Thursday, October 04, 2007

More Word and Phrase Origins


More Railroad Word and Phrase Origins:

"picking up the slack"

"tell-tale sign"

"full head of steam"

"the real McCoy"


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


"Dead End"

—Wayne Gushard

12/20/2008 10:02 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Can anyone verify whether the phrase "Dead End" was originally railroad terminology as suggested by Wayne Gushard?

12/20/2008 10:03 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I can't speak to "Dead End" – Certainly no specifically railroad association comes to my mind.

As to
Sabotage – "the practice by striking French railway workers of cutting the sabot [metal shoe] that held railroad tracks in place. The word appears in English in 1910 and early use specifically refers to the French railroad strikers."
My understanding has always been that this work derived from (French) anti-industrial workers that threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into factory gears to break them. I never heard a railroad association before.

On sabotage, the following is by far the most extensive, and appears to support the much earlier origin of Sabotage.

See also the following

Wikipedia raises questions about this definition, but doesn't present particularly compelling evidence for its own much later railroad origins of the word. dates the origins of the word back to 1865-70. See here for Sabot.

Also scroll down here to "Sabotage."

A more thorough discussion is here and also here.


12/22/2008 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Evan Clark"

In your Railroad Idioms web page (which I loved by the way), you ask for additional railroad terminology in common usage today. Here are a couple of others:

train wreck - as in, "This project is a train wreck"
freight train - as in, "He hits like a freight train"
end of the line - as in, "It's the end of the line for you"

A couple of the idioms you list are probably not from the railroad originally:

fast track - probably refers to horse racing (see this and this)
backtrack - probably has reference to a way of avoiding being tracked by scent

Thanks for putting up an interesting page.

—Evan Clark, NetControl Terminal, Union Pacific Railroad

7/23/2014 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sir John Herschel ... made protean contributions to the invention of photography, including the discovery of fixer and the words "positive," "negative," and "snapshot" (a term he imported from hunting, as when a "broken" (open) shotgun is quickly snapped closed again to enable the hunter to quickly fire at a flushed bird). His greatest contribution to the lexicography, of course, was the word "photography," which, quoting Wikipedia, was "created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), 'light,' and γραφή (graphé) 'representation by means of lines' or 'drawing,' together meaning 'drawing with light.'" " Mike Johnston

5/18/2016 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Larry Darden"

Jerkwater town - In the days of steam powered locomotives, trains needed to resupply their water tenders. Most larger towns had on track (on line) water towers for this purpose, making topping off very easy. Where there were no water towers, (usually in the smaller towns) water had to be procured from a nearby stream using ropes and leather bags. This process was called "jerking water". Thus, these smaller towns were referred to as "jerkwater" towns.

—Larry Darden, Los Angeles

4/04/2017 3:34 AM  
Blogger JohnP said...

... it seems the red carpet was a railroad phenomenon: in 1902, the New York Central used plush crimson carpets to direct people boarding the 20th Century Limited. It was this usage that seems to mark the origin of the phrase “red carpet treatment.”

4/25/2019 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like trains

1/30/2020 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see,

"In what country did the term 'railroaded' originate?"

8/22/2023 4:29 AM  

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