Word and Phrase Origins
English Language

When people say "blown to smithereens," what are the smithereens?

001

Top Answer
User Avatar
Todd L Ross
Answered
2019-07-25 20:17:57
2019-07-25 20:17:57

The “smithereens" in question are small pieces of something. The word entered the English language in the late 1700s, per Merriam-Webster. It probably comes from the Irish Gaelic smidiríní, which roughly translates to “little bits.” Usually, “smithereens" refers to the small bits created by an explosion or a sudden impact.

So, why do people use the phrase “blown to smithereens,” and why don’t we ever refer to “smithereens" on their own? You’ll never hear someone saying, for example, “My dog ripped up my pillow, and I’ve got pillow smithereens all over the place.”

To find out, we’ve got to track the usage of the phrase. In its earliest English uses, “smithereens" was often attributed to an Irish speaker, and used similarly to how it’s used today. Here’s a particularly delightful example from an 1887 issue of The Maryland Medical Journal, in which a surgeon named Sir Astley quizzes an Irish student on his surgical knowledge:

Asked Sir Astley, “What is a simple and what is a compound fracture?”

“A simple fracture is when the bone is broken, and a compound fracture is when it is all broke,” was the answer.

“What do you mean by all broke?” asked Sir Astley.

“I mean,” said the Irishman, “broke into smithereens, to be sure.”

Said Sir Astley, “I ventured to ask him what was ‘smithereens.’ He turned upon me with intense expression of sympathy upon his countenance—‘You don’t know what is smithereens? Then I give you up!’”

According to etymology blog The Word Detective, the word spread quickly over the next century, possibly due to its sound. In most cases, speakers use “blown to smithereens.”

The Word Detective posits that the word has a certain musical quality that makes it ideal for describing chaos—maybe that’s why it always describes some sort of explosion, not the results.

“It's easy to imagine, for example, a waiter dropping a tray of plates and the bits of china making a ringing "een" sound as they scatter across the floor and bounce off nearby diners (who might make "een" sounds themselves),” the blog reads.

We can also thank Looney Tunes for the phrase’s gradual addition to our shared lexicon. When angered, the character Yosemite Sam would often threaten to “blow ya to smithereenies,” and since Sam was fairly angry in every episode, his catchphrase spread.

Of course, that’s just a guess—we can get a little more scientific. Google’s Ngram searches millions of books, allowing users to easily track word usage over time. Here’s what it shows for “smithereens.”

We can see that the phrase was extremely popular in the 1940s (when the world was, well, blowing things to smithereens). It’s currently experiencing a resurgence, so if you’re a fan of language, this is a great time to start incorporating “smithereens" into your everyday speech.

001
🙏
0
🤨
0
😮
0
😂
0

Related Questions


The granite slab was blown to smithereens when the technician ignited the TNT.

The duration of Smithereens - film - is 1.48 hours.

Smithereens - book - was created in 2004.

Smithereens - film - was created on 1982-09-11.

Blown out = ausgeblasen

The cast of Smithereens - 2010 includes: Moti Margolin as Dean

Blow Up - The Smithereens album - was created on 1991-09-10.

Smidiríní ("smithereens")

"Smithereens" first appeared in English in 1829 in the form "smiddereens," and most likely was borrowed from the Irish word "smidirin," meaning "small bit" or "fragment."

The Smithereens-Only a Memory

Wind blown sand can form dunes. You might also say it forms a sandstorm.

yes and no yes because it makes the world a safer place because countries that have them feel secure no because it you attack someone like the united states well basically your srry you attacked us and you get blown to smithereens

You blow it to smithereens or you simply use bee killer.

Survivor - 2000 Shot Into Smithereens 25-12 was released on: USA: 5 December 2012 Australia: 8 January 2013

Saturday Night Live - 1975 Corbin Bernsen The Smithereens 15-17 was released on: USA: 14 April 1990

Qeej is a bamboo flute which it blown by Hmong people.

You can ask people to trade it who own them

A car horn Should not be blown when there are people cycling on main roads. car garages, Ring roads as this will teter people from using the roads safely.

The Irish 'smidirin', a diminutive of 'smiodar', meaning fragment, circa 1829.

The people of Israel were led to Jericho under the leadership of Joshua. The instruments blown by the seven priests were trumpets.

There is no such thing as full blown aids. A person infected with hiv either has HIV or AIDS. This is why you never hear people say partially blown AIDS AIDS means that the persons immune system has deteriorated until their CD4's have dropped below 200 and at least one opportunistic infection is present. This progression can be reversed with medicine. I would say that unless your taking your newborn to an orgy with AIDS patients, normal contact will not harm them.

Lol, I'd have to say at least 90% of them

Blown is the past tense of blow. "The wind had blown down the tree in our yard."

The past perfect tense of blown is had blown.


Copyright © 2020 Multiply Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The material on this site can not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Multiply.