Where does this "throwing" action come from when talking about hosting a party?

Throwing usually has to do with hurling something, usually an object (but it could be an emotion: throwing a tantrum). But one also uses the verb when talking about hosting a party: throw a party.

Where does this come from? Did people in the old days host parties by throwing objects?

  • 4
    interesting question
    – Mou某
    May 25 '14 at 13:50
  • 1
    FWIW, Germans also use "eine Party schmeißen".
    – Raphael
    May 27 '14 at 7:17
  • 1
    because... English is WEIRD. It should be packed in a small tiffin and sent to Aliens far away from this multiverse. Cheers! May 27 '14 at 10:33
  • why do albums "drop"?
    – Colin
    May 13 '17 at 5:51

To supplement @njboot's answer.

I offer the consideration that to throw a party was originally an informal quasi spontaneous do. It suggested the idea that the host(s) had just grabbed some cheap booze, snacks and there was going to be lots of music and people.

Consider also the expression: to throw on something, which means to wear whatever happens to be on hand. The "throw" idiom is NOT implying that you hurl objects at someone or something, but that you throw a party on a date, for somebody or at a specific time/place.

  • For example, families of boys named Nicholas throw a party on December 6— Saint Nicholas Day
  • You've simply got to let me throw a party for you, Louise," Sally pleaded. "But why?" Louise asked. "So we can announce your engagement publicly."
  • She can throw a party at a moment's notice and often does.

Ngram chart confirms that the idiom started life in the early 1920s

enter image description here

The earliest reference for "throw a party for" is dated 1921 in The Delta of Sigma Nu Fraternity, Volume 38

  • 6
    Indeed. The world must have been such a boring place before 1917. May 26 '14 at 4:59
  • 7
    @RyeɃreḁd No, no. Before that time, people just "hurled a soirée" or "flung a hoedown" (the latter not to be confused with "flinging a hoe down", which sounds dangerous)
    – Flambino
    May 26 '14 at 14:34
  • So can we assume that the term was coined by college students?
    – Chronicle
    May 26 '14 at 20:36
  • 2
    Here's the whole text, and unfortunately it's yet another case of Google misdating texts. The start of the chapter says "today (1948)". The file begins with the 1907 Fitz Randolph family history book, but after about 150 pages a second book about the Moran family. I'll report the error to Google and HathiTrust (but will only expect a positive response from HathiTrust). It's not unusual for Google to run more than one book together, and serves as a caution against trusting Google snippets!
    – Hugo
    May 27 '14 at 8:00
  • 1
    (Well, Google have made their Google Books feedback channel even worse: now only authors or copyright holders can report issues with books. The authors are dead. There is no copyright. On the other hand, HathiTrust have a helpful popup form to report problems.)
    – Hugo
    May 27 '14 at 8:12

According to the OED, the term dates back to 1922, when Sinclair Lewis used it in Babbitt. I tracked down the passage:

"They and their set worked capably all the week, and all week looked forward to Saturday night, when they would, as they expressed it, “throw a party;” and the thrown party grew noisier and noisier up to Sunday dawn, and usually included an extremely rapid motor expedition to nowhere in particular."

From what I can gather, it seems Lewis used it with the idea of "to toss" in mind, which principally means:

1) [ with obj. ] throw (something) somewhere lightly, easily, or casually

Additionally, it's used as a colloquial term within the passage itself: "as they expressed it, 'throw a party.'"

As defined now, the verb "to throw" includes:

6) [ with obj. ] give or hold (a party).

(Definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)

  • 9
    It's not unknown for people to throw up at a party. May 25 '14 at 14:47
  • 2
    Great research! It takes appreciable effort to uncover the exact passage where a term was first placed into writing. I had no idea that it was initially used in Babbit! May 25 '14 at 20:10
  • 1
    I found a 1916 (and 1917, 1919 and 1920) before Babbit.
    – Hugo
    May 26 '14 at 10:09
  • 1
    @TheodoreBroda It's not necessarily the exact passage where a term was first written down: it's the first place the OED is aware of the term being written. The fact that Lewis doesn't explain the term suggests that it may already have been in common use by then anyway. (And note that all njboot did was track down the exact passage in the novel; the OED did the work of finding which novel to look in.) May 26 '14 at 15:53
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby: The OED or a contributor :)
    – Hugo
    May 27 '14 at 8:14

The OED has "throw a party" from 1922 but I found several antedatings.

It shows up in US university and fraternity magazines in 1919, 1920, 1922. There's also a 1917 in a story in Good Housekeeping.

The earliest I found is from The Scroll of Phi Delta Theta (Volume XL - May 1916 - Number 5 - page 457):

University of California
(No letter received)

Leland Stanford University
California Beta "threw a party" at Menlo Country Club on April 28 which was one of the best for years. That is what all the reporters say and we fully agree. Some of the brothers from California Alpha motored down and from what they said they had a fine time.

  • 1
    I've sent these antedatings to the OED.
    – Hugo
    May 26 '14 at 10:08
  • 1
    Good work. The idea that it just took off from 'Babbitt' seemed pretty unlikely.
    – Neil W
    May 26 '14 at 10:14

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