On the Origin of Down the Pike

highway

I’m not going to lie to you. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure whether the correct phrase was “Down the pike” or “Down the pipe”.

Spoiler Alert! It’s “down the pike”.

This phrase, which means that something is on its way (as in a project in development), hails from just over a century ago when roads and highways began to proliferate. Back then, the common term for a highway was a turnpike. And while this term is rarely used any more, the phrase “down the pike” refers to a vehicle coming down the turnpike.

Now, the word pike exists almost exclusively in the phrase, so it isn’t surprising that people are confusing it with the word “pipe”. After all, everyone knows what a pipe is and things do in fact come down pipes as well.

But if you are a word nerd and care about using the right word, use pike.

In fact, let’s all start using pike and turnpike again when referring to the highway. That way, future generations won’t have to stumble or cough when finishing the phrase “down the pike/pipe”, as I did until recently.

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3 responses to “On the Origin of Down the Pike

  1. Is it a uniquely American term. I have always heard people say “down the pike” and never thought anything of it. Then again, other than in New England, I don’t hear people use the work pike.

  2. So, you know where the term turnpike came from, right? Even way back when highways were first being built, government collected tolls to help pay for building and sustaining the highway. A long wooden pike was set across the road, much like a gate without a connecting fence. When the toll was collected, the toll collector would turn the pike, like opening a gate, to let the travelers continue down the road. Or down the pike.

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