Friday, 22 February 2008

Taken down a peg

"We still have worsted all your holy Tricks,... And took your Grandees down a peg."
- Samuel Butler's Hudibras, 1664

A lot of our older sayings have origins lost in the mists of time. One of these is the idea of taking someone down a peg or two. Some sources suggest that the saying relates to the idea of lowering a ship's colours - the flags being controlled by a series of pegs. I prefer the suggestion that it comes from the peg tankard - one of which, dated 1654 - is shown above. It was called a "Peg-Tankard," from its having a row of silver pegs down the inside, about an inch apart. When sharing drinks from the same tankard each person was supposed to drink only as far as their peg.

A popular game (as described above in the Gentleman's Magazine) was to make anyone who could not stop exactly at a peg to drink again and again, until he hit upon one, before which he was generally intoxicated. This led to not only taking someone down a peg or two but also to the saying of being "a peg too low,' which signifies having 'a drop too much.'


  1. Hi Scriptor - re 'taken down a peg'. This appears also as 'take you down a buttonhole' or even a pin: see Lyly, 1589, Pappe with Hatchet for peg, and then in 1591 for 'hee hath taken his thoughts a hole lower' and Shakespeare in Love's Labour Lost for a button-hole. There are many more - it was a popular saying.

  2. Very interesting - thank you Mandgcolclough.


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