Get your dander up

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Get your dander up : Phrases


Become annoyed or angry.



It is reported that Samuel Goldwyn made one of his celebrated Goldwynisms when he said 'it gets my dandruff up'. Whether he actually said that or not is open to doubt. What is clear is that, like those other supposed Goldwyn coinages - 'statue of limitations' and 'stiff upper chin', the 'dandruff' alternative is repeated now for its comic effect. We may be being hasty in assuming that the 'get your dandruff up' version is a simple mistake though. There is some doubt about the origin of the word dander in this context and there is at least a possibility that it does in fact derive from 'dandruff'.

The usage of the word dander in this expression may be either just a shortening of 'dandruff' or it may derive from 'dander', meaning 'ferment', i.e. the froth created in the of fermentation of yeast in brewing or baking. The word may have been borrowed to form the expression 'get one's dander up' in order to convey the imagery of a frothing or agitated uproar.

An alternative view is that the phrase was originally 'get one's dandruff up' and that it followed the imagery of a violent and agitated scuffle in which the participant's dandruff might be expected to fly into the air.

What's the evidence in favour of these rival claims?

The phrase was coined in the USA in the first part of the 19th century. 'Dander' did certainly have the meaning of 'ferment' by then, as recorded in Sir John Dalrymple's Observations on his yeast-cake, circa 1796:

"The season for working molasses lasts five months, of which three weeks are lost in making up the dander, that is, the ferment."

The first reference I can find to 'dander' being used with the meaning of excitement or annoyance is from an entry in an 1831 edition of The American Comic Annual, by Henry J. Finn:

" A general roar of laughter brought Timmy on his legs. His dander was raised."

The first mention of the phrase in question comes in The Republican Banner newspaper, March 1834:

"He wound up by bringin' his fist down on the table... and the Gineral's hat on the table bounced up, I tell you; and says he, "there must be a change, Gineral"... but that didn't go good, and that got the Gineral's dander up."

The earliest citation I can find for the 'dandruff' alternative of the phrase is in The Wisconsin Tribune, April 1853:

"Well, gosh-all Jerusalem, what of it?' now yelled the downeaster, getting his dandruff up."

Other, earlier citations may be found of course but, given what we have now, the later appearance of 'get one's dandruff up' would appear to support 'ferment' as the meaning of dander in this expression.

Either way, we can say with certainty that Samuel Goldwyn wasn't the first to use 'get my dandruff up'.

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