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Smashing is a BrE slang which means "very good" or "impressive". Most folks might know this already, due to its use as a catch phrase by various BrE characters in media.

However, from the usual meaning of the word smash (which means breaking with violence), it's not obvious how it could come to mean "very good". Did this meaning come from a specific context, perhaps military, or sports?

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    wouldn't you just look in a dictionary to find this out? – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 6:44
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    The same can be said for something being "the dog's bollocks" which in BrEng means it's the best. 30-40 years ago if you said a person was wicked people would have understood that person to be evil. Today it's more often used with its opposite meaning! You're wicked, girl! – Mari-Lou A Aug 31 '14 at 6:54
  • @Joe Blow Even the best free online dictionaries rarely give etymologies of broadened senses. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 31 '14 at 7:00
  • By the way I wonder, really, is this British English? Do yanks also say this? perhaps they did in earlier days but don't now? – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 8:29
  • I can't recall ever hearing this particular usage here in the U.S., though all of the other related ones noted in the incomplete answers below are in common use. – Michael Hampton Aug 31 '14 at 9:53
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According to Etymonlime the term smashing has undergone the change in meaning like other terms such as: fabulous ( see below).

smashing (adj.) 1833, "violently crushing to pieces," present participle adjective from smash (v.). Meaning "pleasing, sensational" is from 1911.

Fabulous:

  • Sense of "incredible" first recorded c.1600. Slang shortening fab first recorded 1957; popularized in reference to The Beatles, c.1963.

    • Fabulous (often contracted to fab(s)) and fantastic are also in that long list of words which boys and girls use for a time to express high commendation and then get tired of, such as, to go no farther back than the present century, topping, spiffing, ripping, wizard, super, posh, smashing. [Gower's 1965 revision of Fowler's "Modern English Usage"]

Probably its origin meaning 'impressive' comes from Tennis:

Smash:

  • 1725, "hard blow," from smash (v.). Meaning "broken-up condition" is from 1798; that of "failure, financial collapse" is from 1839. Tennis sense is from 1882. Meaning "great success" is from 1923("Variety" headline, Oct. 16, in reference to Broadway productions of "The Fool" and "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly").

A smash in tennis:

  • is a shot that is hit above the hitter's head with a serve-like motion. A smash can usually be hit with a high amount of force and is often a shot that ends the point.

Source:Wikepidia

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"Smashing" is a bastardized version of the Irish phrase "Is maith sin," which means "that's good." It's pronounced "iss MAH shin" or "iss MY shin," depending on where in Ireland you are. The Brits appropriated it ;)

Source: I speak Irish. If you want "independent verification," you can pick up any beginner's book for learning Irish - Buntús Cainte is one that comes to mind. Or, you can simply believe the several different commenters here who have pointed to its Irish meaning and origin (except for the person claiming that "ag smashalach" is a thing - methinks this was an Irishman taking the piss for a bit of craic, haha). The person who says it's Scottish is probably correct as well - there's a fair amount of crossover between these two branches of the language, only the pronunciations tend to be different.

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http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaidhlig/cananan/beurla/faclan.html

would this suffice as evidence. there are several words borrowed from celtic languages to modern day english, not all of these will be in the dictionary. Likewise I'm not sure you could find "evidence" of these phrases originating in gaelic speaking areas - like scotland and ireland. There was also large population movements from rural areas of scotland to other parts of the UK, northern US and austrailasia, so if this expression crops up in oz, NZ and canada I think this would add weight to this argument

  • Welcome to ELU. Thanks for providing the link; it would be advisable to summarise the content you found there (naming the source), in case the link fails in future. Also, your answer would seem more authoritative with a bit more attention given to grammar, and capitalisation in particular. – JHCL Oct 16 '15 at 23:08
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I'll just go ahead and post an answer (same as Mari's) since I want to express it slightly differently.

(Point 1) Note that "smash box office records" was a term used in the entertainment business to mean "break box office records". (Just TBC if you are a non-native English speaker, "smash" is a synonym of "break".)

(Point 1B) Regarding the timing of "smash records" in the entertainment industry, I'm going to go ahead and guess since the 1920s[1]

Indeed, Merriam-Webster asserts 1923...

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/smash

(Lucky guess by me!)

(Point 2) From "smash records" people were soon saying: "smash hit" or just "smash"

(Point 3) PURELY IN MY OPINION - I'VE ALWAYS JUST ASSUMED THIS, the general use of "smashing" (synonym of "good") comes from this use of "smash" in the entertainment industry.


[1] my authority on that statement is that: I have read Julie Andrews autobiography, Home.

  • I don't know what Google Ngrams is - it sounds good though. Pls don't up vote me because I find the voting system risible! (On all network sites I give away al my points on bounties) – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 8:28
  • Here's a link to Google Ngram If you click on the bold lines they fade. – Mari-Lou A Aug 31 '14 at 8:33
  • Absolutely fascinating - thank you so much for that!!! I'm assuming it knows about lots of printed material (books etc). When trying to figure out how people speak - I guess there's no way to do "google spoken lanugage ngrams" short of science fiction! - this would give fascinating pointers. Unreal. – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 8:40
  • I find the internet, generally, utterly silly, so I keep away from it. Yes, I have noticed people mentioning "ngrams" many times. I assumed it was some sort of google search, and I find internet search an utterly useless social phenomenon. And I truly thank you for the awesome example and explanation! – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 8:47
  • Don't worry, there is 0 chance of me joining the dark side, so to speak. So long as gelato exists. Again I can only thank you for the vast information injection here!! And now I have to work cheers – Fattie Aug 31 '14 at 8:49
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I believe the actual stem is an anglicised version of the Irish term 'ag smashalach' which means the same general thing and exists in Irish literature from the 1300s. That is an incorrect spelling of the Irish term as I haven't actually studied the language in 5 years.

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    Could you please provide some support for your conjecture? – Drew Jan 30 '15 at 4:31
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's math sin is a Scottish gaelic phrase that means "Great!". It literally means "that is good" and is pronounced shih-mah-sheen. It is possible that smashing comes from this phrase.

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    Welcome to EL&U. Your answer would be improved if you could provide some evidence for your theory, if not a published reference, then perhaps statistics showing usage originated in Gaelic-speaking areas. (Cobbledpot's answer suggests an Irish Gaelic origin.) For additional guidance, I encourage you to review the help center. – choster Feb 10 '15 at 22:04
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    Though why the usage is only recorded from 1911 is then odd. As Drew says elsewhere, could you please provide some support for your conjecture? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 10 '15 at 22:04
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The slang smash means a great success and was first used in the world of entertainment.

A smash

If a musical, play, or film is a smash, it means it is hugely successful. Whenever a show or movie rakes in more money than its leading predecessor we hear the claim: breaks box office record. In this instance break, which is synonymous with smash, has positive connotations.

Later in the world of rock'n'roll and pop we hear of songs hitting the charts and being called smash hits. So it's not difficult to see how a smash (hit) could eventually evolve into the adjective smashing [= great] or vice versa.

Dictionary.com says,

smash hit an outstanding success, as in
She was a smash hit in the role of the governess,
His first book was a smash hit but this one isn't doing well. [c. 1920 ]

Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us

smash noun: someone or something that is very successful or popular
- the sound made when something hits a surface very violently
- a hard downward hit in tennis or other games

Origin of SMASH
perhaps blend of smack and mash
First Known Use: 1725

smash verb: to break (something) into many pieces : to shatter or destroy (something)
- to hit (something) violently and very hard
- to hit (a ball) downward and very hard in tennis and other games
First Known Use of SMASH 1764

smashing adjective: very good or impressive
1: that smashes : crushing a smashing defeat
2: extraordinarily impressive or effective a smashing performance
First Known Use of SMASHING 1825

Etymonline states clearly that smashing meaning "pleasing, sensational" is from 1911. While smash meaning "great success" is from 1923

It's Not Tennis

I don't believe smashing derives from the famous tennis shot. In tennis a smash is a ball hit with such force, speed and power that can leave the opponent "defeated", inasmuch as the player fails to return the shot. Smash is onomatopoeic, it describes the sound of the ball hitting the ground, metaphorically it "shatters" the court. From the website, The History of Tennis—The Origins of Tennis, we learn

1880 ▪ BIRTH OF OVERHEAD SMASH ▪ The overhead smash was introduced into the game for the first time in the history of tennis by the Renshaw brothers in Wimbledon. They would dominate Wimbledon for a decade, winning all but 1880 and 1887 championships between them in the history of tennis.

Smashing

The 1919 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary [link] has no record of smashing meaning sensational, wonderful or excellent. Instead its authors defines it as being a verbal substantive (vbl.sb) formed on the meaning of the verb smash

Smash v.1 [Probably imitative: Norw. dial. smaska to crush, slaa i smask to knock to smash (Ross).]
2. To break (anything) in pieces violently; to dash to pieces; to crush, shatter, or shiver.
3. To dash or fling (anything) with noise and violence; to batter; to cause to strike hard.

Smashing vbl.sb. 1 [f. Smash v.1] 1. The action of SMASH v.1 in various senses

The noun smash is described as being dialect or colloquial: A hard or heavy blow

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There's no mention of it meaning a success. However, the OED 1919 edition has some information on the noun smasher

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  • "perhaps blend of smack and mash" :) it's fun to hear this :) – Tolga Evcimen Aug 31 '14 at 8:39
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Is 1858 long enough ago to claim an earliest usage of "smashing"?

Just when you thought "smashing" in the sense described wasn't used before 1911, The Coopers' Journal Volume 21 (September 1905) (page 241 of the scan) shows an advert with the slogan "A Smashing Trade", and the text

I don't think anybody is doing a smashing trade in slack barrel stock at present, but I think I am getting my share and maybe a little more.

A Smashing Trade

And in 1901, volume one of Gail Hamilton's Life in Letters was published,including (on page 154) the following extract:

They are English, at least he is - house full of pictures, engravings, etc., and oh, my! father, they had a smashing fire in the parlor and another in the dining-room, I believe, and more than all, a smashing fire in the entry and nobody anywhere near it.

On closer inspection, it turns out that that passage comes from a letter written on Feb 15th, 1858. I am not yet entirely certain whether the book is a compilation of genuine letters, or a work of fiction. Can anyone advise? Either way, we have 1901 or 1858.

Both these extracts seem to go against the suggestion that "smashing" is a purely BrE word. I would assume that it has simply fallen further out of favour in the USA, while we Britons continue to cling on to some older, and perhaps more quaint, superlatives.

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It came from the gaelic irish, which is said is mash sin or pronounced in english iss mash shin which in old irish means very good, great, or something of great significance etc. Originated from irish immigrants to the UK and has transformed into smashing.

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    Hello, Daithi Nolan, and welcome to English Language & Usage. Your answer is now the third (after the ones from Daniel and Cobbledpot) to assert that the slang term smashing comes from some branch of Gaelic. Unfortunately, it's also the third to provide (so far) no documentation from a dictionary or other reference work to corroborate the assertion as to its etymological source. I hope that you will succeed in breaking the string by providing independent confirmation of the claim. – Sven Yargs Sep 6 '15 at 1:30

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