"on the Fritz"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jul 3 17:35:43 UTC 2010

My casual notions only.

"On the fritz" = "on the blink".

These date from ca. 1900. ["On the blink" dates from much earlier, in
the sense of "blind"/"nearly blind", but the sense may not be continuous.]

I think "on the [verb]" typically = "[verb]ing", e.g., "on the mend" =
"mending", "on the run" = "running", "on the prowl" = "prowling".

I see two possibilities:

(1) Associated with electric lighting: when it's out of order there is
blinking and "fritzing" = "fizzing"/"sparking".

(2) Associated with human infirmities: "blinking" = "blind"; "fritzing"
= "having [epileptic] fits".

There is also synonymous "on the bum". Possibly significant: IIRC,
"blinky" and "fritz" were once slang terms or nicknames for bums/beggars
feigning blindness/myopia and epilepsy respectively.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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