“It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings” is a phrase that I learned from cartoons. I’m pretty sure it was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that I saw a lady signing opera and the phrase was used. I tried to find that cartoon, but I didn’t find the exact cartoon. However, I did find “What’s Opera, Doc?” This cartoon is a parody of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung or Ring Cycle .
However, before continuing, the meaning of the phrase “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings” is that nothing can be reversed until the final act happens. There are also arguments over whether the word should be “till,” “’til,” or “until.” Grammarians fight over these words. I am choosing to go with “’til” as a contraction of the word “until.” Some grammarians also insist that it should say, “it isn’t over ’til the fat lady sings.”
Now, back to Wagner’s Ring Cycle . This could be a very long opera. Performances of the opera could last more than 14 hours. Thus, it is likely that it was asked by many when the opera would be finished. “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings,” may have been the answer given, as the character Brunhilde, who is zaftig ends the opera with a ten minute solo.
This makes sense, but there are no reference in print to the opera before similar phrases are found from sports. Many attribute the quote to Yogi Berra, but just like, “the future ain’t what it used to be,” “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again,” it is only attributed to him.
A more likely source of the phrase is from March 1976 when Ralph Carpenter said, “Right. The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” on The Dallas Morning News .
However, there are people who claim that they have known the phrase all their life. This means that the origin of the phrase “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings,” would have to be earlier than 1976 as many of these people were born in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s.
Some of the versions known by others are “church ain’t out ’til the fat lady sings,” and “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings the blues.” The first example was listed by Fabia Rue and Charles Rayford Smith in Southern Words and Sayings in the same year of the Carpenter interview. This means that it is even more likely that the origin of the phrase is from the south.
It is not certain if the phrase came from the opera, but being that the phrase was known in the south about church, the most likely origin of the phrase is somewhere in the southern churches. It may have been that a “fat lady” sang at the end of a church service. Saying, “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings,” would be an easy way to let children know when the church service ended.
YouTube – chuck jones WHAT’S THE OPERA DOC . (n.d.). YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved January 27, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQlmXU1zqfc
Brawn Hilda – Television Tropes & Idioms . (n.d.). Home Page – Television Tropes & Idioms . Retrieved January 27, 2011, from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BrawnHilda
Martin, G. (n.d.). It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases . Retrieved January 27, 2011, from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/it-aint-over-until-the-fat-lady-sings.html