right up my alley

“Right up my alley” means something of special interest to me, something I like a lot, or something pleasingly familiar. 

This idiom uses “alley” in the sense of “one’s own province or area,” a usage dating from the early 1600s. Francis Bacon used it this way in his essay Of Cunning (1612): “Such men…are good but in their own Alley.” 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the exact phrase “to be up (one’s) alley” was documented as early as 1931. The OED also notes that “to be up (one’s) street” has been in use as slang since the turn of the 20th century and was quite common by the 1930s. Margaret Carpenter used it in her novel Experiment Perilous (1943): “It isn’t up my alley at all.”

If you don’t want to go up an alley, how about being “streets ahead”? This means being greatly superior or more advanced. “The restaurant is streets ahead of its rivals.”

The earliest OED reference is 1885 in Ireland, though the expression is British and is very common in Britain. 

We don’t know the origin but the following seems like a reasonable guess: “Back when town criers brought people the news, they started at the town hall, usually at the center of town, and worked their way along the streets all the way to the outskirts. This often took a whole day, and so those who lived near the center got their news in the morning before going to market. Those who lived on the outskirts wouldn’t get it until evening, and so were always talking about yesterday’s news. Therefore, those close to the center were ‘streets ahead’ of those who were literally streets behind.”

All right, if you’re not in the mood for alleys and streets, how about getting “in the same boat” as me? That just means you and I have the same problems, or are in the same circumstances, or facing the same predicament.

One source says the idiom was first used by ancient Greeks when they were talking about the risks that all passengers in a small boat at sea had to face together. Since many Greeks fished for a living, this one could be true.

Another says that “in the same boat” originated in 16th century Britain. When Thomas Hudson translated Du Bartas’ Historie of Judith in 1584 he formed a metaphor that equated being “in the same boat” with “having the same fate.”

Oh, I don’t know; I think I’ll take the plane instead.

  One thought on “right up my alley

  1. Leanne Taylor
    July 4, 2019 at 10:09 am

    For wonder and excitement and knowledge in reading your blog, I thank you, Lea Tassie.

    Like

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