[Ads-l] Attention Garson: new postdating of (metaphorical) "prime the pump"

Baker, John JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM
Fri May 12 15:42:09 EDT 2017


In the period that these cartoons were drawn (1920s and 1930s), which was fairly early in the history of the phrase as a metaphor (the OED takes it back to 1916), all Americans would have been familiar with water pumps, while not everyone would have been familiar with fuel pumps (which is what I assume a "petrol pump" is - I've never actually heard the term before).  

Note that the metaphor also works better for a water pump.  Once water is used to prime a water pump, the pump can be used to produce a much larger amount of water, typically limited only by the pumper's energy.  A primed fuel pump makes it possible to operate the engine, but it does not produce any more fuel.


John Baker


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Ben Zimmer
Sent: Friday, May 12, 2017 3:29 PM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: Attention Garson: new postdating of (metaphorical) "prime the pump"

In the editorial cartoons from the '20s and '30s that I surveyed, it's
always water getting pumped (or money in the place of water).

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=32649


On Fri, May 12, 2017 at 3:09 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
wrote:

> I always assumed it was a water pump that needs (literal or metaphorical)
> priming.  The ones I’ve encountered are in state parks, and you do need to
> prime them a couple of times the way John describes before the water comes
> out.
>
> > On May 12, 2017, at 3:06 PM, Robin Hamilton <
> robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM> wrote:
> >
> > Thanks, John.  I stand duly corrected.
> >
> > Would it be fair then to say that the term, "prime the pump", is *more*
> related
> > to water pumps than to petrol pumps?  As you describe it below, the
> dynamics of
> > priming a water pump would differ from those of priming a petrol pump.
> Turning
> > on a continuous feed in both cases, but not necessarily gravity when it
> comes to
> > petrol.
> >
> > Or similar fluids -- somewhere in my head, I have memories of an old
> Massie
> > Fergusson tractor having to have its pump primed, and an even older
> tractor that
> > ran on paraffin.
> >
> > But that was long ago, and in another country, and besides the machine
> has long
> > gone to the Great Junkyard in the Sky.
> >
> > Robin
> >
> >>
> >>    On 12 May 2017 at 19:50 "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
> >>
> >>
> >>    One does prime water pumps. The hand pump, which was once familiar
> to all
> >> Americans, operates by suction: The rod, which is operated by hand,
> lifts a
> >> piston that is at the top of a column of water, and each time the rod is
> >> pumped more water is brought to the outlet. If there is air below the
> piston,
> >> it will not lift the column of water and the pump will not work. When
> the pump
> >> is first used, and thereafter whenever there for any reason is not a
> >> continuous column of water below the piston, the user must put enough
> water in
> >> the pump for that water column to be created, a process referred to as
> >> "priming."
> >>
> >>
> >>    John Baker
> >>
> >>
> >>    -----Original Message-----
> >>    From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf
> >> Of Robin Hamilton
> >>    Sent: Friday, May 12, 2017 1:42 PM
> >>    To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> >>    Subject: Re: Attention Garson: new postdating of (metaphorical)
> "prime the
> >> pump"
> >>
> >>    Does one actually prime water [sic] pumps? I'd always assumed this
> >> referred to
> >>    priming the pump in a petrol engine, or summat.
> >>
> >>    Mind you, I may be wrong, as when I was a youngun, pumps of any kind
> were
> >> still
> >>    a twinkle in the eye of the future, and we drew water from the well
> in a
> >> bucket.
> >>
> >>    R.
> >>
> >>>
> >>> On 12 May 2017 at 15:58 George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> You have to keep in mind that back on the old Trump homestead in
> >>> Brooklyn,
> >>> his family had a pump -- that was how Brooklyn people got their water,
> >>> in
> >>> olden times, the 1940s & 50s. So he's very familiar with having to
> prime
> >>> a
> >>> water pump, and naturally the metaphor would come to his mind.
> >>>
> >>> GAT
> >>>
> >>> On Fri, May 12, 2017 at 10:39 AM, Laurence Horn <
> laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> >>> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>> From an interview with President Trump (as in Pump) in The Economist [
> >>>> http://www.economist.com/Trumptranscript]:
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter: But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the
> >>>> deficit?
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have
> >>>> two
> >>>> years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”?
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter: Yes.
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: We have to prime the pump.
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter:It’s very Keynesian.
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard
> >>>> that
> >>>> expression before, for this particular type of an event?
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter: Priming the pump?
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: Yeah, have you heard it?
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter: Yes.
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t
> >>>> heard
> >>>> it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I
> >>>> thought
> >>>> it
> >>>> was good. It’s what you have to do.
> >>>>
> >>>> Reporter: It’s...
> >>>>
> >>>> Trump: Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in
> >>>> before
> >>>> you can get something out.
>

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