Paint The Town Red

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. Also, with this expression, it’s implied that the people having fun are doing so in a loud and garish way.

Example: Mike and his coworkers are responsible, reliable, and productive when they’re on the job. Because of their excellent work ethic, they received a moderate increase in their salary. To celebrate this, they said to one another: “How about we all go out and paint the town red later tonight at Sal’s restaurant?” (In other words, they were planning to have a fun time.)

Similar: celebrate, party, have a good time

the phrase - paint the town red.

The Origins of ‘Paint The Town Red’

When it comes to the origin of the phrase “paint the town red,” it may stem from an old tale that’s told 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 to see why:

In 1837, it’s said that Henry Beresford and his friends were driving to the town of Melton Mowbray. Along the way, they arrived at a tollbooth and it should be mentioned they were all intoxicated at the time. Anyways, as one would expect, the toll-man wanted to be paid. However, instead of complying, Henry and his posse decided to cause a ruckus by stealing a few buckets of red paint that were nearby, including the brushes. They then painted the tollbooth red, hopped into their car with the paint buckets, and drove away into town.

Their session of vandalizing 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 noticed these crimes and tried to stop Henry and his friends, but they were unsuccessful. Finally, after the police mustered enough numbers, they brought the mayhem to an end. That’s the story, or what I’ve heard of it anyways.

Does The Saying Really Come From This Tale?

According to Idioms Online, there are several tales about this phrase’s origin, but none of them seem too convincing. Some people may think that the saying “paint the town red” comes from the story mentioned above since Henry did indeed paint things red. However, this incident took place in 1837, and the earliest the idiom appears in print is 45 years later, in 1882. For example, it is used in a newspaper during that year called 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 take nearly five decades for it start appearing in print? To me, that would suggest its origins lay elsewhere.

Sentence Examples

Here are some examples of how to use this phrase in a sentence:

  • What with the positive news we heard today about your mother’s health, I think we should paint the town red and enjoy ourselves.

Similar Examples:

  • I studied hard for an English test at school and I’m relieved 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.

Tip: If you want to read about more English expressions like this one, well, Know Your Phrase has a list of sayings starting with ‘P’ that you may want to consider checking out. Go on, don’t be shy!

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