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shameless pleading





Shank of the Evening

Hello, I must be going.

Dear Word Detective: Once again I have used a phrase that caused my children to look at me and say, “What?” I was saying that we never left a party during the “shank of the evening.”  To me, this has always meant the time when the party was at its best with the most fun being had by all. Now I am curious to know, (1) if I am correct, and (2) how this expression came about.  Any explanation from you will be immediately forwarded to my kids! — Marsha.

Hey, I’m with your kids on this one: Huh? I don’t recall ever hearing “shank of the evening” until I read your question, although I could be wrong, because my memory seems to be shot. I blame the internet. After all, if you can look up the lyrics to the theme from “Mister Ed” in three seconds, what’s the point of even trying to remember the name of that kid in third grade who bit you on the leg at recess? Just put up a Facebook page and he’ll find you. My mind is starting to resemble a vacant lot full of big rocks. I just hope my car keys are under one of them.

Fortunately, many other people have heard the expression “shank of the evening.” Unfortunately, they seem unable to agree on exactly what it means.

“Shank” itself is a very old English word, derived from Germanic roots, that initially meant “the part of the leg of an animal between the knee and the ankle” or a similar section of the leg of an animal that lacks ankles. “Shank” has also been used throughout its history to mean simply “the leg.” From this literal meaning, “shank” soon developed a wide range of figurative senses, mostly describing a straight part of something, especially a part used to grip the thing or attach it to something else. Thus the straight part of a fishing hook is called the “shank,” as is the straight part of a pin or nail, the stalk of a plant, and the end of a drill bit that goes into the chuck. Aficionados of prison documentaries (does MSNBC ever show anything else on weekends?) will also know “shank” as slammer slang for a homemade knife, probably because such things are often made from a simple strip of metal.

The literal “leg” sense of “shank” produced one of my favorite slang expressions way back in the late 18th century, “to ride Shanks’ mare” (or “take Shanks’ pony”), meaning, of course, to walk on one’s own legs, especially for a distance one would rather ride a horse (“I’ll start for Carnarvon on Shanks’s pony,” 1898). “Taking Walker’s bus” is of similar vintage.

The “shank” of “the shank of the evening” is a more figurative use, but, as I said, opinions vary on what it means. The phrase first appeared in print in 1828, and “shank” in this sense is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The latter end or part of anything: the remainder or last part of a thing.” That would make “shank of the evening” the time when a party is winding down, not just getting good. But other sources define “shank of the evening” as “the main part” of the evening, which would not only agree with your understanding of the phrase, but also seem more in keeping with “shank” meaning “long, straight part of something.” Many dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster Online, play it safe on this “shank” and offer both “the latter part of a period of time” and “the early or main part of a period of time” as definitions. Not surprisingly,”shank of the evening” also appears on several lists of “words and phrases that are their own antonyms” (such as “cleave” meaning both “to separate” and “to stick together”).

As to which is the “correct” meaning, I actually suspect that “tail end of the evening” was the original, invoking the sense of “shank” as “the end one holds” as in the “shank” of a drill bit.   But feel free to use it either way, and have fun explaining all this to your kids.

30 comments to Shank of the Evening

  • Mary Funke

    Just got my latest fix of Word Detective and I loved the question about
    “shank of the evening.” I thought you might like to know, since like you
    I’ve never heard it in common conversation, that it does (sort of)
    appear in the lyrics of an old Rosemary Clooney song, “In the Cool,
    Cool, Cool of the Evening”. My mother used to listen to Rosemary Clooney
    a lot, hence I’m familiar with the song. The chorus is:

    In the cool cool cool of the evening
    Tell ’em I’ll be there
    In the cool cool cool of the evening
    You better save a chair
    When the party’s getting a glow on
    Singing fills the air
    In the shank of the night when the doings are right
    You can tell ’em I’ll be there

    Thanks for searching out all these fascinating words; I look forward to
    each e-mailed column!

  • Charlie N.

    I’ve heard “shank of the evening” off and on since I was a teen in the 1960’s. It was always used to mean early in the evening when things were just getting good. This seems to fit the meaning in the song “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” Rosemary Clooney’s version was the best in my opinion, by the way.

  • Topi Linkala

    About taking a trip. In finnish we have the expression ‘apostle’s convoyance’ for walking the distance. On the other hand we can ‘take a rubber foot’ when we are too tired to walk and use taxi.

  • Mel

    In Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park”(1963), Corrie, the young newlywed says to her mother, “You can’t leave now, Mother! It’s the shank of the evening!” This is at 2 AM as the party is getting its second wind.

  • James Griffin

    “Shank of the Evening” can be found spoken in the 1959 movie classic “Compulsion”. The shank of the evening in the film clearly references the “best part” of the evening, as evidenced by the surrounding dialogue in the scene indicating it isn’t late at all.
    So this clears up its usual meaning in the late 1950’s era.
    Why “shank”? Think “lamb shank”, a prized or most sought after meat portion, i.e., the “best part” of the evening.

  • Mark S.

    Shank of the morning quoted from the story THE CREETURS GO TO THE BARBECUE

    UNCLE REMUS and BRER RABBIT By Joel Chandler Harris Copyright, 1906

    an’ long to’rds de shank er de mornin’, Brer Rabbit ’ud creep thoo de crack er de fence an’ nibble at um.

  • D!

    “Shank of the evening” may be found in the W.C. Fields classic, You’re Telling Me! (1934), at 04:32 into the film.

    Trying to convinct his wife the time is half-past eight, and not almost midnight, Mr. Fields declares “Ah don’t exaggerate, it’s only shank of the eveing, half-past eight.”

  • Mark H.

    The Shank of the Evening is a phrase used in Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie. A gentleman caller for Laura announces that he must leave early after dinner
    and Laura’s mother complains that he is missing the Shank of the Evening.

  • Bertram Moshier

    Another media location from the 1950/1960’s is “The Donna Reed Show,” season 2, episode 13, “A Difference of Opinion.” Dr. and Mrs. Stone are at a party and Dr. Stone says it is late and he must be going. The hostess says, he can’t be going yet, as it is the shank of the evening. Another person suggests putting on a pot of coffee and the party continues.

    BTW, it is interesting to compare evening life today to how it was in the 1950/1960’s by watching TV series from 50 to 60 years ago. Times, sometimes, they really do change. In this case not just in speech, dress, but also how we spend our evenings. I must say some of it is an absolute improvement and others I’m not so sure about, myself.

  • Kevin

    The character Bobby says “shank of the evening” during the first part of a two-part “Taxi” episode titled “Memories of Cab 804″

  • Mary Lynn

    I thank you for your submissions from research or from memory. I just remarked to my son that he was arriving home in the shank of the morning.He said that shank thing didn’t make any sense.
    Thanks to your sharing I have a leg to stand on. Pun intended!

  • Jule Shanklin

    Thank you for a good exposition of this phrase. I veered off from trying to pry out the various VERB forms of the word to this descriptive form usage of the noun.

  • Emilio Verdugo

    I use the phrase quite often. I think it cuts both ways: the shank being the lower portion of the leg can refer to the later part of the evening, can mean that the best part is already gone, alternatively, I often use it when it is the later part of the evening, but the ingredients are still present such that the tastiest part of the party can still be ahead. This is largely my own way of constructing the phrase.

  • Virginia Gaines

    I heard “shank of the evening” from my grandmother regularly when I was a child. I was born in 1937 and grew up 12 miles from St. Louis in a small town in Illinois. It’s interesting to see that the phrase was used by Tennessee Williams in “Glass Menagerie” since of course that play is set in St. Louis.
    Grandma certainly meant that it was the central or best part of the evening!

  • Jason M

    One of the WCW pro wrestling commentators in the 80/90s (I think Tony Schiavone) routinely welcomed viewers to “the shanks of the evening.”

  • Catharine

    My great uncle always said ” the shank of the afternoon” meaning lateish, but not at the very end of the afternoon.

  • Chris Knight

    Just came on your site while looking up the meaning of the word, which appears in the Coen brothers’ new movie, Hail, Caesar! “Still shank of night,” is the phrase, and the context suggests it’s being use to mean “dead of night” or “deep of night.”

  • Doug Weltz

    “Shank of the evening” was also used on The Andy Griffith Show by Barney Fife in the episode “Three’s Company”.

  • Leticia

    I heard this in Jane got a gun, with the shank of time.

  • Steve

    1990’s movie, Like Father Like Son with Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron, Kirk’s character says ” we still have the Shank of the Evening to do as we choose.”
    ..please don’t ask me how the hell I remember that

  • Igor

    From “The Young Folks” by J. D. Salinger:

    “Oh, but the party’s young!” Edna said. “The shank of the evening!”
    “The what?”
    “The shank of the evening. I mean it’s so early yet.”

  • Tim

    I do public speaking professionally and every time I’m MC for an event I use that phrase all the time meaning the program is almost over. Because if you look at a butchers chart of a cow or pig the shank is the back leg near the end. So the shank of an evening or program means you’re near the end. Hope this helps.

  • rep

    This strikes me as a case of “glass half empty/full”. That is, the shank is the middle part of three parts(originally the part between the knee and ankle). If you think that things are likely to get better as they go along, then the middle is “only” the shank; things are just getting going. But if you think that things usually go downhill, then, for you, the shank is already too late for the best; it is just the beginning of the end.

  • Max Minor

    According to the old Hoagy Carmichael song, “shank of the evening” clearly refers to the time when the party is just starting to get going well, NOT the end of the party. This is the same song mentioned above about Rosemary Clooney.

  • Jake

    Excellent writing and funny brain you have. When I read your description about Mr Ed and leg biting I laughed out loud. No big deal? You’d have to know me to know how major that is! Excellent article. I always used the golf analogy. Shanking in golf is bad. But, I realized from places and people who use “shank” have no F’ing clue what it means. They say it because they heard it said and they think it sounds exotic or some b.s. Like your take. Thanks for the laugh.

  • Emma Bovary

    In “Hail Caesar” the expression occurs near the beginning. It’s in a satiric “voice-over” narration that’s movie-pompous & overwrought but true. It is very dark outside, not near dawn. The action is certainly the highlight of two characters’ night. (I think) the narration is spoken by Michael Gambon.

  • Nancy Travis

    In the shank shank shank of the evening tell him I’ll be there in the shank shank shank of the evening better save a chair, with the parties getting to go on and singing fills the air in the shank of the night when the moon shining bright tell him I’ll be there

  • MaryAnn

    Eons ago there was a song “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening”.
    Words included: “in the shank of the night, when the doin’s are right, you can tell them I’ll be there.”
    I’m an old lady….and I can hum the melody.

  • TenDreams

    Shank of the evening appears as well in “Apocalypse Now.”

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