Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I used the phrase "open-and-shut" today, as in, "It's not an open-and-shut case", meaning that the item under discussion has not been decided and the outcome is not obvious.

I don't think I've ever heard the positive, only the negative. "It's not an open-and-shut case" seems to be the idiomatic way to use the phrase. I'm curious:

  1. What's the origin of "open-and-shut"?
  2. What's the origin of the idiomatic usage, "not an open-and-shut case"?
share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Open-and-shut "simple, straightforward" first recorded 1841 in New Orleans.

No further information on the origin of this phrase is available from the other sources I checked.

Open-and-shut is certainly used in the positive sense. In fact, open-and-shut case is a common expression. Two examples:

And I also discovered that this phrase (open-and-shut) is extremely popular in golfing circles (think Open) with the hyphens dropped (open and shut or Open and shut). Examples (headlines):

share|improve this answer
The 1841 usage is from the newspaper the Picayune (OED) and is "The contest between Humming Bird and Maria Collier was considered all but a ‘dead open and shut game’." –  mgkrebbs Mar 6 '11 at 7:36
@mgkrebbs: Wow, awesome find. You should post this as an answer! –  Jimi Oke Mar 6 '11 at 17:45

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.