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In the TV series Growing Pains, season 1, episode 6, there's the following conversation:

Mom: Mike, don't forget that your father and I are going out... with the Koosmans tonight and you have to baby-sit Ben and Carol.

Mike: Can't we get a sitter?

Father: On this short notice, not one without an axe.

Mike: So? Ben and Carol are quick on their feet.

What's the meaning of "not one without an axe" here? What does this have to do with an axe?

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    I'm not very familiar with 1980s US culture, but were axe murderers a thing back then?
    – Stuart F
    Dec 20, 2023 at 9:51
  • Does this axe mean ' been fired'?
    – Andrew Li
    Dec 20, 2023 at 10:03
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    No, not fired. It means there would not be sufficient time to check out the babysitter's references, and thus that it would be likely that the babysitter obtained on short notice could be not a good one, or a very bad one. The reference is to an axe murderer, one of the worst-case possibilities.
    – TimR
    Dec 20, 2023 at 10:33
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    @TimR Please do not answer is comments.
    – tchrist
    Dec 20, 2023 at 10:41
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    Ben and Carol are quick on their feet. – they'll be able to escape. Dec 20, 2023 at 11:40

2 Answers 2

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You want sitters who are vetted and safe around children. Axe murders wouldn't qualify. Father is saying all the decent sitters would already be booked. The only sort left would be axe murders.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AxCrazy Also https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BabysitterFromHell

From the first link -

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks.
And when he saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one.
— American Nursery Rhyme

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  • Thank you, But why 'not one without an axe'? Does it mean ' not the sitter without an axe' ? Probably ' not the one with an axe' would be better.
    – Andrew Li
    Dec 20, 2023 at 14:32
  • "At such short notice, we can't get a sitter without an axe", i.e. the only babysitters available are likely to be untrustworthy ones. Dec 20, 2023 at 16:26
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The literal answer is: No, we can't find a babysitter at the last minute -- at least not a good one.

Remember that this is dialogue from a TV sitcom that runs for about 22 minutes broken up into acts separated by commercials. The conversation needs to move quickly. The timing and rhythm of jokes is critical to the comedy. So the funny part, with the word axe, is at the end of the sentence for maximum punch. Also part of the joke is that Mike is very irresponsible so his dad is humorously willing to consider the idea that the potential for an axe murderer might be still be a reasonable idea since the kids could still run away.

In addition to that, the whole horror genre was very much alive in the 1980s with Friday the 13th movies, for example, which would have made the axe murderer reference a lot more timely.

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