I don't know him from Adam / Adam's off ox

Discussion in 'English Only' started by susanna76, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. susanna76 Senior Member

    Romanian
    Hi there,

    I'm trying to figure out the logic in the construction of the phrase "I don't know him from Adam." I read it means "I don't know him at all" (found a nice explanation here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ada1.htm) but why "from Adam"? Consider also "I don't know him from Adam's off ox." So the explanation would be: Just as Adam didn't know much about his off ox, I don't know much about this man. Still, how does this fit with the way "know someone from something"? Does "know" in this phrase work like "tell" in "tell an apple from an orange"? How exactly does "I don't know him from Adam's off ox" work then?

    I found the phrase in one of Raymond Carver's short stories, called "The Calm," which takes place in a barber's shop. Two guys begin to argue. Then,
    "Take it outside," the fellow with the newspaper said, flushed and hoping for something.
    "That'll be enough," the barber said. "Charles, I don't want to hear anything more on the subject. Albert, you're next in line. Now." The barber turned to the fellow with the newspaper. "I don't know you from Adam, mister, but I'd appreciate if you wouldn't put your oar in."

    Thank you!
     
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi susanna

    No, "I don't know him from Adam's off ox" doesn't mean Just as Adam didn't know much about his off ox, I don't know much about this man. It means the same as "I don't know him from Adam".

    These quotes from the OED might help:):
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
  3. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    I think the simple, if perhaps disappointing, reason for it being 'Adam' is 'because it is'. It could just as equally be George, or Albert or Usain, but it isn't. Idiomatically, it just happens to be Adam.

    I don't know what an 'off ox' is, but the answer to "How exactly does "I don't know him from Adam's off ox" work then?" is 'it doesn't'.
     
  4. susanna76 Senior Member

    Romanian
    Hi Loob and heypresto, and thanks! So Loob, the saying then means "He might as well be Adam"? Wait, I found another thread:
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1490071

    I had trouble for a moment understanding "know someone from someone else." That's why I asked if it's the same as "tell someone from someone else." I suspect it is, but it's weird when Adam's cat and other livestock come into play, since you don't compare apples and oranges. Still, I see now they're just playful references :). Adam's off ox is probably there to hint yet again at someone not knowing something, but is not to be understood the way I wrote above (which made no sense :)).

    Thank you both!
     
  5. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    I always understood Adam to be the first man created by God in the Bible.
     
  6. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    You'd know everybody from that Adam - he would be the one without a navel :rolleyes:
     
  7. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Thus it follows that if you cannot distinguish him from that un-navelled individual, you cannot distinguish him from the rest of humanity at all.

    Michael Quinion explains what an off ox is.
     
  8. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Susanna gave that link in post 1;).
     

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