not touch something with a ten foot pole

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Alternative forms[edit]


This expression may have been derived by the 10-foot poles that electricians and other utility workers use to de-energize transformers and other high voltage utility equipment before performing maintenance.

This expression may have been derived by the 10-foot poles that river boatmen used to pole their boats with, along in shallow water, or from the barge poles that bargemen used to fend off wharfs and other boats.

Many believe this expression originates from a burial practice in New Orleans. The Spanish developed burial system of present day proceeds by first placing the casket of the patron in an above ground tomb. Exactly 1 year and 1 day after burial, the tomb is opened and the casket removed. The body is next wrapped in a sheet and shoved to the back of the tomb with a ten foot pole where it falls off the shelf to the bottom. The weather of the area caused the remains to decompose quickly and tombs are subsequently reused for many burial. The expression, "I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole," is thought to have originated from this burial process.


not touch (something) with a ten foot pole

  1. (idiomatic) To avoid something at all costs; to refuse to associate with something; signifies a strong aversion.
    • Ambrose Bierce (under the pseudonym Dod Grile), The Fiend's Delight In conclusion, his respect for letter-writing ladies is so great that he would not touch one of them with a ten-foot pole.
    • 1999. David Morefield, The Guardian: I spy, the new 007:
      Serious actors of the world wouldn't touch the part with a ten-foot pole.
  2. (idiomatic) To be unable (perhaps figuratively) to approach something or someone.
    • Francis Lynde, The Quickening:
      On the contrary, my dear Mr. Gordon, it is because I do know him, or know of him, that I am turning him over to you. You are the one person in the world to obtain that coal lease. I confess I couldn't touch the Major with a ten-foot pole, any more than you could go North and get the cash. But you are his neighbor, and he likes you. What you recommend, he'll do.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol. 8:
      ... the stock's gone up from nothin' out o' sight. You couldn't tech that stock with a ten-foot pole!

Usage notes[edit]

This expression is nearly always used in the negative.


See also[edit]