"more than you can shake a stick at"(Phrase Origins)
This 19th-century Americanism now means "an abundance"; but its original meaning is unclear. Suggestions have included "more than one can count" (OED, AHD3), "more than one can threaten" (Charles Earle Funk), and "more than one can believe" (Dictionary of American English). No one of these seems easy to reconcile with all the following citations: "We have in Lancaster as many taverns as you can shake a stick at." (1818) "This was a temperance house, and there was nothing to treat a friend to that was worth shaking a stick at." (David Crockett, _Tour to the North and Down East_, 1835) "Our queen snake was [...] retiring, attended by more of her subjects than we even dared to shake a stick at." (1843) "I have never sot eyes on anything that could shake a stick at that." (= "set eyes on anything that could compare with that", 1843) "[...] Uncle Sam [...] has more acres than you can throw a stick at." (1851) "She got onto the whappiest, biggest, rustiest yaller moccasin that ever you shuck er stick at." (1851) A connection with the British expression "hold (the) sticks with", meaning "compete on equal terms with" and attested since 1817, is not impossible. OED staff told me: "The US usages in DAE do appear to have a different sense to that given in OED. [...] All the modern examples I've found on our databases conform to OED's definition so I think this is still the most common usage." Merriam-Webster staff opined that the "count" interpretation "works as well for 'as many as you can shake a stick at' [...] if you take it to mean that there is no limit to how many of the objects in question one could shake one's stick at. [...] We would consider 'A can't shake a stick at B' a different expression entirely, with a meaning similar to 'A can't hold a candle to B' [...]." In their 1897 work _A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant_, Albert Barrere and Charles Leland suggested that Dutch immigrants originated the expression using the Dutch word _schok_ = "to shake or hit."
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