MODEL GIRL.

In answer to the above queries we would say that “In the Soup” had its first appearance in the vernacular of slang at the Hoffman House, in New York, when an awkward waiter stumbled and fell while carrying an urn of soup through the dining room. As he fell the scalding liquid flew over his head and face, and he ran from the room in great pain. A gentleman turning to Tom Ochiltree, who was dining with him, asked what was the matter with the waiter, and the wit replied “He’s in the soup.” The waiter, of course, lost his position, and grumbled because he thought he had not received proper treatment. The politicians took the phrase up and have applied it to defeated candidates, and the parallel is easily seen.

“In the Blivvy” had its origin at Sea Girt last Summer during the encampment of the State militia, and a prominent non-commissioned officer of Company A, of the Seventh Reiment, is held responsible for it. Just what it means no one knows, not even the soldiers. But there are to roads leading from Squan village to Sea Girt. One is very narrow and rough but a short cut to camp, while the other is broad and smooth but a long way around, and is known as the “Blivvy” road. The young ladies must pardon us for refraining from expressing an inference or interpreting what we might consider to be the literal meaning of the phrase.

16 November 1888, Syracuse (NY) Daily Standard, pg. 3, col. 2:
Traced to the Green-Room.
From the Buffalo Express.
The Boston Herald, speaking without knowledge, says: “The origin of that latest bit of slang, ‘in the soup,’ promises to remain eveloped in mystery. There is nothing said about it in Burt’s ‘Short Sayings of Great Men,’ and other authorities are equally silent on the subject. Several people have undertaken to explain whence it was derived, but they fail to agree. it baffles all the commentators and the pundits. Give them as easier one.” The Express some months ago gave an explanation which cannot be questioned, though it has been obscured by the New York Sun. In the first place, “in the soup” is not a bit of slang, except to the general ear. it has been the property of green-rooms for three years at least and is about five years old. It originated in a variety sketch played by George and Marie Nelson. George is an unsophisticated darkey with a truculent razor. Marie tries to frighten him with the assurance that skeletons haunt her mother’s boarding house at night. George replies that he is indifferent to such apparitions, as his mother used to put “skilligans” (skeletons) in the soup. Then he chasesMarie with the property razor. Marie stifles her fears by asserting that he mother puts razors in the soup. The idea is that in cheap boarding houses “everything goes”—“in the soup.” The Nelsons are very funny people, and their pet phrase soon furnished another bye-word to the members of a profession who are always ready to catch gags from one another. “In the soup” became a green room synonym for dejection, despondency, defeat. In time it leaked out into the big world.

12 December 1888, Edwardsville (IL) Intelligencer, pg. 4, col. 2:
That the latest slang is, “In the soup,” and is used to designate a fellow in any difficulty.

12 December 1888, Waterloo (iowa) Courier, pg. 4, col. 2:
The latest slang phrase is “in the soup.” For example: Cleveland’s “in the soup.” This is an admirable substitute for “in the hole.” We are right glad that the old chestnut has been discarded. One only wonder is that the inventor of “in the soup” did not come to the front before. 

19 April 1889, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 2:
“In the Soup” Ancient German.
From an Exschange.
That more or less popular phrase, “in the soup,” it may not be generally known, has long been in use in different forms among the Germans. For instance, “der sitzt in der bruhe: ("he sits in the soup"); “er hat sich eine schone supper eingebrockt” ("he has made a nice soup for himself,” meaning he has put himself in a “bad fix"); and “er mussidie eingebrockte suppe selbst essne” ("he must eat the soup he has cooked himself.")

Google Books
Fact, Fancy and Fable
Compiled by Henry Frederic Reddall
Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Company
1892
Pg. 273:
In the Soup. phrase which obtained wide currency during the political campaign of 1888. The phrase indicates embarrassment, disappointment, demoralization, discomfiture, or defeat, moral, material, or political. Like many other slang phrases, it may mean almost anything, because it means nothing. A defeated candidate for President is “in the soup;” so are the men who bet and lost thousands on him, the defaulting banker, the embarrassed merchant, the jilted lover, the young lady surprised in her curl-papers, the truckster whose stand isupset, the market-woman who drops her basket, the watchman who is caught asleep on his post, the newsboy who gets “stuck” on papers, the boot-black whose loose change runs out through a hole in his pocket. In short, everybody who “gets left” is “in the soup.” It is a very ridiculous phrase, and not a very nice one, but slang knows no law. One account of its origin is that it first achieved popularity June 8, 1888, in New York, at the polo grounds during a game of ball between New York and Chicago. The members of the Chicago club made their appearance in full-dress suits, and were dubbed waiters by the crowd. Chicago suffered an ignominious defeat, by the score of 19 to 2, whereupon somebody remarked that “the waiters were in the soup.” The phrase spread through the crowd like wildfire. Still later, in the autumn of the same year, a certain pugilist arrived at New York from Europe. The Cunarder “Etruria,” with the pugilist aboard, lay in the darkness off Quarantine, waiting for morning; and a tug with Kilrain’s friends aboard was hovering about, anxious to get the fighter off and bring him up to the city. The captain of the “Etruria” had announced that no such drunken crew should come anywhere near his vessel. The disconsolate but not unhappy crowd on the tug had to content itself with howling greetings to Kilrain across a watery gulf that separated the two vessels. One of the men on he tug was so anxious to get as near the fighter as possible that he tumbled overboard. One of his companions, witnessing this act, balanced himself against the rail and called out, “Ho! Johnson’s fell in de soup!” There is yet another possible origin, which antedates the two foregoing. In 1866 James Greenwood, a London journalist, wanted to learn the treatment men received in the casual wards; so he dressed himself one night as a tramp and went to St. Giles’s casual. When he wrote about it he spoke of the men having to take a bath; when it came to his turn he said the water looked like soup, it was so thick. From this it got to be a byword in London; boys going (Pg. 274—ed.) bathing would say they were going “into the soup.” But the New York “Sun” says the phrase is much older than 1866, and comes to us from the German.

Google Books
Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities
By William S. Walsh
Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Company
1893
Pg. 1022:
Soup, In the, a slang phrase which first made its appearance in colloquial American-English about 1887. In meaning it is closely akin to the slang expression “to get left.”

In Germany, “in die Suppe fallen” (literally, “to fall in the soup"), and “Er ist in die Suppe” ("He is in the soup"), are time-honored proverbial expressions for being in a pickle or stuck in the mud. Similar German phrases are “die Supe ausessen mussen” ("to be olbiged to eat the soup or broth one had prepared for one’s self,”—i.e., “to suffer disagreeable consequenced of one’s unwise action") and “die Suppe versalzen” (literally, “to salt one’s soup,”—i.e., “to preapre a disappointment for one"). So also “eine bose Suppe einbrocken” (einbrocken denotes the act of breaking bread into the soup, and the whole phrase may be translated, “to prepare a disagreeable mess") has a meaning cognate to the English proverbialism “to put a rod in pickle” for one.

It is quite possible, therefore, that the phrase is of German-American origin.

The German etymon is not incompatible with the story given in the Evening Post, December 9, 1888, according to which a party of toughs went down New York Harbor on a tug to welcome a notorious prize-fighter who was expected to arrive from Europe. The captain of the steamer refused to allow the undesirable boat-load to come very close to his vessel, and one enthusiast, in his vociferous efforts to get near the object of his admiration, fell over the rail of the tug into the water. It was near dark, and naturally great excitement prevailed, which being noticed from the steamer, the boat was hailed to find out what had happened. “Oh, nothing much,” replied a tough (who might have been a German-American), sententiously: “somebody’s in de soup.” The phrase was caught up and immediately became popular.

Google Books
28 November 1896, The Medical and Surgical Reporter, “Modern Slang in Shakespeare,” pg. 692:
“In the soup,” to express defeat and disaster, is apprarently very recent, and yet it is singularly like the language of Pompey in Measure for Measure (Act III, Scene II.), when he says, “Troth, sir, she hath eaten up all her beef, and she is herself in the tub.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Thursday, February 05, 2009 • Permalink