A long, awkward reach across a table (and other people) to take food, rather than asking for it to be passed over. It is considered rude in polite company and thus likened to manners one might find in a boarding house. What have I told you about using that boardinghouse reach at the dinner table? Pardon my boardinghouse reach—I'll try not to spill anything on you!
See also: reach
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Reaching across fellow diners for food instead of asking them to pass it. For example, At holiday meals when the whole family is gathered, Dad always scolds at least one child for his boardinghouse reach . This term alludes to the formerly common boardinghouse practice of seating all the residents at one large table and to the rudeness of those who simply reached across others to help themselves. Heard less often today, it is not quite obsolete. [c. 1900]
See also: reach
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
boarding house reach
Table manners in which manners were sacrificed for survival. Most cities and towns had boarding or rooming houses, large private dwellings whose owners took in paying guests who usually stayed for relatively long periods of time. Dinners were served family style, with boarders joining the owners. If you were one of a large number of people, the choicest or largest amounts of food might be gone by the time the platters reached where you were sitting. And so, disregarding the good manners that you learned at home, rather than wait your turn or asking politely, you reached across the table—and often across your neighbors—to grab serving platters. That arm extension was known as a “boarding house reach
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price