Laid on like the gas
D ("The Dead") 15.1028-9: – He has been laid on here like the gas, said Aunt Kate in the same tone, all during the Christmas.
Although it is clear that Aunt Kate obviously thinks that Mr Browne has outstayed his welcome, the phrase “laid on here like the gas” might at first seem a bit puzzling to modern readers.
The expression was in fact quite popular between the 1850 and the 1930s and was most frequently used with a slightly different wording and (in early occurrences) a literal meaning:
The installation of water and gas in the cities created a new phrasal verb: “to lay on”, first noted by the OED with reference to the supply of water in 1845.1 The fact that it is frequently given between inverted commas bears witness that as a comparison (“laid on like the gas”) it was regarded as a new usage:
The meaning of the phrase varies between expected reliability, availability and being a nuisance, at times with a hint at irascible temper:
After the first meeting of what was known as the Court of Directors of the Gas, Light and Coke Company had been held at 27 Norfolk Street, Strand on 24 June 1812, gas started to be laid on all over Britain and Ireland, at first as a civic amenity (street lighting, etc.) and subsequently also for domestic supply.
1 See also Central Criminal Court: Minutes of Evidence (1837), vol. 7, p. 114: “ Q. When the gas was laid on, was it done by the regular workmen? A. I suppose so — I did not go out to look at them.“
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