"slippery slope"

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Fri Jun 27 18:47:30 UTC 2003

Geoffrey Nunberg said:
>For an article, I'm trying to track the origin of the phrase
>"slippery slope" in its figurative sense -- what the OED defines as
>"a course leading to disaster or destruction." The OED itself gives
>1951 for the first occurrence, but that's easy to antedate. The
>earliest cite for a figurative use that I've located, via HTI, is
>from The Princeton Review, 1880, in a discussion of a noted
>For a while he held as a positive tenet that religious
>truth could not rest on scientific proof, inasmuch as the latter
>requires probable evidence alone, while religion demands
>intuitive certainty. For a while he arrested his sliding steps
>on the slippery slope down which they were gliding, by finding
>in faith a positive insight, or a special religious faculty...
>I found a somewhat less laboriously metaphorical use, via JSTOR, in
>an article in the American Political Science Review, Nov. 1909,
>quoting another publication from the same year:
>A writer in the Quarterly Review is not exaggerating the importance
>of this legislation in viewing it as "the first step down that
>slippery slope at the bottom of which lies a parliamentary government
>in India."

I can't help with the origin of the trope, but I'm curious about the
context of the 1909 attestation. To my 21st century ears, it sounds
as if the writer of that article or letter thinks it would be a bad
thing to have a parliamentary government in India. Does that actually
seem to be the case?
Alice Faber                                             faber at haskins.yale.edu
Haskins Laboratories                                  tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                                     fax (203) 865-8963

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