U 14.1515-17: He strike a telegramboy paddock wire big bug Bass to the depot. Shove him a joey and grahamise. Mare on form hot order. Guinea to a goosegog. Tell a cram, that. Gospeltrue.
The expression “to tell a cram” arising from the jumble of voices at Burke's is usually attributed to Lenehan, and rightly so, as it is yet another example of the old chestnuts that he is so fond of roasting. Gifford comments rather laboriously:
which obscures the fact that Lenehan borrowed the phrase tell a cram as a whole.
The emergence of the expression (as a noun) occurred as a play on telegram when the newfangled telegraphy took the world by storm, as the following examples show:
As the OED shows, the slang term "cram" - meaning a lie - was not significantly older than the jokey “tell-a-cram”, though the verb to cram is recorded from the late eighteenth century.
The expression was clearly past its heyday when Joyce put it into a notesheet for the Oxen of the Sun episode in 1920.
Joyce's Words >