Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1996 17:00:05 -0400

From: Jesse T Sheidlower jester[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PANIX.COM

Subject: Re: Chinese Fire Drill

Does anyone know the origin of this phrase?

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang has

an entry for this phrase. The first definition is 'a state or

example of utter confusion', from 1952, and the second is

for the student prank of madly switching places in a car (we

don't supply a definition directly, but refer to one of the

cites), from 1972 but with two cites from DARE referring to

the early 1960s and the early 1940s.

There are a number of related earlier expressions with _Chinese_

meaning broadly 'inferior; clumsy'. The most common of these

seems to be _Chinese landing,_ which is suggested by the

phrase "one wing low," presumed to resemble a Chinese phrase

or name. I assume that _Chinese fire drill_ is an extension of

these uses.

Jesse Sheidlower

Random House Reference