The Meaning of ‘Paint The Town Red’
Going out by yourself or with friends, usually to some recreational place in the city, in order to have an enjoyable time. It’s implied that the fun being had is done in a loud and garish way.
The Origins of ‘Paint The Town Red’
It is possible that the origin of the phrase paint the town red stems from an old tale about Henry Beresford. He was the 3rd Marquess of Waterford who lived from 1811 to 1859. Let’s take a closer look at this story:
In 1837, it is said that Henry Beresford and his friends were driving to the town of Melton Mowbray. Along the way, they arrived at a tollbooth and, for what happens next, it should be mentioned that they were all intoxicated at this time. Anyway, the toll-man wanted to be paid, but instead of complying, Henry and his posse decided to cause a ruckus. They stole some nearby buckets of red paint, including the brushes, and then they began painting the tollbooth red. Afterwards, they hopped into their car with, paint buckets included, and drove away into town.
Their vandalizing session continued as they painted several doors red that they passed by. They also broke people’s flower pots and took down signs. Individual policemen in the area tried to stop Henry and his friends, but they were unsuccessful. Finally, after the police mustered enough numbers, they brought this bout to an end.
Now whether this story really happened or not, I’m not entirely sure. Nonetheless, that is how the tale goes.
Does The Saying Really Come From This Tale?
According to Idioms Online, there are several stories about this phrase’s origin, but none of them seem too convincing. Some people might think that the saying ‘paint the town red’ comes from the story mentioned above with Henry. After all, he did paint things red. However, this incident took place in 1837, and the earliest the idiom appears in print is 45 years later, in 1882. Here is an example of it being used in a newspaper during that year, from The Brulington Daily Hawk-Eye:
“That the cow ordinance is going to paint the town red before it ceases to protest and make trouble.”
If the phrase originated from Henry’s anecdote, then why did it so long (nearly five decades) for it to start appearing in print? To me, this suggests that the phrase’s origins lay elsewhere.
Here are some examples of how phrase used in a sentence:
- With the positive news regarding your mother’s health, I think we should paint the town red and enjoy ourselves.
- I studied hard for an English test at school and it’s nice to see my hard work pay off. I’m going to celebrate later.
- My parents are visiting all the way from Florida. Once they arrive, I’ve made arrangements to ensure they have a good time during their trip.