|The controversy continues.|
The question on everyone's lips is: Where does the expression "deader than Kelsey’s nuts" come from, and what does it mean? According to British etymologist Michael Quinion:
I’m told it’s an expression that former US President Richard Nixon was rather fond of using. Like other Americans before and since, he meant by it that something was unquestionably and permanently defunct. You might hear somebody say “The battery’s deader than Kelsey’s nuts”, or “His chances of surviving the election are deader than Kelsey’s nuts”. ...[W]ho or what was Kelsey and what was so special about those nuts? He turns out to have been a real person, John Kelsey, one of the pioneers of car manufacture in the USA. With the encouragement of Henry Ford, he set up the Kelsey Wheel Company in 1910. By 1913 this was based in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit... The saying refers to the proverbially secure attachment provided by the nuts and bolts on the wheels that Kelsey’s company made. In the view of the public, nothing could be fixed more tightly. And the obvious anatomical innuendoes in those nuts made the saying just a little naughty.
Though some examples are recorded from the 1930s, the phrase began to become more widely known in the 1950s. Early on, it appeared as “tighter than Kelsey’s nuts” to mean a person who was stingy or mean, and is also recorded in the form “as safe as Kelsey’s nuts”, meaning very safe. By the early 1960s, it had evolved away from these fairly obvious formations to the imaginative and metaphorical phrase still used today.
Taking issue with eminent contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary is not my thing. However, an important bit of audio evidence has come to my attention which knocks all previous theories into the proverbial cocked hat. This 1933 recording by the Williams Washboard Band with Ted Tinsley singing, sheds new light on the controversy. No wonder all my etymologist friends are in such a tizzy. Back to you, Mr. Quinion.