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fighting words

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A statement bound to start a quarrel or fight. It is often expressed as them's fighting words, as in You say your father's smarter than mine? Them's fighting words. The ungrammatical use of them's for “those are” emphasizes the folksy tone of this colloquialism, first recorded in Ring Lardner's Gullible's Travels (1917).

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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