"be torn off one"

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Still translating A.L. Kennedy's novel, Day.
p. 4.
"Look at you -- filthy -- allover the place -- you'd have been torn off one for this, Day."

Here ex-airforce officers are chatting in a funny way, with double-decker idioms. (I'll have to look for the literal as well as the idiomatic meaning, besides, for whatever else they suggest.)
I guess it means, you'd have been scorned, the full idiom would being, "to tear <<Unidentified abbreviation>> off a strip", and it refers to the strip of an officer. Am I right?
Can you tell me how dated this idiom is? I could not find it on the web but did find it in an older English-Hungarian dictionary...
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Tear someone off a strip / Tear a strip off someone sounds pretty dated to me, Mester ~ it's certainly not a phrase I'm in the habit of using. (It means 'severely reprimand'.)

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    It was originally Royal Air Force slang. The OED's earliest quotation is 1940, but the context of this shows it was already in use. It must have arisen somewhere between 1918 and 1940, therefore. Probably towards the middle of that range.

    As to what the strip is of, I don't know for sure. I've heard it suggested that it is a strip of skin, as might be removed by a lashing. I find this highly plausible. I don't agree that an unidentified omission appears where you suggest. The question is, what is the nature of the strip removed from the victim of this upbraiding?

    Substituting "one" for "a strip" is echoed in other idioms, such as the US "tear him a new one" (referring to anus in this case).


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, a stripe (in the Military) is a chevron sewn onto a uniform to show rank which can be ceremoniously ‘stripped’ [off] as punishment for a misdemeanour.


    New Member
    English UK
    I first heard this phrase in the 1950s used by an officer in the Airforce section of the school's cadet force (in the UK). He was an ex-RAF officer, then a schoolmaster.

    At the time I imagined that the phrase dated from the early days of the RFC/RAF when aircraft were fabric covered, so if a strip was torn off, a time-consuming repair was needed before the victim was once more 'airworthy'. A powerful metaphor for being strongly rebuked by a senior! That may or may not be true, of course. I have no other evidence to offer.
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