Daft as a brush

Neil Horlock: I am curious as to the origin of the phrase 'Daft as a brush' It strikes me that it could be derived from one of two sources. Firstly, the brush as the tail of a fox (hence it would be a hunting term), or secondly, from the chimney sweeps of the industrial revolution. Does anyone have any real idea though? Neil
L.Dyce: I had never heard of this phrase until I attended a lecture on Linguistic Archaeology (part of a Sociology course) in Massachusetts about ten years ago. The lecture highlighted the range of linguistic sources available : that many idiomatic phrases reflect everyday usages of the common man in contradistinction to the literary quotations of a more erudite class. The poster is correct in his suggestion of the Victorian chimney sweep as a source for this phrase. The child sweep is almost a cliche of the Victorian period, but very few know much of who these children were and what they did. The skilled child sweep would have to work his way vertically through the confined space, clearing blockages and removing the build up of soot by hand. Apprentice sweeps were merely dropped head first down the flue, leading to light stunning in small houses but some severe cerebral damage in larger ones. Hence the phrase. Incidentally, the high mortality of this practise lead to a shortage of chimney sweeps, and even today it is accounted lucky to meet a sweep.


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