smell of an oily rag

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smell of an oily rag

  1. (idiomatic, Australia, New Zealand) A very small amount, or the absolute minimum (usually of money).
    • 1896, Dayrell Davies, "Sport with the Brigands of Macedonia," The Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, Longmans, Green, and Co., no. XII (July to December 1896), v. III, pg. 65:
      We have found them in the remote corners of Asia Minor, sans souliers, sans culottes, often in rags, living on the smell of an oily rag or a raw onion, trying their best to preserve order where their own miserable officials have brought shame and disgrace upon their tarnished colours.
    • 1998, Ian Shaw, quoted in Richard Strauss, Up for Rego: A Social History of the Holden Kingswood, Pluto Press Australia, →ISBN, pg. 33:
      Full of bog, goes anywhere you want to go, don't pay for insurance, runs on the smell of an oily rag.
    • 1999, Stephen Alomes, When London Calls: The Expatriation of Australian Creative Artists, page 133:
      ... they did not prepare someone for the smell-of-an-oily-rag budgets and ratings-driven world of Australian commercial television.
    • 2008, Susan Napier, Accidental Mistress, page 59:
      They're prone to giving away their rations and living off the smell of an oily rag.
    • 2009, Nick Bryant, "'Selling' Queensland with a dream job," BBC News, 1 May 2009, [1]:
      "We did it on the smell of an oily rag", says Danielle Kootman of Tourism Queensland.
    • 2010, Gai Waterhouse, Gai In My Words, page 146:
      They had the smell of an oily rag to work on.
    • 2012, John Clarke, A Dagg at My Table: Selected Writings, page 88:
      There remains ABC Radio, which is the best known example of the relationship between the smell of an oily rag and the will to keep going.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Frequently used in the phrase "run on the smell of an oily rag", with regard to a car's fuel efficiency.