Trick or Treat!

In case any of you are wondering where the phrase originated today . . .

Literal-Minded

In the course of writing a Visual Thesaurus column on aspects of the word Halloween, I looked into the history of trick or treat. Some of the questions I had about it were:

  • When did it become a verb, as in trick-or-treating?
  • If its origin is indeed a threat, why is the threat said first and the demand second? That is, why isn’t it Treat or trick, following the same demand-punishment template as Your money or your life or Truth or consequences?
  • What’s with the kids in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown saying “Tricks or treats”? Is that a 1950s/60s thing, or a regional thing?

In the book Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, by David J. Skal, I learned that trick-or-treating in the United States began only in the 1920s, or possibly slightly earlier, on a regional basis. Skal…

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2 thoughts on “Trick or Treat!

  1. The earliest attestation has now moved to 1927, in an Edmonton newspaper, I learned here. This story quotes the original article:

    Halloween provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front, demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat”, to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.” From ‘Trick or Treat’ is Demand,” Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta), Nov. 4, 1927

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