One should not assume the outcome of a situation until it reaches its end, because the circumstances can change.
Example: “The Pistons are in the lead, they are definitely going to win this game.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Jeff, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, the Lakers can still turn the game around.”
(In the example above, Jeff assumes that the Pistons will win the game, but that outcome is not guaranteed because there’s still enough time left in the game for things to change. Thus Jeff’s friend uses this expression to essentially say “it’s not over yet.”)
Origin Of “It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings”
The origin of this phrase may be from opera or sports. This expression sounds like a response to a question you’d hear at an opera: “When is it going to be over?” Operas can be quite long, after all.
It looks like this phrase originated sometime in the late 20th century. It’s first recorded use is believed to be from Ralph Carpenter in the Dallas Morning News, March 1976. In this newspaper, the phrase was used in relation to sports. To give some context for the following quote, there was a basketball game being played and the score was tied. Commenting on the game, Carpenter stated:
“The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”
The first recording of this phrase only dates back to the year 1976, so it does not appear to be very old.
The “Fat Lady” Who Sings
Opera! What comes to mind when hearing this five letter word? A theatrical performance with lots of singing and music, perhaps? What about if you specifically picture opera singers? Do you picture them as being on the slimmer side or more on the larger side?
For many people it’s the latter. They might even think of the stereotypical fat lady who sings while wearing a horned helmet. But why is that imagery so commonly associated with opera?
One reason could be because of certain cartoons people watched as they grew up and how opera singers were portrayed in them. For example, some cartoons would often portray them as being on the more larger size (this is what I vaguely remember when I was young, anyways).
And if I remember correctly, some cartoons even had that singing fat lady who wore a horned helmet. Who is she? This “fat lady” that’s depicted as such in these cartoons is believed to be based on Richard Wagner’s “Brunhilde” from the Ring Cycle.
Anyways, the point is that if a person watches cartoons like this as they grow up, they might start associating this sort of imagery with opera when they’re older. A second reason could be that someone who knows next to nothing about operas hears the expression “the opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings” for the first time. They thus assume that most of the singers must be overweight if all operas end with a “fat lady” singing.
But is that actually the case—are most opera singers on the larger side? I haven’t watched a lot of opera, but from what I have seen, I don’t think so. Plenty of opera singers are on the slimmer side. Really, they come in all sizes, even if they do tend to be a bit bigger.
Of note, some people have said that being fatter makes it easier to sing. The reason is because having extra weight makes it easier for a person to control their diaphragm. Whether that is true or not, well, I’m no expert on the subject, but I did find that to be interesting.
- It looks like the baseball team I’m rooting for is about to lose, but it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.
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