If you were to hear this English expression, it would be very difficult to decode the meaning without any prior knowledge. If you would like to be able to use the expression correctly then keep reading this article!
The expression is used in order to denote the act of having a wild or riotous evening out. It generally suggests unruly and potentially dangerous behaviour.
It is believed that the phrase derived from a painting which was published in New Sporting Magazine in 1837. The title of the painting was A Spree at Melton Mowbray and it depicted a group of men who were all dressed in red and were causing chaos.
Despite this belief, it was not until 1883 in the July edition of The New York Times that the expression was first printed. The quote reads “Mr. James Hennessy offered a resolution that the entire body proceed forthwith to Newark and get drunk… Then the Democrats charged upon the street cars, and being wafted into Newark proceeded, to use their own metaphor, to paint the town red.”
An example of this phrase in use can be found in Rudyard Kipling’s Abaft Funnel in 1889. It reads “they would do their best towards painting that town [Chicago] in purest vermilion.”