To take or send someone “to the cleaners” means to wipe that person out, financially or otherwise. The saying was first used in sports and gambling. In April 1906, boxer Rufe Turner said about an opponent, “I will send him to the cleaners.” “He fought Rufus twice, sending him to the cleaner in eight round the first time” was cited in May 1906. “A well placed hit or two would have sent him to the cleaners” was said about a baseball pitcher in June 1907. The “cleaners” are the showers—somewhere athletes go to after they’ve left the place of competition.
“That’s the way we took him to the cleaners” was cited in a gambling story in September 1912, with the implication here that a person was being cleaned of his money at the poker table. (There are no showers for card games.) “Everyone is trying to take her to the cleaners” was cited in a March 1926 “Ella Cinders” comic strip, with “easy money boys” seen trying to take Ella’s money from her. A modern interpretation of the saying sometimes conveys taking someone to the “dry cleaners,” but this is far different from the original use in sports.
Wiktionary: take to the cleaners
take someone to the cleaners
1.(idiomatic) To take a significant quantity of a person’s money or valuables, through gambling, unfavorable investing, fraud, litigation, etc.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Slang phr. to take (someone) to the cleaners: (a) to take away, or defraud of, all someone’s money; so to go, send, to the cleaners (orig. U.S.); (b) to criticize strongly.
1932 Flynn’s 28 May 49/2, I dropped the biggest wager I had ever made on anything… That sent me to the cleaners, wiped out.
1949 H. MacLennan Precipice i. 71 He..had..played several more sets of tennis with him. He had taken Carl to the cleaner’s this time.
1950 R. Chandler Simple Art of Murder 19 I’m in a jam. But I’m not going to the cleaners… Half of this money is mine.
13 April 1906, Oakland (CA) Tribune, “Rufe Turner on Gans Fight,” pg. 12, col. 3:
“If he will make 138 pounds at 6 o’clock for me, I will send him to the cleaners, and you can stand a tap on that tip.”
19 May 1906, Spokane (WA) Press, “Gossip of the Fighting Game,” pg. 3, col. 1:
He fought Rufus twice, sending (Col. 2—ed.) him to the cleaner in eight rounds the first time, and in the second battle, Parker, who was on the alfalfa diet, which he made famous, didn’t have a look in.
5 June 1907, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, “Gossip about the Players,” pg. 12, col. 3:
Higginbotham always pitches a stronger game when he is ahead than when he is behind, but the big fellow was so anxious to beat Seattle that he was nervous and wild, and a well placed hit or two would have sent him to the cleaners.
1 February 1908, Denver (CO) Post, “No Champion in the Welterweight Class,” pg. 7, col. 3:
He had never been considered with the fourth raters and was shown his true colors when Harry Lewis sent him to the cleaners in jig time.
15 September 1912, Rockford (IL) Morning Star, “Tales of an Old Gamblers—When ‘Canada Bill’ and “Eat-’Em-Up-Jake’ Took Them to the Cleaners,” pg. 13, col. 6:
As We Took ‘Em to the Cleaners.
(...) (Col. 7—ed.)
That’s the way we took him to the cleaners.
23 March 1926, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “ELLA CINDERS—The Easy Money Boys” comic strip by Bill Conselman and Charlie Plumb, pg. 24, col. 2:
Since Ella fell into a tub of oil and came up dripping with lucre, it seems as though everyone is trying to take her to the cleaners.
OCLC WorldCat record
I’ll Take You To The Cleaners (take 1)
Author: Lil Johnson
Edition/Format: Sound recording Sound recording
Publication: Lil Johnson Vol. 2 1936-1937
Database: Music Online Listening
The Jazz Makers
By Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff
New York, NY: Grove Press
She told a writer for Ebony that a manager had taken her to the cleaners to the tune of six thousand dollars, “most of my earnings following my confinement.”
OCLC WorldCat record
Privatisation: taken to the cleaners?
Author: G Anderson
Edition/Format: Article : English
Publication: Nursing times, 1984 May 30-Jun 5; 80(22): 18-9
Database: From MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
OCLC WorldCat record
Launderers and dry cleaners : ever been taken to the cleaners? read this for a fairer deal
Author: Great Britain. Office of Fair Trading.; Great Britain. Central Office of Information.
Publisher: London : Office of Fair Trading, 1986.
Edition/Format: Book : Government publication : English
Look What God Did for Our Marriage:
A Redemptive Tale
By Sheryl Foulk Rogers-Ramirez
Tucson, AZ: Wheatmark
Richard told Rene that he would have plenty of money to buy a new truck because, when we divorced, he was going to take me to the cleaners.
New York City • Banking/Finance/Insurance • Wednesday, July 03, 2013 • Permalink