Thursday, February 28, 2008

"To peel the bark off" somebody?

Everybody's heard about Bill Cunningham, who introduced McCain in Cincinnati the other day. He was hurling more crap than your average monkey can, including a demand that the media “peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama.” The phrase has been bugging me since.

I have a pretty good repertoire of colorful sayings, but couldn't make a connection here. But Joseph Cummins at Anythingforavote notes an important precedent, from the 1988 presidential race:
Bush's campaign manager Lee Atwater famously said, re Dukakis: "I'll strip the bark off that little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate."
Still, what exactly does the phrase mean? The Dictionary of American Regional English has the noun bark meaning 'scalp' and to bark meaning 'to scalp', as well as to kill a squirrel by shooting off the limb it's on. I fervently hope this has nothing to do with any of that — and if it does, Cunningham should be in a lot more trouble than he is.

Atwater's quote sounds to me like he's going to destroy Dukakis, which could continue the old meaning(s). The recent use sounds like it's about exposing what the speaker assumes to be the real Obama.

Any ideas on what's going on here?

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

He is very careful to discover the lining of his coat, that you may not suspect any want of integrity or flaw in him from the skin outwards. His tailor is his creator, and makes him of nothing; and though he lives by faith in him, he is perpetually committing iniquities against him. His soul dwells in the outside of him, like that of a hollow tree, and if you do but peel the bark off him he deceases immediately. His carriage of himself is the wearing of his clothes, and, like the cinnamon tree, his bark is better than his body. His looking big is rather a tumour than greatness.

From 'The Laughing Philosopher: Being the Entire Works of Momus, Jester' By John Bull, Thomas
Hood, Charles Lamb. Sherwood and Jones, London, 1825.

Mr. Verb said...

Wow. Thanks. That would fit with what Cunningham seemed to mean, but that's way more sophistication than he sounds like he could muster.

...tom... said...

Perhaps another clue here:

The bark protects the tree; it is a protective covering. Human statements, especially those originating from politicians or corporation, often have a protective covering. What is being covered is, of course, simultaneously the truth (covered) and the politician's hind end (protected). Getting the bark off is not always easy. Don't do this to trees, however, as they really need their bark.

That site is excellent for investigating phrase origins and meanings.


Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. That's dead on target, it sounds like. So, it's pretty well established.