Blow Smoke Up Someone’s Ass

Meaning of Idiom ‘Blow Smoke Up Someone’s Ass’

To blow smoke up someone’s ass means to insincerely compliment someone to get something from them or get them to do something; to manipulate someone with flattery; to exaggerate about something in order to make it seem better than it is. 1Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.

Compare to Blow Smoke.

Examples Of Use

“Don’t listen to the salesmen around here. They’ll blow smoke up your ass for an hour to try to get you to buy a car.”

“Don’t blow smoke up my ass,” said Vance. “I know you just want me to let you borrow my car.”

“My editor told me I deserve a Pulitzer for my latest article. I hope he wasn’t just blowing smoke up my ass.”

Origin

This idiom is often claimed to have comes from actual practice. During the late-1700s, doctors would literally blow smoke up the rectums of those thought to be dead, especially drowning victims, in the belief that this would resuscitate them. This tobacco enema was performed with a bellows attached to a fumigator or with a syringe filled with tobacco smoke. While tobacco smoke has a long history in folk and tribal medicine, this practice seems to have been an offshoot of enemas or ‘glysters’ of liquid tobacco preparations. Tobacco was thought to be a stimulant, and thus a solution of tobacco, given as an enema, was used to revive patients. Presumably, using tobacco smoke instead was a last-ditch effort when a liquid enema was not possible. Later, when nicotine was found to be a cardiac toxin, this practice died out. 2Morris, Thomas. Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine. Penguin Publishing Group, 2018.,3Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.

However, though this bit of bizarre medical history appears to be true, its association with the present idiom is dubious, as the medical practice died out long before this idiom first appeared in English, sometime during the 1940s. It is unlikely this long-ago medical practice could have inspired the idiom at so late a date. It is more likely that this is an offshoot of the idiom to blow smoke, meaning to mislead or deceive, with the reference to one’s derriere meant to add color. Although other explanations have been offered, most of them seem to be blowing smoke!

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 3. Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.
2. Morris, Thomas. Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine. Penguin Publishing Group, 2018.