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I have recently heard that phrase (touch the blue paper) from a native English speaker¹. Is it an erroneous alteration of the expression light the blue touchpaper or is it a correct² phrase in its own right?

1. from the West Midlands, if that matters. 2. by correct, I mean in current idiomatic usage

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It sounds to me like he has misquoted 'Light the blue touch-paper', as you suspected. There is no such idiom as 'touch the blue paper'. Nobody's perfect!

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I've never heard of either expression. Where do they come from? –  morganpdx Jan 31 '11 at 20:54
It means 'to set something off', especially an angry or excited reaction. It refers to the saltpetre-saturated paper used to ignite fireworks and other explosives. Only 'light the blue touch-paper' is actually an idiom, the other is a mistake. –  user3444 Jan 31 '11 at 20:57

It's an alteration of light the blue touch paper. Blue touch paper is a type of fuse used in explosives. The phrase light the blue touch paper thus gives the imagery of doing something which causes a figurative explosion of emotion.

Blue paper has no special significance, nor does touching blue paper. The closest you could get is touching a blueprint (a construction plan for a building), and there's no special significance to touching those as well.

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My first thought was the blue/pink result you get from a litmus test, but I have no knowledge of that having any sort of idiomatic usage. –  morganpdx Jan 31 '11 at 21:03
+1. Thanks for the derivation! –  Upvote Law Area 51 Proposal Aug 30 at 18:23

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