“I don’t know him from a bar of soap”

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day (as apposed to any other day haha) when I came across a friend’s status.

She mentioned she didn’t know some guy from a bar of soap…….and then asked what that even meant.

bar of soap on hand towel on side of basin_1It got me thinking too – where did this idiom originate from?

Obviously, it means not being able to recognise the person as someone you know. One source I came across gave this definition:

To be completely unaware of or know nothing about someone; to never have met the person indicated.

Trying to locate where this saying originated from was quite difficult. In fact, there was next to no information o the soap idiom at all. Mostly, it is unknown.

Turns out the “I don’t know you from a bar of soap” is a variant of “I don’t know him from Adam”.

This saying is derived from the biblical story of Adam – the first man God created, meaning Adam lived so long ago that no one living today would recognise him if they saw him.

adamIn the past, “I don’t know him from Adam” was more commonly used towards men than women, and has been used since the 1800’s. These days, however, it is used to refer to any person at all.

In 1840, Charles Dickens used the Adam idiom in his book “The Old Curiosity Shop”:

“He had scarcely bestowed upon him his blessing, and followed it with a general remark touching the present state and prospects of the weather, when, lifting his eyes, he beheld the single gentleman of Bevis Marks in earnest conversation with Christopher Nubbles.

“Halloo!” said Dick, “who is that?”

“He called to see my Governor this morning,” replied Mr. Chuckster, “beyond that, I don’t know him from Adam.”

To be honest, until I was researching the soap idiom, I had never heard of “I don’t know him from Adam”, or any of the other variants out there, some of which include:

  • I don’t know her from a hole in the ground.
  • I don’t know him from a hole in the wall.
  • I don’t know her from a can of paint.

Buddy Boy_1Basically, there are that many, you could make up your own!

Example, I don’t know him from a cat’s whisker!

As far as the soap idiom is concerned, I can only guess why someone chose to use soap as a comparison to not knowing someone or not recognising them.

Maybe the analogy is if you had two bars of soap in front of you, you wouldn’t know one from the other.

Whichever way you want to look at it, they all mean the same thing:

To not know or be unable to recognise the person in question.





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