In The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (a Sherlock Holmes short story):

"'I was blue ribbon at that time, and we were putting a little money by, and all was as bright as a new dollar. My God, whoever would have thought that it could have come to this? Whoever would have dreamed it?


"'Well, from that time Sarah hated me with her whole heart and soul, and she is a woman who can hate, too. I was a fool to let her go on biding with us—a besotted fool—but I never said a word to Mary, for I knew it would grieve her. Things went on much as before, but after a time I began to find that there was a bit of a change in Mary herself. She had always been so trusting and so innocent, but now she became queer and suspicious, wanting to know where I had been and what I had been doing, and whom my letters were from, and what I had in my pockets, and a thousand such follies. Day by day she grew queerer and more irritable, and we had ceaseless rows about nothing. I was fairly puzzled by it all. Sarah avoided me now, but she and Mary were just inseparable. I can see now how she was plotting and scheming and poisoning my wife's mind against me, but I was such a blind beetle that I could not understand it at the time. Then I broke my blue ribbon and began to drink again, but I think I should not have done it if Mary had been the same as ever. She had some reason to be disgusted with me now, and the gap between us began to be wider and wider. And then this Alec Fairbairn chipped in, and things became a thousand times blacker.

What does "blue ribbon" mean in this context? Wikipedia has an article on blue ribbon, but none of them are specific to this time period or country. The second occurrence suggests that it has something to do with alcohol, but none of the examples on Wiki are related to alcohol either.


1 Answer 1


It could refer to the Blue Ribbon Army. This organization promotes abstinence from alcohol. So "broke my blue ribbon" means to start drinking again.

From Gospel Blue Ribbon Mission

The original Blue Ribbon Movement was started in Maine, USA in 1877 by Mr. J.K. Osgood, who named it the Temperance reform Club Blue Ribbon Mission Movement.
In February 1887, Francis Murphy (1836-1907) developed the idea further. He was a reformed rum dealer. Born in Wexford, Ireland, he migrated to the USA at the age of 16 in 1852. He worked in a bar and had a short spell in prison for drunkenness before signing the pledge and turning his back on the evils of drink. The ‘Gospel Temperance’ or ‘Blue Ribbon Army’ was set up in the USA by him. He then set up a campaign which combined the idea of Christian evangelism with teetotalism. Murphy took his movement’s colour from a reference in the King James Bible (Numbers 15 verses 38-39) which bids the Children of Israel to put a ribband of blue in the borders of their garments to help them remember God’s commandments.
A year later, an Englishman, William Noble, attended a rally and returned to Britain to spread the word.

And Francis Murphy

Francis Murphy (1836-1907) was a leading campaigner against alcohol on both sides of the Atlantic.


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