(1) In Greek mythology, the shirt given to Hercules after the poisonous blood of the slain centaur Nessus had been smeared on it .

(2) ' Used allusively, to denote any destructive or expiatory force or influence.' -- Oxford English Dictionary {This dictionary is far and away the very best, the most complete dictionary of the English language. See www.oed.com }.

{From the Oxford English Dictionary}:

Nessus, n.

{ ‘ Used allusively in compounds and phrases (as Nessus-robe, Nessus shirt; Nessus' shirt, shirt of Nessus), to denote any destructive or expiatory force or influence. }

Etymology: < Nessus (classical Latin Nessus, ancient Greek Νέσσος), the name of the centaur slain by Hercules, in classical mythology, whose blood later poisoned Hercules after he was given a garment smeared with it to wear.

(1) "A shirt with NIKE on it -- OK; a shirt with Nessus on it -- not OK. No Nessus shirt for me." -- Dinkum

(2) Citations collected in the incomparable Oxford English Dictionary:

1616 SHAKESPEARE. "Antony & Cleopatra" (1623) iv. xiii. 43 The shirt of Nessus is vpon me.

1664 THOMAS KILLIGREW. "Parsons Wedding" v. iv, in Comedies & Trag. 153 Take it; would 'twere Nessus his shirt, for you and your Poets sake.

1835 THOMAS CARLYLE. "Lett. to his Wife" (1953) 108 It is now almost my sole rule of life: to clear myself of Cants and formulas, as of poisonous Nessus' shirts.

1905 S. J. WEYMAN. "Starvecrow Farm" xxxii. 297 Remorse is the very shirt of Nessus. It is of all mental pains the worst.

1924 ROBERT GRAVES. "Mock Beggar Hall" 10 The Nessus-robe that beauties wear, Burning away their beauty.

1957 EDITH SITWELL. "Coll. Poems" 414 Then the heart that was the Burning-Bush May change to a Nessus-robe of flame.

1980 PATRICK O'BRIAN. "Surgeon's Mate" vi. 177 A Nessus' shirt might be more apt.
by Dinkum August 21, 2013