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Just as the title says — where, and how, did the phrase 'stone the crows' originate?

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I bet this book has a good answer. –  Hugo May 4 '12 at 18:46
I've never heard it used in America (or in any American literature for that matter, in which I'm reasonably well-read). The only place I've encountered it is in an Australian novel written in the 1970s but set in 1900. –  Tess Aug 21 '12 at 19:17
I can set that back a couple of decades: When Walt Kelly's Pogo and his friends went to the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 they encountered a kangaroo named Basher who was given to saying "stone the crows". –  StoneyB Aug 21 '12 at 23:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Etymonline offers no insight. The British National Corpus has three cites from 1989, 1991, and 1992. The Corpus of Historical American English has two cites, from 1981 and 1986. Wiktionary doesn't say anything about etymology, but marks the phrase as UK, Australian, and has a much older cite from Rose Of Spadgers by C. J. Dennis, 1924. The most extensive discussion I have found so far is over at The Phrase Finder:

There have been a few attempts to explain the origin of this odd phrase. [...] The more prosaic suggestion — that it alludes to the practise of throwing stones at crows — is much more likely.

I've found mid-20th century references from England that describe it as an Americanism and American newspaper articles that call it 'an old English phrase'. The dates of those are more or less right but not the locations — the phrase appears to have originated in Australia. Most of the early citations in print come from down under. It has a sort of Australian twang to it and is in common with several other similar phrases, all with the same meaning: starve the bardies [bardies are grubs], stiffen the crows, spare the crow.

Partridge also lists "starve the bardies or lizards or mopokes or wombats", marking them all as Australian expletives, and noting that "Wombats may also be speeded".

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Ok, but what do all of these sayings mean?? –  Marthaª Dec 6 '10 at 18:09
@Martha: that isn't part of the original question (^_^), but that Phrase Finder entry says "Meaning: An exclamation of incredulity or annoyance", and Partridge says "Aus. exclam., mostly joc.". –  RegDwigнt Dec 6 '10 at 18:22
@Martha: In retrospect, I probably should have included that in the question ;). –  Benubird Dec 7 '10 at 9:27

I believe it is "soundalike" - like how Cor Blimey sounds like "God Blind Me" (in certain accents) - for "Christ on the cross". If you didn't say the "cry" part, the rest pretty much matches. I base this on the habit of various elderly male relatives of mine from England to actually say "Christ on the cross" when they hit their thumb with a hammer or other situations that needed lots of syllables to indicate your sweariness. ("Jesus, Mary and Joseph" was also a good one for those times.) Seems these days we just say the same swearword 6 times instead of extending to a phrase, so having substitutes for the phrases may not make sense any more.

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