threat or a promise, is that a

threat or a promise, is that a

Are you giving me bad news or good? According to lexicographer Eric Partridge, this was the soldier’s answer to the vulgar phrase, “Fuck you!” and dates from World War I or even earlier. In civilian language it came to be applied other than sexually, whenever a doubtful proposition was made. Partridge quoted Julian Symons’s A Three Pipe Problem (1975): “‘Goodbye, I advise you to keep out of my way.’ . . . She smelt of cigarette smoke and gin. ‘Next time, Mr. Holmes? Is that a threat or a promise?’”
See also: that, threat
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