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What is a far cry, and what is its origin?

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For contextual examples: fairly decent modern Rush song youtube.com/watch?v=7S9uNxUI9ng – Peter Turner Dec 27 '10 at 6:53
up vote 12 down vote accepted

A far cry is literally a distance that is quite far to try to call across; in other words, a great distance. The term is used to compare two (usually abstract) things that are vastly different from one another, as in:

Old English is a far cry from the English we speak today.

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The OED says a far cry is a very long distance and quotes Walter Scott's Tales of My Landlord (1819):

One of the Campbells replied, ‘It is a far cry to Lochow’; a proverbial expression of the tribe, meaning that their ancient hereditary domains lay beyond the reach of an invading enemy.

They contrast it with the older within cry, meaning within calling distance, and quote William Lithgow's Totall Discourse Trav. (1632):

Villages and Houses..each one was within cry of another.

You can read this text here.

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