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Spectre of Pithecanthropus
09-26-2000, 01:58 PM
What's the etymology of the phrase "The Straight Dope?
I know people used to say, and maybe still do, "to dope something out", meaning to figure something out. Then there's the clear varnish you put on model airplanes, and
mind-altering drugs, all called "dope".
So where do we get the phrase "the straight dope", meaning
the full inside story or complete details?
09-26-2000, 04:45 PM
I'm not sure "dope" is the important word in the phrase. In one sense (the one used here, IMO) "dope" just means "information". Straight dope is, therefore, straight information -- straight in the sense of true or correct. Or perhaps "straight from the horse's mouth", to coin a phrase. A similar common phrase is "the straight skinny".
So "dope" in the title refers primarily to information. The operative word is "straight". The allusion to dope as in "mind-altering substance" is presumably no accident, given the time and place in which the column was born.
Spectre of Pithecanthropus
09-26-2000, 07:09 PM
"Dope=information" LONG predates the drug culture. The question is how that usage came into being. In old fashioned slang you may see the phrase "I've doped it out", meaning that the speaker has succeeded in getting to the bottom of some question or mystery. Obviously "Straight Dope" is related to that usage, but I can't say how.
But I agree the then-current fashionability of "dope" usage must have had something to do with naming the feature.
09-26-2000, 07:25 PM
To start out the speculation, I present a few facts from Dictionary.com ( http://www.dictionary.com/cgi-bin/dict.pl?term=dope )
Dope comes from Dutch doop, which means 'sauce.' Through the 19th century, dope meant 'gravy' in the U.S.
Dope may have originally started to mean 'inside information' in horse racing circles.
I don't really see how the term got from 'gravy' to it's present usage, though.
09-26-2000, 07:40 PM
Now I'll speculate a bit.
The usage of 'dope' to mean 'sauce' or 'gravy' proceeds fairly easily to using the same word for various mixtures of varnish or coating. 'Dope' came to be used as slang for the finish or glue used in airplane manufacture.
It seems quite reasonable to extend from there into drugs, since airplane glue sniffing is a recurring fad for those that like to get loopy. It's possible this usage came about before aviation, but whatever they were sniffing then was probably still some sort of varnish or glue, and was probably called 'dope' by whatever tradesmen used it. At one time, 'dope' was probably used only for sniffing stuff, and later got extended usage applied to other recreational chemicals.
'Dope' became a slang term for drugs used to improve the performance of racehorses.
'Dope' eventually came to mean 'inside information' about what horse in a race was running on some sort of prohibited substance. This last link is probably the weakest, but it might hold up.
Anyone able to bolster or destroy any of these suppositions?
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