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

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri May 12 19:31:00 EDT 2017

I traced the economic sense of "priming the pump" to a viral anecdote about a little boy priming a pump that was designed to encourage advertisers to buy newspaper advertising to stimulate their businesses.

It appeared in dozens of papers from as early as July 1899, mostly throughout Missouri and Kansas, although also as far away as Washington State.

The earliest I found was The Albany Ledger (Albany, Missouri), July 28, 1899, page 1.

In the story, the boy primes the pump, but then lets the pipe run dry too quickly, making him have to prime the pump again and again, using extra effort for little gain.

"This story reminds us of the merchant who advertised a few weeks then stopped a while and allowed the people to forget him and his business before he advertised again, and concluded it did not pay to advertise.  The fact is the pump had lost its priming while it rested."

I put together a blog post about it:


From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Friday, May 12, 2017 10:21:13 AM
Subject: Re: Attention Garson: new postdating of (metaphorical) "prime the pump"

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Re: Attention Garson: new postdating of (metaphorical) "prime the

Postdating indeed. Trump's "coinage" has been covered in many places,
including by Mark Liberman on Language Log:


I followed up with a selection of pump-priming editorial cartoons from the
'20s and '30s.


On Fri, May 12, 2017 at 10:39 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> From an interview with President Trump (as in Pump) in The Economist [
> http://www.economist.com/Trumptranscript]:
> Reporter: But beyond that it=E2=80=99s OK if the tax plan increases the d=
> Trump: It is OK, because it won=E2=80=99t increase it for long. You may h=
ave two
> years where you=E2=80=99ll=E2=80=A6you understand the expression =E2=80=
=9Cprime the pump=E2=80=9D?
> Reporter: Yes.
> Trump: We have to prime the pump.
> Reporter:It=E2=80=99s very Keynesian.
> Trump: We=E2=80=99re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you hear=
d 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=E2=80=
=99t heard
> it. I mean, I just=E2=80=A6I came up with it a couple of days ago and I t=
hought it
> was good. It=E2=80=99s what you have to do.
> Reporter: It=E2=80=99s...
> Trump: Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before
> you can get something out.

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