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We might say that someone who is exceptionally chatty can "talk a blue streak." What is the origin and meaning of this phrase? Is it generally insulting, or a nice way of saying someone is a chatterbox?

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It seems to me that this is in reference to turning blue at the lack of oxygen from speaking too much to take a breath. –  Muse May 30 '11 at 18:58

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According to The Word Detective in all likelihood, the term did arise by analogy to the speed and force of a bolt of lightning, especially in “talk a blue streak,” meaning to speak rapidly and excitedly. The “blue” in “curse a blue streak” probably also invokes “blue” in the sense of “obscene.” So it it is not really insulting when you say that somebody talks a blue streak, it is just an informal way of saying that he/she talks very fast and endlessly and very often aimlessly.

To curse/swear a blue streak means to speak rapidly, too, but using swear/curse words. Cursing/swearing a blue streak is usually an outburst-- a retort or angry reaction, and short-lived. However, it can also mean using a lot of swear words repeatedly over a period of time: My teenager has been cursing a blue streak during the past month means that he/she has been using a lot of swear words, and often.

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The negativity in 'to curse a blue streak' comes from 'curse', not 'blue'. A 'blue streak' can be used productively in many non-obscene contexts. –  Mitch May 27 '11 at 21:15
    
@Mitch: I have never observed that. In my experience, "a blue streak" always refers to profanity; and similarly "turn the air blue", or in the rather dated euphemism "blue movie". –  Marcin May 30 '11 at 21:53
    
@Marcin: a simple on-line look-up contradicts you: "blue streak". None of the examples there involve profanity. –  Mitch May 31 '11 at 13:48
    
@Mitch: This source does not appear to be a comprehensive survey of English usage. –  Marcin May 31 '11 at 16:50
    
@Marcin: that source (dubitable as it is from the internet) mentions McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs and Cambridge Idioms Dictionary as sources. I don't know if they're comprehensive. Can you come up with any references where 'blue streak' implies profanity or obscenity, however light, when profanity or obscenity is not already a matter? (e.g. "talks a blue streak" with the implication of talking "blue"). –  Mitch May 31 '11 at 18:41

Talking or cursing a blue streak is when somebody is so wound up in something they're talking and talking and talking or cussing or cussing or cussing so hard they run clear out of breath and keep on talking and talking and talking or cussing and cussing and -- until their face starts turning blue from lack of oxygen and they just can't seem to stop until they see stars from lack of oxygen and maybe even pass clear out on the ground. Now, that's a 'blue streak'.

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