The Grammarphobia Blog

All fixed for some pie

Q: I just read your “All the fixings” article about using the verb “fix” to mean “get ready” or “be ready.” It reminded me of a phrase my father used when he didn’t get a treat he was hoping to have: “I had my mouth all fixed for some pie.”

A: Your father was using the expression “all fixed for” in the sense of wanting something very much or longing for it.

This dialectal usage is sometimes followed by a gerund (“all fixed for eating some pie”) or, as in your father’s case, the treat itself (“I had my mouth all fixed for some pie”).

As far as we can tell from our searches of newspaper databases, the usage showed up in the late 19th century. In many of the examples, the person all fixed for something is disappointed—similar to your father’s use of the expression.

The earliest example we’ve seen is from the July, 4, 1895, issue of the Phillipsburg (KS) Herald: “Win Bissell got his mouth all fixed for a big feast of roasting ears on the Fourth, but a cow got in and cleaned up the patch Sunday night.”

And here’s one from the Oct. 21, 1909, Hammond (IN) Times: “Christ Brookham of 3619 Elm street reports to the police that duck thieves are abroad in the land, and that he is shy two nice fat ones, and was compelled to eat a third one when he had his mouth all fixed for chicken.”

In this example from the Jan. 16, 1915, Coronado (CA) Eagle and Journal, the person’s face, not his mouth, is “all fixed for” something good to eat:

“Did you ever get your face all fixed for a turkey dinner and find that the turkey supply was exhausted and all you could get was hamburger?”

And here’s a “throat” example, minus the word “all,” from the Aug. 25, 1917, issue of the Loveland (CO) Daily: “We had our throat fixed for trout, but they wan’t nothin’ come of it.”

But most of our sightings were of the “mouth all fixed for” variety. Here are a few more.

From the Nov. 4, 1921, Mohave County (AZ) Miner and Our Mineral Wealth: “J. H. Smith is short two fat ducks that were nabbed in back yard under the guise of a Halloween prank. Hubert says he would rather they had taken his chicken coop as his mouth was all fixed for a duck dinner.”

From the June 27, 1924, Clare (MI) Sentinel: “Oh, say! We are going to be invited out to supper this week and we have our mouth all fixed for chicken; but don’t mention it, as we are telling you this in confidence and wouldn’t like it to reach the ears of our expected hostess.”

And finally, from an advertisement for Junket in the April 3, 1947, San Bernardino (CA) Sun: “I had my mouth all fixed for that rennet-custard dessert you’re givin’ to Daddy! ’Course, Daddy likes it too—who wouldn’t? But you know rennet custards are my dish from ’way back. So how about it?”

This sense of “all fixed for” as longing for something is apparently derived from the use of the verb “fix” to mean be prepared or get ready, a usage that dates back to the early 1700s.

The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from a 1715 entry in The Early Records of Lancaster, Massachusetts (1884), edited by Henry S. Nourse: “We’d fix things directly; I’ll settle whatever you please upon her.”

By the early 1800s, the verb was being used in the sense of preparing a drink or a meal, as in this OED example from Frances Trollope’s notes for Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832): “You must fix me a drink.” Frances Trollope was the mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope.

And later in the 19th century, the expression “all fixed for” was being used in the sense of ready for a meal.

This example is from an ad for Platt’s buckwheat flour in the Nov. 6, 1871, issue of the Hartford (CT) Daily Courant: “Now we are all fixed for a good breakfast.”

The verb “fix,” which meant to make firm or stable when it showed up in English in the 1400s, is ultimately derived from fīxus, the past participle of fīgĕre, classical Latin for to fix or fasten.

The earliest OED example is from a collection of 15th-century songs and carols edited by Thomas Wright in 1847: “I thouȝt in mynd / I schuld ay fynd / The wehle of fortunat fyxyd fast.”

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