Joanne M. Despres jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Fri Feb 6 15:47:35 UTC 2004

Now for some real data.  Our citation files have something like 20
instances of the "fire hydrant" sense of "fire plug," all pre-1973 and
the overwhelming majority of which come from technical sources
having to do with firefighting or civil engineering.  A couple come
from fictional sources -- one James T. Farrell's Young Lonigan
(1932) and the other Willard Robertson's South from Yesterday
(1943).  For good measure I checked our electronic database,
which consists of the full text of citations collected from 1980 on,
and found 5 out of 22 hits for "fire plug" or "fireplug" in the "fire
hydrant" sense.  (In most cases the word was used of people,
usually meaning "solidly built" or "physically or psychologically
strong")  Of the five that did bear the literal meaning, one came
from a Donald Hall essay in the Utne Reader; one from a 1985
novel called The Enchanted Isle by James M. Cain (but presumably
not the the same James M. Cain who wrote The Postman Always
Rings Twice, who died in 1977); one from a Playboy interview with
Steve Martin; one from a 1993 Newsweek article; and one from a
Naval Institute Press publication.  Interestingly, we have no
"fireplug" cites from any local newspapers or from any of such non-
local papers as we read (the New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and such like).

I hope this is of some use to you, Luanne.

Joanne M. Despres, Senior Editor
Merriam-Webster, Inc.
jdespres at

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