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. While it’s not always the case, it’s implied that the fun being is had is done in a loud and garish way.
Example: When Sam and his coworkers are on the job, they are responsible, reliable, and productive. For their excellent work ethic, they were all given a raise and they wanted to celebrate the occasion. Hence they said to each other: “How about we go and paint the town red later tonight at Sal’s restaurant?”
(In other words, they were planning to have a fun time.)
The Origins of ‘Paint The Town Red’
What is the origin of the phrase paint the town red? Some places I’ve read say it might stem from an old tale about Henry Beresford. He was the 3rd Marquess of Waterford who lived from 1811 to 1859. Let’s take a look at this story that is told about him:
In 1837, Henry Beresford and his friends are said to have been on their way to the town of Melton Mowbray. Along the way, they arrived at a tollbooth (it should be mentioned that they were intoxicated at this time). 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 took the paint buckets and went away into town.
Their vandalizing session continued as they painted several doors they passed by red. They also caused other kinds of damage until eventually, the police stopped them. That’s the gist of the story.
Does The Saying Really Come From This Story?
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 since 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 from The Brulington Daily Hawk-Eye newspaper:
“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 in 1837, then why did it take until 1882 (nearly five decades later) for it to start appearing in print? For me, this suggests that the origin of the phrase ‘paint the town red’ lay elsewhere.
Here are some examples of how phrase used in a sentence:
- With the positive news about 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 that my hard work paid off. I’m going to celebrate later.
- My parents are visiting all the way from Florida. I’ve made arrangements for when they arrive to ensure they have a good time during their trip.
Tip: If you want to read about more English expressions on here like this one, well, you can! Know Your Phrase has a list of sayings starting with ‘P’ that you can check out. Go on, take a look!