I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on the origin of the phrase in title.

  • Did you look for this Lily Allen quote? For example bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/03_march/01/… – mplungjan Sep 23 '14 at 14:09
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    @mplungjan The meaning is clear, but the etymology - not that much – Vilmar Sep 23 '14 at 14:43
  • Just asking what Ablugh had tried and discarded. Likely no true etymology for this slang expression – mplungjan Sep 23 '14 at 15:05
  • @Vilmar: I'm not sure the exact meaning is truly "clear". From what I've seen since looking into this previously unfamiliar expression, arguably it doesn't even have a single specific meaning. As to the etymology, I think it's probably a matter of "mixed parentage", the full details of which could never be unravelled (because several of the parents are themselves "interbred" :). – FumbleFingers Sep 23 '14 at 17:22

1 is the closest to being correct here.

It's an East End London idiom.

It is used when someone is very angry & arguing, & sticking their face right into the person that they are angry with/complaining to. Therefore, telling someone to "wind your neck in son, and calm down", is to literally tell them to move their neck back so their face is not in the space of your face, & this is generally followed by an explanation of why the "aggressor" is upset because of incorrect information.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage @Chutters. The first sentence makes no sense to me - if it's a comment on another post then remove it and and let your answer stand for itself. Adding references would help give your answer credibility. – andy256 Jan 13 '15 at 11:16
  • I think that the "1" in Chutters's first sentence is short for "Meaning #1 identified in Fumblefingers's answer." Beyond that, andy256's advice is quite sound: an answer that refers to content from another answer without specifying that other answer or the relevant content within it is needlessly difficult to make sense of and fails as a self-contained answer. – Sven Yargs Jul 27 '15 at 3:30

It's neither common nor a well-established usage, so arguably the exact sense is somewhat subjective. @mplungjan's link gives us...

1: Don't get upset when you've no real reason to be upset

...whereas Urban dictionary has...

2: Given as advice to someone you you'd like to sit down and shut up

...and (thanks to @Josh61's comment below)...

3: Don't look where you're not supposed to (i.e. - "Don't stare", or "Don't rubberneck!").

My guess is that #2 is probably a better definition, since I assume the expression has its roots in stick one's neck out (to take a risk, alluding to putting one's head under the guillotine), coupled with poke one's nose in (show unwelcome interest in someone else's private business) and stick one's oar in (make an unwanted contribution to a private debate).

In short, if someone says "Wind your neck in!" they essentially mean "Pipe down!". Maybe they're annoyed by you whining about being upset, or repeatedly asking stupid questions. But whatever it is you're saying, for whatever reason, the other person doesn't want to hear about it.

EDIT: The earliest written instance I found was this from 1955 - clearly matching Eric Partridge's 1984 definition ("Stop talking!", RAF slang from the late 30s). But you'll have to decide for yourself whether other more recent usages with different senses are "errors", or "new coinages".

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  • It appears that the expression has different shades of meaning as you suggest. Here on the side of a bus for instance ...:childbirtheducation.blogspot.it/2009/02/wind-your-neck-in.html – user66974 Sep 23 '14 at 16:53
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    @Josh61: Haha! I quite like Lily Allen's lyrics (she can certainly "turn a good phrase", so to speak). But having not come across this particular usage before, my first thought was exactly the meaning in your link - because knowing her style I simply assumed the allusion was to don't rubberneck (metaphorically stretch your neck for a better view when ogling a breastfeeding mother, or mindlessly staring at an accident scene, for example). – FumbleFingers Sep 23 '14 at 17:08
  • Would your guess not now be that it's #3 rather than #2? (I'm guessing you forgot to update the number when editing?) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 23 '14 at 17:21
  • @Janus: It wasn't actually an oversight that I didn't change my "best guess" number. Having discarded the rubbernecking allusion after seeing two other definitions that didn't fit with it very well, I simply didn't have the courage of my own convictions (even after Josh61 found support for my reading.) Anyway, I've now found a written instance from long before Lily Allen was born, where it obviously means "Quit whinging and STFU!". My guess is the expression has been "resurrected" with one or more slightly different senses. – FumbleFingers Sep 23 '14 at 17:46

A long time ago I was serving a custodial sentence. Anyhow, while the prisoners were locked in their cell they used to talk out of their windows while sticking their neck out. "wind your neck in" was often a phrase of banter. Therefor, I think it is very much possible that the police officers have actually got the saying from the potential prisoners

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