+44 20 7242 2234
Bloomsbury International Youtube Bloomsbury International Facebook Bloomsbury International Twitter Bloomsbury International Instagram Bloomsbury International Skype
Idiom

Touch it with a Barge-Pole: Origin and Meaning

Meaning
Something is so unpleasant or unappealing that you wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it.
Origin
A Catch-22 SituationA barge-pole is a very long stick used to steer a barge, which is a river boat, like the “punts” found in Cambridge.The term was first recorded in Edward Farmer’s Scrap book, being a selection of poems, songs, scraps, etc., 1846: Barge-pole – A large stick or thick bough. Also generally used for any large piece of wood. Barges are now less common in the UK, where the word was invented, and those that remain are usually powered by engines. Recreational punting still uses poles similar to barge-poles.

The earliest reference I can find to the figurative use of ‘wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole’ is Lady Monkswell’s Diary, 1893:
It will be a long while before any political party touches Home Rule again with the end of a barge pole.

The expression appears to derive from the earlier American phrase ‘I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole’. This is recorded in the magazine of the U.S. Masonic community, The Official Magazine of the Grand Lodge of the United States, 1843, edited by James L Ridgely:
That […] aristocracy of our country… would not condescend to touch a poor man with a ten foot pole.
Examples
-That house is pretty run-down.
If I were you, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

-No, I won’t hire Fred. I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

-Jill: This advertisement says I can buy land in Florida for a small investment.
Do you think I should?
Jane: I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

-Jane: Can you believe this? Jill said she thinks I’m bossy.
You don’t think I’m bossy, do you?
Mary: I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.