paint the town red

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US slang. Earliest known use 1884. Various theories include the red from bonfires, the heat from over-stoked paddle-wheel boilers, and town demarcation lines in the Wild West. A British claim attributing it to the actions of the Third Marquess of Waterford predates the first known use by decades.


paint the town red

  1. (idiomatic) To party or celebrate in a rowdy, wild manner, especially in a public place.
    It was the end of term and students decided to celebrate by painting the town red.
    • 1894, Bret Harte, "The Heir of the McHulishes" in A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's and Other Stories:
      After that dinner at MacFen's he was done for—went wild. Danced a sword-dance, or a strathspey, or some other blamed thing, on the table, and yelled louder than the pipes. So they all did. Jack, I've painted the town red once myself.
    • 1919, William MacLeod Raine, A Man Four-Square, ch. 8:
      Half a dozen cowboys cantered up the main street of Los Portales in a cloud of dust. One of them, older than the rest, let out the wild yell. . . . A second flung into the blue sky three rapid revolver shots. Plainly they were advertising the fact that they had come to paint the town red and did not care who knew it.


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