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Would anyone one be able to ferret out the first-known use of the phrase or idiom, “That’s not going to fly”? Thank you.

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    Leonardo's assistant. – Hot Licks Jul 4 at 20:33
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    Actually, the answer is "Nobody". Nobody will be able to ferret out the first use, because nobody was recording at the time. And nobody will be able to ferret out the first printed use, because nobody saved a copy of it. As for the first metaphoric use (where they're talking about an idea, rather than a chicken or an airplane), nobody understood it the first few times. – John Lawler Jul 4 at 21:34
  • Wilbur Wright on a bad day – marcellothearcane Aug 18 at 6:05
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Green’s Dictionary of Slang earliest usage example is from 1885:

Fly; of an idea, a plan, to work out, usually in negative

1885 [UK] ‘’Arry on ’appiness’ in Punch 3 Jan. 4/1: The fact is this ’Appy New Year fake is ’oller, mate, hutterly ’oller, / ’Twon’t fly.

The earliest I could find so far is from 1802 (but I guess the expression was probably used earlier).

From De Quincey's Writings: Literary reminiscences; from the autobiography of an English opium-eater

an excuse for laughing; which he did heartily— saying, at the same time, something to this effect, that I must not judge from first appearances; that he should revolve upon me ; that he was not going to fly;

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In an Independence Day comment, John Lawler wrote:

Actually, the answer is "Nobody". Nobody will be able to ferret out the first use, because nobody was recording at the time. And nobody will be able to ferret out the first printed use, because nobody saved a copy of it. As for the first metaphoric use (where they're talking about an idea, rather than a chicken or an airplane), nobody understood it the first few times.

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