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Where Does the Phrase ‘Paint the Town Red’ Come From?

Paint the Town Red

When you hit the streets and tell everyone you’re gonna “paint the town red,” what you really mean to say is that you and your compadres are planning a no holds barred evening (and maybe early morning) of heavy drinking, dancing and all around bacchanalian excess.

The origins of this phrase are dubious at best, and up for some debate. One of the most colorful accounts comes from the antics of the Marquis of Waterford in the late 1830s.

The Marquis was famous for his wild brand of partying. He was kicked out of Oxford University for unruly behavior, including but not limited to dueling, destroying property, theft, treating women with despicable contempt, and scaring travelers by bursting out of the bushes.

In 1837, or so the story goes, the Marquis of Waterford, along with some of his unruly cohorts, painted red streaks across many of the buildings in the center of the English town of Melton Mowbray (also famous for its pork pies). The men ran rampant that night, apparently, in celebration of a successful fox hunt.

The phrase didn’t actually come out in print until a few years later, and in an American newspaper at that, which is why some people are unsure as to the exact origins of this imaginative expression. There are those who believe that it stems from the practice of Roman soldiers painting the blood of the conquered on city walls. Fun, huh?


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