Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » February 2005 » Slow Boat to China:

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02/08/2005: Slow Boat to China:

I came across this scintilating description of the origin of the term "Slow Boat to China".

"The phrase was popularized by the song "On a Slow Boat to China," written by Frank Loesser (1910-1969), and was copyrighted in May 1948. Loesser is perhaps the most versatile of all Broadway composers, having written the music for such famous shows as Where's Charley (1948), Guys and Dolls (1950), Most Happy Fella (1956), and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). He composed music for films such as College Swing (1938), Destry Rides Again (1939), Fred Astaire's Let's Dance, and Hans Christian Andersen (1952).
Loesser wrote such standards as "Two Sleepy People," "Heart and Soul," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You," "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year," "(See What) The Boys in the Backroom (Will Have)," "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" and his 1948 Academy Award winner, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," in addition to "On a Slow Boat to China."

The lyrics for "Slow Boat to China" start:

I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China,
All to myself alone.
Get you to keep you in my arms evermore,
Leave all your lovers
Weeping on the faraway shore.

Loesser wrote and circulated the song in 1945, but did not get a copyright until 1948.
Where did he get the phrase? His daughter, Susan Loesser, author of a biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella (1993), writes:
"I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" was a well-known phrase among poker players, referring to a person who lost steadily and handsomely. My father turned it into a romantic song, placing the title in the mainstream of catch-phrases in 1947.
The idea, of course, was that traveling by boat to China was about as long and slow a trip as one could imagine. Loesser moved the phrase from the poker table to a more romantic setting. The song was very popular in its time (and has been revived and sung from time to time over the years by such notables as Kay Kyser, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Buffett, and Frank Sinatra, among others). The phrase then moved into general parlance to mean anything that takes a lonnnnnnng time."

Now, I wonder if this still hold true if I only book my trips on "Slow Banana Boats to China." Hmmmm....Where's Bob Dole when you reeeaaallly need him?

Karen on 02.08.05 @ 08:30 AM CST

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Replies: 6 comments

on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 8:37 AM CST, Len Cleavelin said

I really don't think the Chicago Reader will mind us linking to that. Cecil's Mailbag, wasn't it (though taking a quick gander, I see it hasn't made the front page of The Straight Dope's website yet....)?

on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 1:56 PM CST, Karen McLauchlan said

Maybe...I forgot to grab the site tag (in too much of a mental hurry...stupid TD mistake...but are there any others for me??) Could be this was from the reader...but then again...all the sites I pop in on...who knows.

on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 5:53 PM CST, Len Cleavelin said

I'm 99+% convinced it is from "The Straight Dope" website; I've already read this item, and I get their weekly newsletter. It'll appear as a "Cecil's Mailbag" item tomorrow or Wednesday, if I'm estimating correctly....

I wonder where the expression "take a long walk off a short pier" comes from?

on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 7:35 PM CST, Karen McLauchlan said

Then, Len...I bow to you in this your superior bloggerie knowledge...as in "most" things as the most Masterful of our Webpage...(but it's still 1 to 1 by my count...we're gonna have to work on our next 1-up-manship effort.)


on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 7:40 PM CST, Karen McLauchlan said

PS...My "Dictionary of Idioms" doesn't have that one...how about "walking on clouds" or "get your walking papers" or walking on egg shells" or walking on cloud nine" or "walking on the top of the world"...any of those do?

on Tuesday, February 8th, 2005 at 8:33 PM CST, Len Cleavelin said

Nah, but thanks for the effort.

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