"on the Fritz"

Baker, John M. JMB at STRADLEY.COM
Sat Jul 3 17:03:16 UTC 2010

Victor's 1877 citation, describing a failsafe system in which a safety cage in a mine is supported by spring-operated claws when the rope breaks, would seem to be a plausible origin for "on the Fritz."
John Baker


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Victor Steinbok
Sent: Sat 7/3/2010 12:48 PM
Subject: Re: "on the Fritz"

  A quick check of GB shows a number of hits in the 1870s-90s that
appear to be a more likely source. These all deal with engineered
devices, mostly related to mining. I've only given it 5 minutes, but
came up with a variety of "Fritz system", "Fritz mill", "Fritz type",
etc., all appearing in the respective expression ("on the Fritz"). I
haven't investigated much further, at this point, but it seems concerns
about mechanical devices "on the Fritz [system]" would be a more likely
antecedent of the current expression than someone having been on the
dole from someone named Fritz. I can post some hits, of course, if there
is demand, but they are fairly easy to look up. If no one else follows
up, I'll look into it later.


PS: I still have the window up, so here are a couple of links:
http://bit.ly/cfCfVX [1877]
http://bit.ly/dD7xVH [1897]
http://bit.ly/9R3FVL [1886]
http://bit.ly/9Qqr09 [1870]

PPS: There is also a good 1903 hits that reveals a slight modification
of contemporary meaning--which also makes sense for SG's 1902 text. The
difference is that the 1903 has no capitalization.

The Typographical Journal. Vol. 22:4. April 1903
Suggestions to Financial Secretaries. By G. A. Steck. p. 333
> "Sorry to hear that. Are all the other locals the same throughout the
> country?"
> "Well, I'll tell you," he replied, confidentially. "We've got a
> secretary that's on the fritz. He's no good. Don't attend to his
> correspondence. Why, we haven't had a letter from another local for-"
> "That so?" I asked. "How are conditions in the shop? Treated all
> right? Good wages and all that sort of thing?"

On 7/3/2010 11:33 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
> As you know, "on the Fritz" is now commonly used for malfunctioning or non-functioning electric appliances, but, earlier, it was people rather than machines that were put "on the Fritz." Some of the earliest uses center on New York, especially Manhattan, and some involve money, theater, alcohol, and being out of work. Here, first, is a possible antedating, and, second, some information on one  Fritz Lindinger. Whether the two are related awaits further research.
> Previous discussions traced the phrase to 1902. In the Oct. 9, 1901 Vol. 50. Iss. 1384 of Puck, published in New York, p.4 by Roy L. McCardell (apparently the same author [b. 1870] as in the HDAS 1903 quote [actually earlier published in 1902, Oct 19, Wash. Post p.19]) [ProQuest} THE SHIRTWAIST GIRL; IV EMMA LOUISE HAS A COMING-OUT PARTY TO WHICH THE ELDER MR. MONAHAN ARRIVES UNINVITED--BUT THE MAN DON'T CARE
> Our Gert has had parties. Sadie Monahan had a party when she got her gold tooth grinnin' like a pianer so 's to show it; but the party I had last Saturday night put 'em all on the Fritz.
> Of course Gert tried to knock it. She said if any money was being blowed in it better be blowed in on her wedding dresses and things...
> Though I never before today heard of Fritz Lindinger, he was quite well known in New York in 1901. He was an owner of saloons and leader of their association, head of the Fritz Lindinger Club, an independent candidate for office, an author, one charged with bribery among other offenses (e.g. gambling), and an issuer of his own coins. He was known for providing abundant food and drink during his campaign (late 1901). It might could be possible that one out of work there could be (said to be) dependent on the Fritz.
> Stephen Goranson
> http://www.duke.edu/~goranson
> PS Thanks, Doug Wilson, for clarifying the 1935 Dickens quote.

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